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Aunt in abuse case denies wrongdoing

BROOKSVILLE — She shed tears recalling life with her late husband, a famed clarinet player. She talked of how proud she was to have earned U.S. citizenship. She spoke of the difficulties in raising the nephew she brought over from Taiwan with hopes of giving him a better life.

Tai-Ling Gigliotti even spoke warmly of the boy who accused her of imprisoning him in a bathroom at their Spring Hill home for about 15 months and repeatedly beating him.

"He's always my blood," Gigliotti said Saturday. "We're still connected."

It was her first public statement since the boy allegedly escaped from the bathroom in early February 2009. Gigliotti firmly denied imprisoning and beating the boy in a case Hernando authorities have called "incarceration with torture."

Prosecutors say Gigliotti beat the teen and periodically imprisoned him. Gigliotti, 51, faces two counts of aggravated child abuse. If convicted of both charges, she could be sentenced to 60 years in prison. She's rejected two plea deals, including one Monday with a punishment that ranged from no prison time to six years.

Wearing a shawl around her shoulders and a sleeveless, charcoal-colored dress, Gigliotti spoke softly and often remorsefully about the events that led to her arrest on Feb. 9, 2009.

Her attorney, Jimmy Brown, painstakingly took her through the experience of raising the boy, starting when she took custody of him in 1998. Gigliotti said she and family members in Taiwan agreed that the boy should come stay with her.

"I would like (him) to be well balanced, healthy and capable human being so he can provide his family," Gigliotti said. "I wanted him to learn to be a grounded person."

He accused her of abuse after she threatened to return him to Taiwan for military service, she said.

But during a withering, nearly two-hour cross-examination from prosecutor Brian Trehy, Gigliotti grew visibly agitated from the line of questioning. A number of times, after she was asked a question, she would pause and turn to the judge or jury with a puzzled expression.

Near the end of his cross-examination, Trehy derisively called into question Gigliotti's version of events. Over and over again, Gigliotti denied locking the boy in the bathroom, denying him food or regularly beating him.

"Apparently … he cooked up a scene to frame you with this horrible crime," Trehy said. "That's the way you remember it?"

"That's the way I know it," Gigliotti said.

Later, Brown expressed surprise that Gigliotti still took pains to protect the boy.

"Although unexpected, it was characteristic of her even at this late hour to try to protect," the boy, Brown said.

Meanwhile, the other two witnesses who once shared the home at Whitmarsh Street were poised to again testify in front of the jury.

While waiting to take the witness stand Saturday, Anton Angelo and the boy sat on opposite sides of the area just outside the courtroom. The teen slumped on the wooden bench, fiddling with his cell phone and listening to music. Angelo, who has a plea deal with the state that will keep him out of prison, silently thumbed through a book about wines. Angelo is engaged to Gigliotti, the widow of Anthony Gigliotti, a renowned clarinetist who died in 2001.

Before Gigliotti could testify, Brown and prosecutor Brian Trehy argued over the admission of the boy's journal as evidence.

Brown pushed for inclusion of the journal, claiming that it shed light on the teen's credibility as a witness and possible motive for turning in Gigliotti and Angelo to the authorities. Trehy argued the move was meant only to embarrass the boy in front of the jury.

But Circuit Judge Jack Springstead approved the inclusion of the journal as evidence. The trial will resume Monday with closing arguments.

Joel Anderson can be reached at joelanderson@sptimes.com or (352) 754-6120. You can follow Joel at www.twitter.com/janderson.

Aunt in abuse case denies wrongdoing 05/08/10 [Last modified: Saturday, May 8, 2010 10:49pm]
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