LARGO — Bradley Driscoll told the court he woke up four years ago to his mother plunging a knife into his stomach.
Celeste Minardi, who has a history of mental illness, told her son Tuesday that she wasn't herself when she tried to kill him.
But after nearly a day of testimony Tuesday, Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Nancy Ley ruled that Minardi committed a premeditated act when she stabbed her 15-year-old son with a 15 1/2-inch ornamental dagger and a 12-inch drywall knife.
Saying she also was concerned for Driscoll's future safety, Ley sentenced Minardi, 59, to the maximum sentence for first-degree attempted murder: life in prison.
While she acknowledged Minardi's mental health problems, Ley said it was a combination of factors, including bitterness over her divorce and possibly substance abuse issues, that led to the vicious attack in 2008.
Minardi is the ex-wife of St. Petersburg lawyer Timothy Driscoll, who works for a firm that represents the Tampa Bay Times. The couple married in 1984 and divorced in 2005, with Driscoll getting custody of their son. Minardi got regular supervised visits with the boy.
On March 22, 2008, Minardi came to one of the visits at a Largo doctor's office "intending to kill" her son, and she was almost successful, Ley said.
Driscoll, a clean-cut 19-year-old who studies business at the University of Miami, testified that on the day of the attack, he had taken some NyQuil and fell asleep on a couch after the visit began.
"I woke up to one of the knives plunged into my stomach," he said. He stood up and saw his mother with two knives in her hands.
"She didn't say anything; she just looked very fierce and determined and kept slashing at me," he said.
He ran, he said, holding his intestines in place.
Now, he said, he wouldn't feel safe if his mother was walking the streets.
"I was afraid for my life before it happened," Driscoll said. "So I guess you can imagine the fear now that she actually did it."
Both he and his father said the appropriate sentence for Minardi was life in prison.
Timothy Driscoll broke down on the stand when he recalled the sight of his son bleeding. He said his son has scars on his neck, stomach and head that will never go away. Bradley couldn't sleep in his bedroom for two years after the incident, Driscoll said, and even afterward slept with the light on.
Minardi bore little resemblance Tuesday to the gaunt, heavily made-up woman arrested four years ago. She has gained more than 70 pounds, according to her other son, Dana Minardi, 38, who said the prescribed medication his mother took "drove her crazy."
During a break in the hearing, Minardi looked over at her son Bradley and mouthed the words, "I'm sorry."
After she took the stand, she cried and said, "I want to apologize to the court and I want to profusely apologize to my son Bradley."
She said it wasn't her that attacked him. "I don't know who was there," she said.
And she wanted Bradley to forgive her.
"I'm not a monster," she said.
According to mental health experts, Minardi suffers from various problems, including bipolar and personality disorders.
Minardi's attorney, John Trevena, failed to persuade Ley to sentence her to less than the 11-year minimum called for in sentencing guidelines.
He had initially pursued a defense of not guilty by reason of insanity, but on Thursday Minardi pleaded no contest. Trevena said she wanted to ease the burden on her family.
If Minardi had been found not guilty by reason of insanity, the judge could have sent her to a secure state mental health facility, Trevena said, adding he still hopes to find such a facility to take her. But Ley said she might not approve the move, especially if it doesn't offer prisonlike security.
"What we're talking about is an extreme, serious, violent felon," she said.
Lorri Helfand can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445- 4155.