BROOKSVILLE — Eyes focused straight ahead, purpose in each step, the teenage boy moved swiftly past the woman he once called mom on Thursday and took his place in front of the judge.
In a voice barely above a whisper, the teen offered brief but dramatic testimony, mostly one-word responses, that should help keep one of his accused tormentors out of prison.
Now, only Tai-Ling Gigliotti, the teen's one-time caregiver, faces time behind bars. Prosecutors say she beat him and periodically imprisoned him in a bathroom for months before he escaped last year.
Gigliotti's former fiance, Anton Angelo, 46, accepted a plea deal Thursday in a case that Hernando County Sheriff Richard Nugent has called "incarceration with torture."
"I think it's a good resolution for my client," said Angelo's attorney, Rob Whittel of Spring Hill. "As the facts in the case started to come out, we felt this might happen."
The case against Gigliotti was continued, with a pretrial conference set for April 29 and trial for May 3. Gigliotti, 51, faces two counts of aggravated child abuse. If convicted, she would face up to 60 years in prison.
In exchange for his testimony against Gigliotti, prosecutors agreed to drop one of the two charges of aggravated child abuse against Angelo and agreed that he will serve no jail time on the remaining charge. He will serve five years of probation.
Wearing a tight-fitting, black athletic shirt and blue jeans, the teen quietly told Circuit Judge Jack Springstead that he accepted the sentence.
"You understand that I give great credence to your position," Springstead asked him.
"Yes," the teen said.
Declining all requests for comment, Angelo briskly walked out of the courthouse. He is set to be sentenced April 29.
Angelo's plea "strengthens our case against Ms. Gigliotti," prosecutor Brian Trehy said. "And when you compare the wrongs done by the two, his were certainly not as significant as hers."
After her hearing Thursday, Gigliotti's attorneys said they were surprised by Angelo's plea deal but were eager to question him.
"I think it's surprising that he would switch when he did," attorney James Brown said. "His testimony … it doesn't ring true. It seems opportunistic to me."
Gigliotti and the boy moved from the Philadelphia area to a house on Whitmarsh Street in Spring Hill in 2004. According to investigators, the abuse quickly followed.
When the teen escaped from a barricaded bathroom in the house in early February 2009 and ran to neighbors for help, he told authorities he had spent time for nearly 15 months imprisoned there.
Investigators said they found bruises on the then-16-year-old from repeated beatings that broke his right forearm and left open wounds on his buttocks. They found weapons, including a metal-tipped hose, that allegedly were used to inflict the wounds.
Defense attorneys said the teen's story was greatly exaggerated and riddled with discrepancies that undermine the case.
Whittel and John Feiner, Gigliotti's attorney, suggested the case involved 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.
In one of his interviews with authorities, the teen said Gigliotti punished him "because I have anger issues and destroy things around the house."
Authorities charged Angelo after learning that he regularly led the boy into the bathroom and locked him inside. A subsequent investigation and court records do not indicate that he ever beat the boy.
In a deposition with Whittel in October, one of the deputies working on the case said Angelo "knew it was wrong and could not do anything about it."
Gigliotti is the widow of Anthony Gigliotti, one of the most accomplished classical clarinet players of the 20th century, who died at 79 in 2001 in a Camden, N.J., hospital.
A native of China, she came to the United States to study music, which is how she met Anthony Gigliotti.
Tai-Ling 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 state Department of Children and Families officials have 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 judge terminated Gigliotti's parental rights June 18 at the request of DCF. The boy remains in the care of a foster family in Hernando County.
Joel Anderson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 754-6120.