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With substantial physical and circumstantial evidence, including eyewitness testimony and DNA, the 2019 conviction of serial killer Michael Gargiulo was a slam dunk for prosecutors.
Known variously as “The Hollywood Ripper,” “The Boy Next Door Killer,” and “The Chiller Killer,” Gargiulo’s trail of victims spans two decades. He made a habit of stalking young, pretty women who lived near him before savagely stabbing them to death in the middle of the night.
Gargiulo was found guilty of murdering two women and attempting to kill a third in Los Angeles, California, and a jury unanimously recommend he be put to death.
Gargiulo’s sentencing, however, was delayed earlier this year, when his defense team entered a motion for a new trial claiming that the prosecution failed to disclose information about one of the lead case detectives, according to Los Angeles NBC affiliate KNBC.
While Gargiulo’s sentencing delay made headlines, such due diligence is typical in death penalty cases, according to Beth Karas.
A former prosecutor and investigative journalist, Karas is the host of "Snapped: Notorious Hollywood Ripper," a 90-minute special streaming now on Oxygen as part of the network's "12 Dark Days of Serial Killers" event.
“All defendants' rights are important, but the courts are particularly scrupulous when it involves someone who is receiving the ultimate penalty, such as Gargiulo,” Karas said in an exclusive interview with Oxygen.com. “This is why death penalty cases take so long to try and then take forever in the appellate system — because the rights of the defendant are reviewed over and over and over again by state and federal courts.”
Gargiulo’s lawyers argued that he deserves a new trial because the prosecution failed to notify them of alleged malfeasance on the part of retired detective Mark Lillienfeld.
“Mark Lillienfeld took charge of the investigation into the murder of Maria Bruno. He was a homicide detective with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, which had jurisdiction over her death,” Karas explained.
A 32-year-old mother of four, Bruno was murdered by Gargiulo in December 2005, 10 days after moving into the apartment complex where he lived.
Lillienfeld was temporarily banned from Los Angeles County jails after posing as a deputy and bringing in contraband for an inmate, according to the Los Angeles Times. The allegations first came to light in an article published just days after Gargiulo’s death sentence recommendation in October 2019.
Although Lillienfeld had registered as a reserve deputy following his 2016 retirement from the Sheriff’s Department, he was not active at the time of the incident. According to the inmate in question, Lillienfeld left a McDonald’s Egg McMuffin and a cup of coffee for him in a chapel at the Los Angeles Men’s Central Jail in September 2018.
Lillienfeld’s actions were unrelated to the Hollywood Ripper investigation, but Gargiulo’s defense team claims that by law, they should have been notified of them by the prosecution before their client’s trial.
“He was a lead investigator on this case," defense lawyer Dale Rubin told New York’s Daily News. “What we’re talking about now would have attacked his credibility as a witness. That’s what this is all about.”
Following a Feb. 28 hearing during which Gargiulo’s lawyers won the delay, Superior Court Judge Larry P. Fidler ordered all parties back to court on March 13.
In the ensuing two weeks, however, the coronavirus outbreak upended California’s entire justice system. On March 23, Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye suspended all criminal and civil trials in the state for at least two months, reported the Los Angeles Times.
Further clouding matters are nationwide efforts to reduce jail and prison populations in order to contain the pandemic. A recent Los Angeles Times article about coronavirus cases inside jails mentioned Gargiulo as one of the system’s most infamous guests.
Karas, however, says Gargiulo is going nowhere fast.
“New York is looking at paroling non-violent criminals. I know Ohio is looking at defendants over the age of 50 but probably non-violent. Gargiulo’s facing the death penalty. He’s not getting out. Not a chance,” she said.
While Gargiulo’s fate is currently up in the air, Karas believes justice will be done.
“I do not think Mike Gargiulo’s getting a new trial. Fidler’s a no-nonsense judge, and he’s a great judge. He’s a fair judge and a brilliant man. He’s not going to make a mistake,” Karas said.
To learn more about how Gargiulo was finally caught by law enforcement, watch "Snapped: Notorious Hollywood Ripper" on Oxygen.
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