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Woman rejects plea deal in Hernando teen torture case

Tai-Ling Gigliotti, accused of imprisoning a teen boy in a bathroom and abusing him, wipes away tears in court Thursday.

WILL VRAGOVIC | Times

Tai-Ling Gigliotti, accused of imprisoning a teen boy in a bathroom and abusing him, wipes away tears in court Thursday.

BROOKSVILLE — She leaned on the shoulder of her defense attorney, burst into tears and plopped down into a chair. She struggled to answer the judge's instructions. Then she fell silent.

Tai-Ling Gigliotti did not want to accept a plea deal.

Only minutes before she was to accept a plea offer Thursday, Gigliotti changed her mind. Instead, she will go on trial Monday on charges she imprisoned a 17-year-old boy in her Spring Hill home and repeatedly beat him in a case that authorities have called "incarceration with torture."

"Today was your last day to enter a voluntary change of plea," Circuit Judge Jack Springstead told Gigliotti. "If you leave here today, that opportunity will no longer be available to you."

Gigliotti, 51, faces two counts of aggravated child abuse. If convicted, she could face up to 60 years in prison. In the plea deal that Gigliotti's attorney, Jimmy Brown, had worked out Thursday morning, she would have faced no more than eight years.

During her hearing, Gigliotti sobbed loudly while Springstead went through a list of conditions for the plea deal. The crying became so distracting that Springstead eventually asked her to stop.

"Ms. Gigliotti, compose yourself, okay?" Springstead said. She quickly apologized.

But Gigliotti never regained her composure enough for Springstead's liking, and he called for a 15-minute recess. Before clearing the courtroom, Springstead told Brown and Gigliotti that he wouldn't accept the plea if she didn't "answer my questions clearly, directly and succinctly."

During the recess, Gigliotti made it clear to Brown that she wanted a jury trial.

"I did not know we were going that way," Brown said. "Sometimes, the most practical decision isn't always the best decision. Morally, she just could not do it."

Gigliotti's trial is set to start at 9 a.m. Monday with jury selection.

Also in court was Gigliotti's former fiance, Anton Angelo, who was sentenced to five years of probation in exchange for his testimony against Gigliotti.

Last month, prosecutors agreed to drop one of the two charges of aggravated child abuse against Angelo, 46. The agreement was bolstered by the teen's appearance in court to verify his agreement with the sentence. Springstead agreed to the plea Thursday.

"Understand that this has nothing to do with you," Springstead told him. "It all has to do with the victim and what he's requested in this case."

After his hearing, Angelo declined to comment.

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 soon 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 nearly 15 months imprisoned there.

Investigators said they found bruises on the boy, then 16, from repeated beatings that broke his right forearm and left open wounds on his buttocks, among other injuries. They found weapons, including a metal-tipped hose, that allegedly were used to inflict the wounds.

Defense attorneys have said the teen's story was greatly exaggerated and riddled with discrepancies that undermine the case. They said the case involved discipline more than abuse, adding that the teen was a difficult child with a history of violence and disciplinary problems.

"It's safe to say our defense will be in large part about self-defense," Brown said.

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.

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, Tai-Ling Gigliotti came to the United States to study music, which is how she met Anthony Gigliotti.

She 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 have 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. Today, the teen remains in the care of a foster family in Hernando County.

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

Woman rejects plea deal in Hernando teen torture case 04/29/10 [Last modified: Friday, April 30, 2010 2:03pm]
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