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Suspect is charged in 2 slayings

Repairman is linked to a 2005 killing and the 2001 stabbing death of the then-girlfriend of actor Ashton Kutcher.

September 09, 2008|Richard Winton | Times Staff Writer

A 32-year-old Santa Monica man who already faces an attempted murder charge has been linked to two capital killings, including the 2001 slaying of the girlfriend of actor Ashton Kutcher, according to authorities.

Michael T. Gargiulo, an air conditioner repairman, was arrested in June on suspicion of attempted murder in connection with a Santa Monica attack in which a woman fought off an intruder who stabbed her repeatedly after breaking into her home late at night.

DNA collected at the scene linked Gargiulo to the crime through a national database, officials said. His DNA had previously been obtained in an Illinois case.

Gargiulo was formally charged Thursday in the February 2001 stabbing death of 22-year-old Ashley Ellerin, who was then Kutcher's girlfriend. Her body was found in her Hollywood Hills home. Kutcher, who starred in the television series "That '70s Show" and is now married to actress Demi Moore, told Los Angeles police detectives at the time that he went to pick up the model-actress for a post-Grammy Awards party, but she did not answer the door.

A friend found her the next day with multiple stab wounds in her rented home on Pinehurst Road, authorities said. Ellerin was raised in Los Altos, about 45 minutes outside San Francisco, and graduated from Los Altos High School in 1996.

Gargiulo also was charged in the December 2005 stabbing death of Maria Bruno in an El Monte apartment.

"There is strong circumstantial evidence here," said Deputy Dist. Atty. Joe Markus, noting that all three attacks involved break-ins at women's homes in the middle of the night, with the attacker wielding a knife.

Markus declined to say whether DNA from the suspect had been found at the Ellerin and Bruno crime scenes. But a law enforcement source said there is physical evidence in the cases.

In addition to murder and burglary charges, Gargiulo faces the special circumstance allegation of lying in wait for his alleged victims, which would make him potentially subject to the death penalty.

Jane Robison, a spokeswoman for the L.A. County district attorney's office, said a decision would be made later whether to seek the death penalty.

Gargiulo's lawyer, Anthony Salerno, said his client entered a not-guilty plea to the new homicide charges and adamantly denies any involvement. Salerno said it was unclear what evidence prosecutors had against Gargiulo or whether DNA played a role in the charges.

"They have no direct evidence connecting him to these crimes," Salerno said. "My client does not know these women."

Gargiulo's DNA originally was obtained by authorities in the 1993 slaying of a high school girl in Glenview, Ill., where Gargiulo lived at the time. Tricia Pacaccio, a senior at Glenbrook South High School, was found stabbed to death on her front doorstep. According to a source familiar with the case, Gargiulo's DNA was found under Pacaccio's fingernail. Prosecutors have never filed charges in that case.

Gargiulo has been in L.A. County Jail since June, when he was arrested in the Santa Monica case. Gargiulo lived a short distance from the site of the April 28 attack.

Santa Monica Police Lt. Darrell Lowe called Gargiulo a "hot prowler" who broke into the victim's home at night and stabbed her.

"In all violent crimes, we go full bore when it comes to gathering evidence," he said. "DNA was collected at the scene and matched to the suspect. DNA is now becoming a regular part of our response."

Gargiulo was living in Hollywood at the time Ellerin was killed.

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richard.winton@latimes.com

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