This is the fourth and last 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,” The Witness Following Ashton Kutcher, and Fishing for Clickbait.
Defense attorney Dale Rubin often jokes around in the Criminal Courts Building, perhaps to keep his mind off of the challenges of defending Michael Gargiulo on two counts of capital murder. One time, he even played around with a mannequin (which was to serve as a model for a stabbing victim) with his adversary, prosecutor Garrett Dameron. Today, the two discuss baseball no-hitters and laugh in the courthouse hallway as they make their way toward Department 106. For now, the men seem to be good friends just shooting the bull, but, in five minutes, they will be arguing. And in an hour Rubin will be furious at Dameron.
Inside 106, the trial is set to continue for Gargiulo, who has been charged by the State of California with the brutal stabbing murders of two women and the attempted murder of another. The day is off to a contentious start when Dameron informs Judge Larry P. Fidler that he has brought in two witnesses to deliver last-minute testimonies. This seems to tick off Rubin. He had previously scheduled his witness, the black-suited Dr. Vianne Castellano, to testify on behalf of Gargiulo today.
Rubin argues that having Dameron’s witnesses testify first would interfere with the impact of Castellano’s testimony. Fidler does not seem to be biting. Dameron reassures the court. “It will only be a few minutes, maybe 10,” he promises Fidler. Rubin, realizing he will not get his way, scoffs, “It appears no one is listening to me.” His best-laid plans are in tatters. Not only does Fidler allow Dameron’s witnesses to testify first, but he orders the jury to take into account those testimonies when forming their opinion on Castellano’s testimony. Dameron smiles as he leaves the room to retrieve his first witness.
Castellano, meanwhile, watches the whole ordeal. Her demeanor is calm. She sits upright and politely smiles from the second row of the gallery to Dameron as he passes. Then Rubin approaches Castellano, shaking his head and sitting down next to her, fuming about Dameron. She asks if he wants her to leave. “No, I want you to hear it,” he sighs. At one point, seemingly in reference to Dameron, he leans toward her and mutters, “this little prick.”
Rubin returns to his seat. He discusses something with Nardoni before Gargiulo enters the courtroom through the custody entrance, and sits next to his lawyers. They seem to whisper the news to him. He stares at them, looking confused and irritated.
Minutes later, Dameron returns to 106 with Douglas Pacaccio. The jury immediately snaps to attention. He is the brother of Tricia Pacaccio, Gargiulo’s alleged first victim, murdered on her porch when the two were just teenagers. Douglas is not here to talk about his sister or testify about her murder (that crime is outside of the jurisdiction of this court); he is here because he was Gargiulo’s childhood best friend.
With one win already under his belt this morning, Dameron confidently starts a line of questioning for Pacaccio that paints a disturbing portrait of the adolescent Gargiulo, known at Chicago’s Glenbrook High as “the toughest kid around.” Pacaccio launches into a story from ninth grade gym class. A learning-disabled peer was running behind the boys when, without warning, Gargiulo turned and “beat the hell out of him,” delivering full-force blows to the boy’s face before laughing and running away. Pacaccio and the other boys thought it was funny at the time but were “still a bit shocked.” Hearing this, Gargiulo turns and speaks furiously to Rubin, who does not say a word or even look at him. Instead, he plans with Nardoni how to spin this story in the defense’s favor for Castellano’s upcoming testimony.
When Dameron finishes his line of questioning, defense attorney Nardoni steps up for cross-examination. “In your discussion with Detective Small, you described Mr. Gargiulo as a moron. Is that correct?” Nardoni asks. Gargiulo glares at Pacaccio, who offers a meek nod and trains his gaze on the wall. He claims he cannot remember exactly what he said, seemingly embarrassed to affirm his words in Gargiulo’s presence. Nardoni then shows Pacaccio a transcript of his discussion with the detective. Finally, Pacaccio admits, “Well if it says I said it, I said it.” The defense is highlighting the fact that Gargiulo was not great at school, steering the jury’s attention away from his brutal strengths and towards his weakness in an apparent attempt to establish Pacaccio’s hostility and/or to lay the foundation for an argument that Gargiulo’s capacity for self-control was limited.
Nardoni’s efforts are undone when Dameron steps up for re-direct and asks Pacaccio to elaborate on Gargiulo’s home life.
“He would take swings at his dad,” Pacaccio says, adding that one time Gargiulo smashed a table over his sister Melissa’s head during an argument. Pacaccio goes on to describe further encounters, not unlike the one in gym class. Oftentimes, Gargiulo would attack other students at random, even aiming ice-filled snowballs at kids’ faces. As Pacaccio talks, Gargiulo keeps whispering in Rubin’s ear, but the attorney is seemingly too angry to respond.
Nardoni approaches Pacaccio for re-cross and asks him to elaborate on Gargiulo’s mental state during these encounters. “He would suddenly snap,” Pacaccio tells him. Nardoni nods. He is doing his best to keep the jurors open to the idea that his client, if guilty, was legally insane when he committed these acts.
When Pacaccio finishes his testimony and leaves the courtroom. Rubin and Nardoni share looks of exasperation. It has been over a half-hour already, and there is still another witness to go: Yadira Reyes, whose wrenching testimony we wrote about here.
For Rubin and Nardoni, Reyes’s emotional assertion that she dated Gargiulo and that he raped her and threatened the lives of her family exponentially compounds the damage to their arguments. The whole room is affected by her words, and even Castellano hangs her head. Rubin looks over to his defendant, who angrily whispers into his ear and points at Reyes. “She is fucking lying,” Gargiulo seems to mouth.
Still, Nardoni makes a point of inquiring about Gargiulo’s mental status during and after the assault. Reyes claims that he switched gears, telling her, “Well, if you don’t want it, we won’t do it,” after already assaulting her, as if nothing had happened. “Almost like he was a different person, right Mrs. Reyes?” asks Nardoni. “Yes,” Reyes agrees.
After the questioning concludes and Reyes leaves the witness stand, Castellano is finally called to testify. She approaches the stand, passing the jury, who are already drained at this point. She sits down, composing herself and smiling politely. While being questioned by the defense, she suggests that — if Gargiulo did in fact commit these murders — he may have gone into a fugue state while attacking the victims. She claims this behavior is part of his Dissociative Identity Disorder, which Castellano herself diagnosed. She suggests that, as part of the disorder, Gargiulo may become a completely different person from moment to moment and not remember what his other personalities have done. It seems the defense is using this assessment to support an alternate plea of not guilty by reason of insanity.
Suddenly, though, just a few minutes into Castellano’s testimony, Fidler calls for a break, literally cutting her off mid-sentence. Rubin jerks forward immediately, throwing his hands up in confusion. He is alone, though, as it seems that Reyes and Pacaccio’s testimonies have deeply affected both the judge and the jury. Rubin’s eyes widen, livid again as the jury files out of the courtroom. He, too, marches angrily out of 106, past a smirking Dameron, almost bumping into him. There will be no baseball talk in the hall this afternoon.
Postscript: On August 15th, 2019, a jury found Michael Gargiulo guilty on all counts. Seven days later, the same jury deemed him sane. This means that Gargiulo faces either a death sentence or life in prison without the possibility of parole. After he is sentenced, Gargiulo faces another murder charge in Chicago for the killing of Tricia Pacaccio.