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Trial starts for man accused in stabbing deaths of local teen, famous girlfriend

Michael Gargiulo appears in Los Angeles Superior Court for opening statements on his trial on murder charges Thursday, May 2, 2019, in Los Angeles. Gargiulo is accused of killing two women and trying to kill one in sex "thrill-kill" attacks between 2001 and 2008. | Al Seib/Los Angeles Times via AP, Pool

LOS ANGELES — Opening statements began Thursday in the Los Angeles murder trial of an air conditioning repairman charged with the stabbing deaths of two women and a suburban Chicago teenager for sexual gratification.

Michael Gargiulo’s trial began with a prosecutor outlining the California cases for jurors, calling the crimes “the methodical and systematic slaughter of women.”

“What you will hear is that Michael Gargiulo for almost 15 years was watching, always watching,” prosecutor Daniel Akemon said. “And his hobby was plotting the perfect opportunity to attack women with a knife in and around their homes.”

Gargiulo, 43, has pleaded not guilty to two counts of murder and an attempted-murder charge stemming from attacks in the Los Angeles area between 2001 and 2008, including the death of actor Ashton Kutcher’s former girlfriend.

Gargiulo was arrested in 2008 after DNA evidence linked him to the killings. He was subsequently separately charged with killing a 17-year-old Glenview, Illinois, girl whose father found her fatally stabbed on their family’s doorstep, house key still in hand.

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.

Akemon detailed how he said Gargiulo would stalk his victims before striking.

His method “was to first identify a target who lived near him, acquaint himself with that victim and her habits and routines, and then watch, shadow, stalk and hunt down the victim relentlessly as part of his plan to kill,” Akemon said.

Gargiulo’s defense attorney is expected to give his opening statement later Thursday. One of Gargiulo’s attorneys has previously said Gargiulo denies any involvement in the killings and that though he lived near all the victims, that doesn’t make him guilty.

Gargiulo’s trial is expected to take six months. Kutcher is among the possible witnesses who could be called to testify.

His ex-girlfriend, 22-year-old Ashley Ellerin, was found dead in February 2001 in her Hollywood Hills home.

Kutcher, who starred in the television series “That ’70s Show” and is married to actress Mila Kunis, told police he went to pick up the fashion student-model for a post-Grammy Awards party, but she did not answer the door.

He checked a back window and spotted what he thought were red wine stains on the carpet and then left. Her body was discovered the next day by a friend.

The third victim in the case, 32-year-old Maria Bruno, was found stabbed to death in her apartment in suburban El Monte in 2005. Her breasts had been cut off. The fourth victim survived a stabbing attack in her Santa Monica apartment in April 2008.