BROOKSVILLE — Anton Angelo took the long wooden stick, reached around the attorney cross-examining him and thumped him on the rear end. He swatted the man with the stick once, twice and finally a third time.
More or less, Angelo told jurors and attorney Jimmy Brown on Thursday in Hernando County Circuit Court, that was how his fiancee, Tai-Ling Gigliotti, struck her nephew during their final confrontation in February 2009.
Angelo described it as punishment for a teenage boy whose behavior had become increasingly worrisome. Things had grown so bad, Angelo said, that he had pushed Gigliotti to send the teen back to Taiwan or turn him over to authorities.
"I would tell her this on a daily basis," Angelo said.
Angelo testified in the trial of Gigliotti for more than three hours Thursday, offering a vivid glimpse into what he described as a badly deteriorating relationship between his fiancee and the 17-year-old boy.
Prosecutors say Gigliotti, 51, the boy's onetime caregiver and the widow of world-famous classical clarinet player Anthony Gigliotti, beat the teen and periodically imprisoned him in a bathroom before he escaped and fled to a neighbor's house in Spring Hill in February 2009.
She faces two counts of aggravated child abuse. If convicted, she could be sentenced to prison for up to 60 years.
On the fourth day of the trial, Angelo was the last of 11 witnesses called by prosecutors. Angelo, 46, reached a plea deal with the state last month that will keep him out of prison.
In exchange for his testimony, Angelo was sentenced to five years of probation.
But about a half-hour into Angelo's testimony on Thursday, Circuit Judge Jack Springstead cleared the jury from the courtroom and expressed concern he wasn't forthcoming.
"I'm not sure that he's living up to his obligation to testify truthfully," Springstead said. "That's my perception."
Angelo's attorney, Rob Whittel, said his client was probably nervous. He said the testimony was consistent with information Angelo had given during a lengthy deposition.
After a short break, the jury returned.
Wearing a dark blue suit, tie and glasses, Angelo was generally composed and spoke mostly in a professorial tone about the problems that bubbled inside the home he shared with Gigliotti and the boy for more than five years.
An immigrant from the former Soviet Union who has several graduate degrees, including one in psychology, Angelo described Gigliotti as a doting but often strict mother.
But as the boy grew older and more troubled, Angelo said, they struggled with how to discipline him. "I would say his behavior grew worse," he said. "Progressively worse. Significantly worse."
Eventually, Angelo and Gigliotti decided to confine the teen to the bathroom at night and during the day when both of them were working at their musical instrument store in Brooksville.
They did this, Angelo said, because there was running water and a toilet in the bathroom, which would prevent him from repeatedly asking to be let out of his bedroom to get a drink or relieve himself.
Angelo said the boy rarely, if ever, spent more than several hours at a time locked inside the bathroom. And when the boy broke one of the rules of the house, Angelo said, he knew to lock himself in the bathroom.
Over time, Angelo recommended to Gigliotti that they seek professional help for the boy — or turn him over to authorities before his behavior became criminal.
The teen "exhibited extremely destructive behavior," he said.
The troubles finally spilled over outside the home in February 2009, when the teen escaped from the bathroom and ran to a neighbor for help. He later told authorities that he had spent the good part of 15 months imprisoned there and that Gigliotti regularly beat him.
In that final confrontation, Angelo told jurors, he intervened after he saw Gigliotti hitting the boy with the stick. She had accused him of hiding a set of car keys. Angelo said it was the first time he had ever seen her use something like that to hit the boy.
"I'd never seen anything like that," Angelo said. "She was extremely upset."
Also during his time on the stand, Angelo said he was still living at the family's home on Whitmarsh Street in Spring Hill. Asked if he was still engaged to Gigliotti, he said yes.
"And God willing, your intention is still to marry her?" asked Brown, Gigliotti's attorney.
Angelo looked down and smiled. "Yes, God willing."
Joel Anderson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 754-6120. You can follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jandersontimes.