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Teen testifies in alleged torture case in Spring Hill

The teen whom Tai-Ling Gigliotti is accused of beating testifies Tuesday. He is not being identified because he is a juvenile.

WILL VRAGOVIC | Times

The teen whom Tai-Ling Gigliotti is accused of beating testifies Tuesday. He is not being identified because he is a juvenile.

BROOKSVILLE — In the small bathroom that became his prison cell, the teenager would sit on the edge of the tub. Sometimes he would play his clarinet or snack on pasta and candy that he had hidden away. He would sleep in a sleeping bag on the floor.

That was the dreary routine he described Tuesday as the public heard for the first time from the 17-year-old at the center of a case authorities have called "incarceration with torture."

The teen said he was locked in the bathroom for days at a time, desperate for food and raw from beatings administered by his aunt. So he finally decided to run away.

Even if it meant being forced to return to a country he hadn't visited in nearly a dozen years.

"I thought being deported to Taiwan would be better than staying where I was," he testified.

The teen, who authorities say was repeatedly imprisoned in the bathroom for more than a year and beaten repeatedly until his escape in February 2009, was the first witness in the highly publicized trial of his aunt, Tai-Ling Gigliotti.

He spent more than six hours on the witness stand, including a withering three-hour cross-examination from defense attorney Jimmy Brown. Wearing a dark-blue JROTC suit and sporting a shaved head, the teen was generally stoic and composed. Speaking in a monotone, he mostly responded with one-word answers — "yes" or "no" — and referred to the woman he once called mom as "Tai-Ling."

Gigliotti, 51, faces two counts of aggravated child abuse. If convicted, she could get 60 years in prison. Her former boyfriend, Anton Angelo, made a plea deal last month. In exchange for his testimony against Gigliotti, he was sentenced to five years of probation.

The teen, who isn't being identified because he is a juvenile, testified Tuesday that Gigliotti forced him to spend most of his days and nights in the small bathroom of their Spring Hill home for about 15 months.

Before he broke free of the barricaded bathroom, the teen said, he was beaten mercilessly by Gigliotti. He said she used a wooden stick and a metal-tipped hose in a pair of beatings before his escape.

"She had this demonic look on her face," he said.

After the punishment, he said, he was left in the bathroom for several days without food or clothing. Finally, he said, he decided to run away for good.

"I wasn't going to leave that house alive," the boy said, "unless I left it on my own."

Gigliotti, the widow of famed clarinetist Anthony Gigliotti, and the boy moved from the Philadelphia area to a house on Whitmarsh Street in Spring Hill in 2004. According to the teen, the abuse quickly followed.

"There's always been problems," he said. "I got blamed for everything."

But defense attorneys say his story is greatly exaggerated and riddled with discrepancies. During cross-examination Tuesday, Brown pointed out several inconsistencies between the teen's depositions last year and his testimony earlier that morning.

In particular, Brown pushed him to acknowledge that Gigliotti had taken him out for dinner, fishing, movies and even Walt Disney World in the months before he escaped from the bathroom.

"Where else did you go?" Brown asked.

"I have no recollection of those days," the teen said.

Brown focused on a diary that the teen had kept, and had him read an excerpt in which he admitted he had abused a cat that later died.

The cat was Angelo's favorite, and Brown used the episode to show that the teen was capable of violence and lashing back at Angelo.

The teen skirted responsibility, however, saying Gigliotti made him write the diary entries.

Joel Anderson can be reached at joelanderson@sptimes.com and (352) 754-6120. You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/jandersontimes.

Teen testifies in alleged torture case in Spring Hill 05/04/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 5, 2010 12:30am]

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