This is the third in a series of articles about the trial of Michael Gargiulo. You may click on the hyperlinked titles to read “I Buried the Bitch… Just Kidding.” and The Witness Following Ashton Kutcher.
Someone is crying. It is hard to immediately identify the source of the noise. The weeping echoes from the far end of the ninth floor near Department 106, where a group of people huddle closely together. They dote on whoever is crying, consoling her in hushed Spanish while attorneys file past, talking baseball.
The woman in question, Yadira Reyes, had her face all over the news a few years ago. But she did not know anything about her role as a minor celebrity. Not until, one day in 2015, she says her aunt saw an article containing four photos of Reyes kissing a man in a park. That man was alleged serial killer Michael Gargiulo, and the article was about his mystery girlfriend, who happens to have been Reyes.
The article asked the mystery girlfriend to come forward, as many feared she might be another victim of the Hollywood Ripper. And though she had not been killed, she was one of his victims. That is why she is at the Criminal Courts Building today. That is why she is crying in the hallway.
As Reyes enters the courtroom, she must leave the comforting huddle of her supporting family members, with only an interpreter and a parade of reporters in tow. The members of the press all dive for the best seats in the gallery hoping for an emotionally galvanizing moment (a/k/a “clickbait”) in a big media case. They are not disappointed. The moment Reyes enters Department 106, wearing a black-and-white outfit, she starts crying. She spots Gargiulo and immediately turns away from him, halting in her steps. Two police officers rush over to her, then after consulting the interpreter, approach Gargiulo and stand shoulder-to-shoulder, forming a wall between him and Reyes. To avoid the sight of Gargiulo, Reyes shields her eyes with her hand and keeps her head down as she makes her way to the witness stand. The reporters dive into their laptops, their keyboards absorbing the moment in real time. And Gargiulo? He does not even seem to notice that she has arrived.
Reyes’s testimony is long. Every excruciating bit of information she provides takes three times as long to relay since she must speak through her interpreter, who in turn keeps asking Deputy District Attorney Garrett Dameron to repeat himself. Despite these delays, Reyes tells the jury that she met Gargiulo at her job in Anaheim, CA, and the two dated for about six months. She admits that she would become frustrated with Gargiulo for never introducing her to his parents or siblings. He even refused to show her where he lived. Reyes states that, at the time, she suspected that Gargiulo might have been married and was perhaps cheating on his spouse. That is when Dameron begins asking Reyes whether she and Gargiulo had ever engaged in sexual activity before their final night together. Here, the language barrier becomes oppressive. Dameron keeps trying to clarify, flipping through different forms of “touching” and “penetration” to give the jury a clear idea of the relationship. Reyes seems confused, and her translator asks for clarification multiple times. Eventually, Dameron puts his notes down. “Mrs. Reyes, I am sorry for the questions I am about to ask you,” he says, “but it is necessary for the jury to know exactly what happened the last time you saw Mr. Gargiulo.”
Reyes twists in her seat and dabs her tears as she tells the jury that the last time she saw Gargiulo, the two got into a fight. She pressed him about why he never introduced her to his family. And then he started hitting her. He followed the beating by throwing her into the back of his parked van and sexually assaulting her. “Did he penetrate you?” Dameron asks, uncomfortably. The interpreter asks for clarification. Dameron wipes his head, “Did he put his fingers inside of you?” he asks softly. “Yes,” Reyes says, more and more tears springing to her eyes.
“Did he put his… penis inside of you?”
As the interpreter asks the question, Reyes’s face contorts in disgust. “Yes,” she says, keeping the details of the encounter as simple as possible. She curls inside herself, scared of Gargiulo’s firm gaze and seemingly embarrassed by the dozens of eyes staring at her as she recounts her trauma.
At last, Reyes finishes recounting the assault, stating that Gargiulo drove her home and threatened to kill her family if she said anything. She did not report the crime. “Why?” Dameron asks. Reyes says that she felt ashamed.
As soon as Dameron sits, defense attorney Daniel Nardoni begins questioning Reyes. He forces her to walk through the entire assault all over again, asking the same questions, almost verbatim. The jury, the media, and even Judge Larry P. Fidler seem exhausted, all hanging their heads during the testimony. And Reyes? She chokes up, sobs, and shakes all over again. Nardoni’s questioning takes just as long, if not longer, than Dameron’s.
At last, after Nardoni concludes his questioning, Reyes is finally able to leave the stand. Shielded again from Gargiulo’s glares by the officers, she passes the reporters and exits. Those remaining in the courtroom are emotionally drained and Judge Fidler soon calls for a break. The jurors’ relief is palpable.
The hallway is silent aside from a quiet whimpering. On the bench outside 106, the Reyes family again takes Yadira into their arms, crying with her this time. They mutter words of sympathy while calmly guiding her away from the bench, toward the elevator. Halfway down the hall, a crowd erupts from Department 106. The reporters march, loudly laughing like exuberant fishermen after a successful day at sea. The crowd splits as they overtake the Reyes family on their dash to the elevators. When she finally enters the elevator, Reyes and her family stand like the day’s catch surrounded by fishermen on the boat ride home.