A Los Angeles jury convicted Michael Gargiulo, known as the "Hollywood Ripper," of two counts of murder and the attempted murder of another person. The verdict was announced after several months of testimony.
The sentencing phase will now be scheduled and he is facing life in a California state prison without parole.
He was charged with the murder of two women and the attempted murder of another woman in 2008.
The prosecutor had over 200 witnesses, including actor Ashton Kutcher, who had a date with one of the victims on the night she was murdered.
He testified that after she failed to show up at a party, he went to her home and observed through her window what he thought was fine on the floor, but was actually blood. She had been stabbed almost 50 times.
The prosecutor claimed he was a vicious killer who fooled his victims into believing he was just a helpful neighbor before breaking into their home and stabbing them to death. He further claimed the defendant's hobby was to plot an opportunity to stab women with a knife.
Definition of Murder in California – Penal Code 187
Murder is defined under California Penal Code Section 187 as the unlawful and unjustified killing of another human being with malice aforethought, which means the killer had a wanton disregard human life and acts in a manner involving a high degree of probability it will result in death.
Murder can be charged under a variety of theories. For example, the Los Angeles County prosecutor can charge another person as a co-conspirator or aider and abettor.
If they decide to argue for a first-degree murder, then they have to allege a special allegation the murder occurred with premeditation and deliberation, or in the commission of an inherently dangerous felony.
The prosecution will pursue a first-degree murder charge if the evidence in the case supports the defendant harbored the intent to kill – and they acted while reflecting on their intent. This means the defendant had the intent to kill with a calculated mindset.
However, it's a general rule that murder will be charged as a second degree murder unless it can be proven someone committed first-degree murder.
First-Degree Murder Charges in California
In California, you can be convicted of first-degree murder when:
- You kill someone willfully, deliberately, or with premeditation
- Under the felony-murder rule by committing a felony that turns death into first-degree murder
- You commit murder using a destructive device, weapon of mass destruction, ammo designed to penetrate armor, or poison, or by lying in wait or by inflict torture under California Penal Code 206
Common examples of first-degree murder include a situation where a defendant drives to another person's place of employment to kill them in the parking lot when they are leaving.
Another example is a situation where the defendant was lying in wait for someone to return home in order to kill them.
Second-Degree Murder Charges in California
Second-degree murder under California Penal Code 187 is also a willful act - but not deliberate and premeditated. Typically, second-degree murder is any murder that does not fall under the definition of first-degree murder.
In simple terms, second-degree murder is defined as an intentional killing that was not premeditated. It's killing someone with a reckless disregard for human life. It's a catch-all category for intentional or reckless killings. While the act of killing may be the same as first-degree murder, the mental state when they killed is different.
Second-degree murder requires the defendant acted impulsively, without premeditation, but with understanding of their actions.
Common examples of second-degree murder include a situation where someone who has multiple DUI convictions and drives drunk – killing somebody in an accident.
This could be charged as a second-degree murder. Another example includes a situation where the defendant gets into a fight with a smaller person and violently slams them to the ground – causing their death. This could also be charged as a second degree murder.
Capital Murder Charges in California
Capital murder charges in California are a first-degree murder with special circumstances that can be punished by the death penalty or a California state prison sentence of life without the possibility of parole.
The “special circumstances” that turn a first-degree murder into a capital murder are listed under California Penal Code 190.2, and include the following:
- Murder of a police officer firefighter, prosecutor, judge, juror
- Murder of more than one person
- Murder of someone for financial gain
- Murder of someone to prevent them from testifying
- Murder of someone for the benefit of a street gang, PC 186.22
- Murder by discharge of a weapon from vehicle, known as drive-by shooting
- Murder of someone while committing a felony crime, such as robbery
A common example includes a situation where someone is committing an armed robbery of a convenience store and kills the clerk during the commission of the crime.
California Felony Murder Rule
The felony murder rule in California places legal liability for people who kill someone while committing a dangerous felony crime, but it only applies to the actual killer. The death of another person could have been an accident, due to negligence, or even intentional. The first-degree murder rule applies to the following California felony crimes:
- Penal Code 459 – Burglary
- Penal Code 215 - Carjacking
- Penal Code 207 - Kidnapping
- Penal Code 261 - Rape
- Penal Code 211 - Robbery
- Penal Code 203 - Mayhem
- Penal Code 451 - Arson
- Penal Code 288 – Lewd Acts with Minor
It's important to note that California's felony murder rules apply to first-degree and second-degree murder charges.
Defending Murder Charges in California
Clearly, any allegation of murder in California is a very serious issue that carries severe legal penalties if you are convicted. You need to consult with a Los Angeles criminal defense attorney at our law firm immediately.
The prosecutor has the burden to prove the all the elements of the crime in order to convict you. Common legal defenses against murder under California Penal Code Section 187, include the following:
- Self-defense or defense of others
- Lack of intent or accident
- Heat of passion
- Mistaken identification
- Coerced confession
- Insanity defense
- Evidence was obtained by an illegal search and seizure
If you have been accused of murder in violation of Penal Code 187, contact our experienced criminal lawyers to review the details of you case and legal options.
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