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2010 in review | Courts

Hernando courts resolve brutal crimes of recent years

BROOKSVILLE — Brutal crimes committed in recent years were resolved this year in Hernando County courts. As the book was closed on these notorious cases, the distinguished legal career of a judge involved in all of them also came to an end.

Here are some of the prominent cases heard by the Hernando County courts in 2010.

• • •

The crime shattered the quiet, country calm of rural Masaryktown in October 2006, leaving neighbors to wonder if big-city terror was seeping into their hamlet along the Hernando-Pasco border.

Someone had invaded the home of Patrick and Evelyn DePalma, and left a bloody mystery in their wake.

After years of intense investigation, authorities charged Robert Jardin, 35, of Brooksville with the murder of Patrick, 84, and Evelyn, 79.

A Hernando County jury in November convicted Jardin on two counts of first-degree murder, along with other charges. Jardin was sentenced to life in prison for the fatal stabbings.

Evidence showed that Jardin was at the home of the DePalmas at the time of the brutal murders, but he testified that two other men, whom he never fully identified, killed the couple.

Public defender Devon Sharkey told jurors that Jardin had suffered through a miserable childhood that left him a deeply troubled adult, but he still tried to make something of his life. Jardin joined the Marines, tried to keep a regular job and even got married and started a family.

The verdict brought a measure of closure to the DePalma extended family. For neighbors in Masaryktown, the suggestion that accomplices may still be free has meant their unease will continue.

• • •

In a case that drew national attention to Hernando County, Tai-Ling Gigliotti, the 51-year-old widow of world-renowned clarinetist Anthony Gigliotti, was convicted May 10 of two charges of aggravated child abuse.

Gigliotti was accused of beating her 17-year-old 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.

At the end of a seven-day trial, jurors announced a guilty verdict in a little more than three hours, despite Gigliotti's attorneys' contentions that her nephew's story was exaggerated and riddled with discrepancies.

She faced a minimum of eight years and a maximum of 60 years in prison, but Circuit Judge Jack Springstead settled on 12 years, roughly the 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.

Her attorneys have appealed her conviction.

Gigliotti's former fiance, Anton Angelo, 47, testified against her during the trial in May after reaching a plea deal with prosecutors. In October, however, prosecutors insisted that he had lied about certain details in his testimony and he was arrested on a count of perjury in an official proceeding and one count of violating probation.

Angelo avoided a trial on a charge of aggravated child abuse under the deal, and he was given five years of probation. His arrest puts that deal in jeopardy.

• • •

In February 2009, authorities say, Andrew Frank Morris, then a 16-year-old junior at Nature Coast Technical High School, slipped out of his house about 5 a.m. and took his parents' 2002 Mitsubishi Montero without permission.

The teen was driving west on Powell Road south of Brooksville about 5:45 a.m. when he crossed the center line and collided head-on with a dark-colored agency-issued 1999 Ford Crown Victoria driven by Hernando County Sheriff Capt. Scott Bierwiler, according to reports.

Bierwiler was killed instantly. Morris had two broken legs, a number of broken ribs and other injuries that required surgical reconstruction.

Morris reached a plea deal in November that calls for him to spend nine months in jail and six years of court supervision. He had faced charges of third-degree murder and grand theft and could have been sentenced to as many as 15 years in prison.

Bierwiler's family agreed to the plea, earning praise from court officials.

"I'm relieved for the victim's family that they won't have to go through the ordeal of a trial," said Pete Magrino, Hernando's chief homicide prosecutor. "The Bierwiler family … they're a compassionate group. And because of their compassion, that's why the resolution of the case was done in this fashion."

Morris was sentenced as part of the state's youthful offender program. He will serve his time in the Hernando County Jail and follow that with two years of community control and four years of probation.

If Morris completes his sentence without getting into any trouble, the state will remove the conviction from his record.

Bierwiler's family has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Morris and his parents, which is pending. It alleges that Morris' parents knew and consented to Morris operating the sport utility vehicle — language needed for an insurance claim against them for culpable negligence.

• • •

It was a case that took a long time to unravel, but in the end took surprising little time to conclude.

Prosecutors had originally offered Adrian House, 27, a plea deal of 15 years in prison with credit for time he had already served in Hernando County Jail for his role in the April 2007 robbery and shooting at Boyett's Grove, which left owner James Oleson clinging to life.

House refused, however, and decided to take his chances with a trial in September.

It turned out to be a bad choice. After a little more than an hour of deliberation, a six-person jury convicted House of two counts of principal to robbery with a firearm. Shortly after, Circuit Judge Jack Springstead sentenced him to consecutive life sentences.

Court affidavits and other evidence showed that House, Damion Childs and Willie Cliatt III drove from Orlando to Brooksville on April 25,2007, with plans to rob a bank. But the men decided against the idea and drove around the county before settling on the citrus attraction on Spring Lake Highway in rural eastern Hernando County.

According to the affidavits, Childs entered the store unmasked and armed with a .45-caliber handgun. Cliatt and House followed behind him and used "hoodies" and bandannas to conceal their identities.

While Cliatt and House held a customer down and searched the store. Childs destroyed the phones and grabbed owner Oleson's wife, Kathy, by the hair and dragged her around the store, demanding money and threatening to kill her.

When Childs and Kathy Oleson stepped into a back room, they came upon James Oleson working at a computer. When James Oleson stood up, Childs fired two shots into his chest.

According to the testimony, Oleson lay bleeding on the floor while House rolled him over and took his wallet. The three suspects then fled in a late-1980s white Mercedes sedan and managed to elude a massive police search.

Cliatt was killed in a shootout with police in Orlando four months after the shooting at Boyett's Grove. In a plea deal last year, Childs was sentenced to 25 years in prison for his involvement in the robbery.

Oleson, 60, who suffered severe internal injuries, spent several weeks in a Tampa intensive care unit recovering from the shooting. He didn't return to work at Boyett's Grove until nearly a year later.

• • •

After 20 distinguished years on the Circuit Court bench, Judge Jack Springstead, 61, stepped down at the end of November.

His colleagues spoke respectfully about how Springstead didn't put up with any nonsense in court, about his knowledge of the legal process and his respect and fairness even as he held everyone to his own exacting work ethic.

Longtime Brooksville lawyer Jimmy Brown summed up this trait. "He expected everyone to work as hard as he did and to be thoroughly prepared," said Brown.

"He wouldn't embarrass anyone because he's a gentleman and because he didn't have to. He just inculcated people with the idea — 'Jack expects that' — and you didn't want to be the one who let him down. The lawyer who says, 'Gee, Judge, I don't know' — you didn't want to be that guy in Jack's court."

Gov. Charlie Crist appointed Heidi Davis, a Lake County judicial magistrate since 2004, to replace Springstead, making her the first woman to serve on the bench in Hernando County history.

Davis, 45, of Mount Dora was selected over Hernando County lawyers John Napolitano and Steve Toner.

Information from Times files was used in this report. Logan Neill can be reached at (352) 848-1435 or lneill@sptimes.com

Hernando courts resolve brutal crimes of recent years 12/29/10 [Last modified: Thursday, December 30, 2010 9:52pm]

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