BROOKSVILLE — After moving from the Philadelphia area to Spring Hill in 2004, Tai-Ling Gigliotti said she started preparing her 11-year-old nephew for life without her.
Beset with a number of health issues, Gigliotti taught the boy how to cook for himself. She took him swimming and fishing. She adopted sick animals to teach her nephew compassion and to "ease his pain from not having his biological parents in his life."
In a last-minute written plea to a judge, Gigliotti said it was only when he became a high school-aged teenager that she realized the boy's needs were far beyond what she could provide. "I have failed as a parent," Gigliotti said in the two-page letter.
On that point, at least, Circuit Judge Jack Springstead seems to agree.
Rejecting a number of defense motions and pleas for leniency, Springstead on Wednesday sentenced Gigliotti to 12 years in prison for beating and imprisoning her 17-year-old nephew in a bathroom for the better part of 15 months.
"She never accepted any responsibility for the acts the jury found her guilty of," Springstead said. "Nor did she ever, ever, ever admit wrongdoing."
Gigliotti, the 51-year-old widow of world-renowned clarinetist Anthony Gigliotti, was convicted May 10 of two charges of aggravated child abuse. She faced a minimum of eight years and a maximum of 60 years in prison.
Springstead, who rarely deviates from sentencing guidelines, settled on 12 years, roughly the same amount of time Gigliotti cared for her nephew after bringing him from Taiwan to the United States.
After her time in prison, Gigliotti will be placed on probation for three years.
In an emotionally charged sentencing hearing, friends and acquaintances of Gigliotti filled the benches on the left side of the courtroom. Among those sitting in the front row, just behind Gigliotti, were her fiance Anton Angelo, and her octogenarian mother from Taiwan. Angelo, who was charged with assisting Gigliotti during the abuse, took a plea deal for five years of probation. He testified during Gigliotti's trial.
Looking pale and drawn, Gigliotti shuffled into the courtroom in shackles and an orange jumpsuit. She managed a hopeful smile at her supporters.
On the other side of the courtroom was the teen, who was flanked by a team of officials from the state foster care system and the Department of Children and Families. Sitting next to him was a friend of his biological mother, who still lives in Taiwan.
The teen told the judge that the woman he called "Mom" tried to keep him silent about the abuse by threatening to return him to Taiwan for military service.
Now 17, the boy is close to gaining U.S. citizenship. He lives with a foster family in Hernando County and attends a local high school, where he is in JROTC.
"I'm not a citizen, but this is my country," he said. "And I plan to join the Air Force after I finish school. I will dedicate my life to the defense of this country."
Gigliotti's attorney, Jimmy Brown, argued passionately for a lesser sentence, painting the teen as an unrepentant liar, a troubled child who sought to break free of a strict upbringing and, thus, an unreliable witness. Staring at the teen as he punctuated each point, Brown repeated claims that the teen cornered and attacked Gigliotti in a final, violent confrontation on Feb. 9, 2009.
The boy "is not just a troubled teen," Brown said. He "is someone who was absolutely out of control. And I believe the circumstances were escalating."
But Springstead, echoing arguments from the prosecution, said Gigliotti's behavior was inexcusable.
"This case is not about (the teen)," Springstead said. "This case is about Tai-Ling Gigliotti and what she did to (the teen)."
Brown said Gigliotti, who rejected a plea deal before the trial began, will file an appeal sometime in the next month.
Gigliotti was accused of beating her nephew and periodically locking him in a bathroom at their Spring Hill home for the better part of 15 months before he escaped in February 2009.
Prosecutors said that Gigliotti beat, bruised, starved and hog-tied the boy on the cold tile floor in the days before he managed to free himself and run to a neighbor's house.
And at the end of a seven-day trial in early May, jurors agreed. A jury of six people, five of them mothers, reached a guilty verdict in a little more than three hours.
Gigliotti's attorneys have maintained that the teen's story was exaggerated and riddled with discrepancies. After the sentencing hearing, Brown said Gigliotti's nephew was still in need of serious help.
"I would feel more safe with Tai-Ling on the streets than with (the boy) not under someone's control," he said.
Meanwhile, prosecutor Brian Trehy said he was relieved that the teen would no longer have to endure having details of his life discussed so openly in court and bandied about in media reports.
"He needs closure," Trehy said. "Sometimes, people don't realize how difficult it is for victims when they have a case going through the system.