In a rare move, Michael Thomas Gargiulo—the Santa Monica man accused in the stabbing deaths of two Los Angeles women, including an aspiring fashion designer who dated Ashton Kutcher—will represent himself at his murder trial without a lawyer.
Gargiulo made his first court appearance Wednesday morning in downtown Los Angeles as a pro se defendant, a Latin phrase meaning "on one's own behalf." At the short pretrial hearing, Gargiulo said he would file a motion asking the courts for funds to hire an expert witness.
Held without bail since his arrest in the spring of 2008, the 36-year-old faces seven counts of murder and burglary charges in the 2001 slaying of Los Angeles Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising student Ashley Ellerin, 22, in the Hollywood Hills and the 2005 killing of Maria Bruno, 32, in El Monte.
According to media reports, investigators say they tied Gargiulo to those killings in 2008 after his DNA was found in blood splatter at the scene of a near-fatal stabbing in Santa Monica. In that case, a woman named Michelle Murphy was reportedly in bed at home in her Euclid Avenue apartment when she awoke to a knife being plunged into her.
Gargiulo's DNA "had been swabbed years earlier by detectives investigating him for the murders" of Ellerin, and Gargiulo's then-high school class mate Tricia Pacaccio, according to LA Weekly reporter Christine Pelisek.
Last summer, Gargiulo was charged with first degree murder nearly two decades ago. The one-time cold case was reignited following the string of alleged crimes in California.
"All of the alleged killer's California victims were young, gorgeous and lived near Gargiulo or in Gargiulo's own building as he moved from neighborhood to neighborhood around Southern California," Pelisek wrote in November 2010.
Gargiulo, who worked as an air-conditioning repairman at the time of the stabbings, was ordered to stand trial in Los Angeles on the capital-murder charges in 2010.
"My truth is being 100 percent innocent, being wrongfully charged," Gargiulo told a 48 Hours Mystery producer in February 2009. The next year, he said, "like, everything good about me and the fair person that I am, and everything, is—is not even out there, and that's just wrong."
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Sam Ohta signed off May 14 on Gargiulo's request to go attorney-less. Ohta will hear Gargiulo's motion June 5.
Prosecutors have declined to comment.