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In Gigliotti abuse case, a more complicated picture emerges

SPRING HILL — The photograph shows a teenage boy sitting at the kitchen table, smiling for the camera.

The photographer was apparently his adoptive mother, Tai-Ling Gigliotti.

It's not the picture you might expect.

Five months ago, authorities say, Gigliotti savagely beat the 16-year-old boy with a piece of wood and a plastic-tipped hose, then locked him in a bathroom naked and bloodied.

When the teen escaped, he told authorities the attack was the latest in a long pattern of abuse. The Hernando County sheriff labeled it "incarceration with torture."

But a more complicated picture is emerging ahead of a hearing on the case scheduled for today in Circuit Court in Brooksville. Defense lawyers say new evidence undercuts elements of the boy's story.

In particular, defense attorneys point to the undated photo of him, smiling and free. They contend it was taken during the period of the alleged imprisonment and abuse.

"Does this look like a 'tortured' child?" said attorney Robert Whittel, who represents Anton Angelo, Gigliotti's fiance and co-defendant. "I don't believe one word this kid says."

The developments add new wrinkles to a case with sensational allegations and ties to a world-famous classical musician.

Gigliotti, 50, faces five counts of aggravated child abuse and one count of felony child abuse. She is the widow of Anthony Gigliotti, one of the most accomplished classical clarinet players of the 20th century.

She moved to Spring Hill from the Philadelphia area in 2004, three years after her husband died.

Angelo, a 46-year-old music producer who later joined her in Spring Hill, faces two counts of aggravated child abuse.

When the teen escaped from the barricaded bathroom on Feb. 9, he told authorities he had spent a good part of 15 months imprisoned there. They said they found bruises from repeated beatings that broke his right forearm and left open wounds on his buttocks.

Defense attorneys say the teen's story is greatly exaggerated and riddled with discrepancies that undermine the case.

Previewing a possible strategy at trial, Whittel and John Feiner, Gigliotti's attorney, have suggested the case involves discipline more than abuse. They said the teen was a difficult child with a history of violence and disciplinary problems, including four suspensions from school — three for fighting.

But Assistant State Attorney Brian Trehy, a child abuse and sex crimes prosecutor, said investigators discovered physical evidence that bolsters the boy's claims, including a DNA match to the blood found on the wood and hose.

Trehy and a criminal justice expert not affiliated with the case question the evidentiary value of the photograph and challenge any defense theory that suggests the alleged abuse fell within the realm of discipline.

"Clearly in this case," said Bruce Jacobs, dean emeritus at Stetson University College of Law, "locking someone up and leaving them is really bad and crosses the line."

Gigliotti brought the boy to the U.S.

A judge terminated Gigliotti's parental rights June 18 at the request of the state Department of Children and Families. The boy remains in the care of a foster family in Hernando County.

His account comes from two lengthy interviews he had with investigators and court documents obtained by the St. Petersburg Times.

Gigliotti brought the boy to the United States from Taiwan in February 1998, according to immigration records. He was 6 years old, not 4 as he told investigators. His temporary visa expired Feb. 19, 2003, but DCF officials said he is not in danger of being deported.

Investigators found no adoption records. The boy said Gigliotti is his aunt, though he called her mom.

A native of China, she came to the United States to study music, which is how she met Anthony Gigliotti.

The boy said his stepfather tried to keep his mother from hitting him. "He was a very loving person," the boy said. "He never hurt me."

In February 2004, when the boy and Gigliotti lived in Cherry Hill, N.J., the state Department of Children and Families investigated an allegation of child abuse after a school official reported he had blackened eyes.

The boy recently told Hernando investigators the teacher confronted him about bruises. They looked under his shirt but not on his buttocks, where the abuse was most visible, he said.New Jersey authorities deemed the allegations unsubstantiated.

Five months later, in July 2004, Gigliotti began to move to Whitmarsh Street in Spring Hill.

In one of his interviews with authorities, the teen said Gigliotti punished him "because I have anger issues and destroy things around the house."

He acknowledged frequently lying to his mother, stealing sips of her alcohol and looking at computer pornography. In journals found by defense attorneys in the teen's room, he also admits he kicked the family's cats to spite his mother, causing injuries that led to the death of at least one.

The behavior is reflected in records from Powell Middle School that were reviewed by defense attorneys. They show administrators frequently had to discipline the teen in the seventh and eighth grades.

In one incident, the teen accessed pornography from a library computer as his class researched a history project, and a classmate told a teacher. The teen later got in trouble when he threatened to kill the classmate who reported him, said Whittel, Angelo's attorney.

"The kid is a menace," Whittel said. "I can feel very sympathetic for (Gigliotti). How do you control an out-of-control child?"

Gigliotti pulled him from school before he started ninth grade. She told a district truancy official who visited the home in September 2007 that he would attend First Coast Academy in Jacksonville, an online correspondence school. But eventually he stopped doing the work, the teen said.

Authorities say the abuse began to escalate in November 2007, when Gigliotti noticed damage to the lock on her car. She blamed him and he confessed, though he later said he was innocent.

"It's easier to lie than get her to believe I didn't do it," he told investigators.

As punishment, Gigliotti locked him in the car for two days.

When he came inside the home again, the lock on the bathroom door faced outward. She confined him inside when she went to work and at night, he said, though she sometimes allowed him to sleep in the hallway at night.

The teen said he often escaped and prepared snacks, watched television or listened to classical music, among other things. Each time Gigliotti discovered this, the security measures increased, and so did the beatings, authorities said.

Investigators found much of the evidence just as the teen described it — the tape used to tie his hands, a bungee cord used to restrain him and the wood and hose used to beat him, court documents indicate. A forensic expert then matched the teen's DNA to each item.

John Frank can be reached at jfrank@sptimes.com or (352) 754-6114.

In Gigliotti abuse case, a more complicated picture emerges 07/09/09 [Last modified: Saturday, July 11, 2009 2:03pm]

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