Nearly two years after a jury recommended execution for a man prosecutors called “The Boy Next Door Killer,” a judge is set to hand down a sentence Friday.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Larry P. Fidler will choose between a death sentence and life in prison without the possibility of parole for Michael Thomas Gargiulo, 45, who was convicted in August 2019 of the home-invasion murders of two women and the attempted murder of a third.
His case received added attention because one of his victims was about to go on a date with actor Ashton Kutcher, who testified at the trial.
A jury recommended his execution in October 2019, but the pandemic and procedural issues forced several delays in his sentencing.
He’s also facing a future trial for a 1997 killing in his Illinois hometown. Prosecutors in his California trial were allowed to present extensive evidence from that case as they sought to establish a pattern and present Gargiulo as a serial killer.
Gargiulo is a former air conditioner and heater repairman, bouncer and aspiring actor whose nicknames from media outlets included “The Chiller Killer” and “The Hollywood Ripper” but was called “The Boy Next Door Killer” by prosecutors because he lived near his victims.
He was found guilty of the 2001 murder of Ashley Ellerin in her Hollywood home as she prepared to go out with Kutcher. At the trial, Kutcher said that he was late to pick up Ellerin, who did not answer her door. He looked inside to see blood stains that he thought were spilled wine. He testified that he briefly feared he would be a suspect in the case as one of the last to communicate with Ellerin.
Prosecutors used him in their closing arguments, suggesting Ellerin was killed by another man who was jealous of Kutcher.
Gargiulo was also convicted of killing Maria Bruno in her home in El Monte in 2005, and of the attempted murder in 2008 of Michelle Murphy, who fought him off in her Santa Monica apartment, forcing him to flee and leave a trail of blood that also led to his eventual arrests for the other two killings. Murphy would be a key witness at the trial.
Even if he is given a death sentence, Gargiulo is unlikely to be put to death anytime soon. California has not executed anyone since 2006 and Gov. Gavin Newsom has halted executions for as long as he is in office. But courts have been proceeding on the assumption that executions may one day resume.