TAMPA — With shackled, trembling hands, Richard Gigante clutched a wrinkled piece of paper as he tried to persuade a judge that he was a loving father and husband.
Gigante has maintained that he had nothing to do with the death of his wife, Megan McNally Gigante, whose decomposed body was found in the woods near Apollo Beach in May 2010.
But a jury didn't buy it, convicting him of manslaughter. On Friday, Gigante, 40, begged Hillsborough Circuit Judge Martha Cook for mercy.
"I live a healthy life with God by my side," Gigante said. "Today, I'm begging you to find it in your heart to be lenient on your sentencing … so I can still be a part of my children's life."
Instead, the hourlong hearing concluded with the judge's sentencing Gigante to 15 years, the maximum sentence.
Gigante reported his wife missing to Tampa police on May 31, 2010. He told detectives the couple had argued a few days earlier, before Megan left their home on W Jean Street and got into a white Cadillac Escalade with an unidentified man.
Hours later, Megan Gigante's body was found dumped off Adamsville Road in Gibsonton.
An autopsy revealed fractures of her thyroid cartilage, indicating strangulation. A forensic entomologist examined insect larvae found on the body, concluding that she had been dumped in the woods on May 26.
Gigante first told detectives that he had not been in the area where his wife's body was found. He later said he had driven there to look for her and had stopped at a 7-Eleven at U.S. 41 and Apollo Beach Boulevard.
Detectives reviewed store surveillance video, but it didn't show Gigante. They also interviewed Megan Gigante's 9-year-old daughter. She identified a black tarp found near her mother's body as one that had covered a go-kart in the family's back yard.
Arrested on Feb. 3, 2011, on a second-degree murder charge, Gigante was convicted of manslaughter, a lesser charge.
"The jury also did not feel that Mr. Gigante is the cruel and heinous person being portrayed," assistant public defender Ann Dee Shane said. "You don't have a picture here of someone who is a monster."
Megan Gigante's mother, Margaret Raymond, whimpered as she told the judge about the difficulties of caring for her three grandchildren.
"By his actions, he has left them motherless and fatherless," she said. "It's very hard to wipe tears from my granddaughter's eyes when she says 'Grandma, I just want to become a butterfly so I can fly up to heaven and see mommy one last time."
Gigante's father, Richard Sr., the only attendee to appear on his son's behalf, asked for mercy.
The judge made no comment as she imposed the sentence. Raymond's whimpers turned to heavy sobs as she left the hearing flanked by more than 20 family members.
Outside, she embraced prosecutor Ronald Gale.
"Take good care of those kids," Gale whispered.
"I'll try," she said.
Dan Sullivan can be reached at (727) 893-8321 or firstname.lastname@example.org.