A jury recommended the death penalty for 44-year-old Michael Thomas Gargiulo, who was found guilty in August of the home-invasion murders of two women, one of whom was about to go on a date with actor Ashton Kutcher.
But sentencing has been delayed indefinitely while Judge Larry P. Fidler considers a defense motion that came after revelations in a Los Angeles Times story that retired sheriff's Detective Mark Lillienfeld, a former investigator on Gargiulo's case, had posed as a deputy in 2018 and smuggled contraband into a county jail while working as a district attorney's investigator.
The violation was unrelated to Gargiulo's case, but his defense attorneys assert that the prosecution was required by law to disclose it to the defense so they could use it to attack his credibility as a witness and detective during the trial.
“I think it's definitely a due process violation,” Gargiulo's attorney Dale Rubin said during a break in the hearing. Another hearing was scheduled on the motion in two weeks, and no new sentencing date has been set. If the judge denies the motion and the sentencing goes forward, the issue could be fodder for the defense to use in its appeals.
Prosecutors declined comment outside court. Gargiulo, an air conditioning 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, was found guilty of the 2001 murder of Ashley Ellerin in her Hollywood home as she prepared to go out with Kutcher, who testified at the trial.
He 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. He is also facing trial for a 1997 killing in his Illinois hometown.
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. Gov. Gavin Newsom last year halted executions for as long as he is in office, though courts have been proceeding on the assumption that executions may one day resume.