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Woman gets jail for beating that led to death

Della Cuellar on Monday received a 30-month prison sentence for her role in the August beating of Frank DeFranco Jr., who then was hit by a passing truck on State Road 44 and died a short time later. Circuit Judge John Thurman's sentence was the final scene in a dramatic hearing marked by tears, screaming and name-calling. At one point, the judge ordered a bailiff to lock the courtroom door and people were made to pass through a metal detector before they could sit in the courtroom.

Cuellar, 22, was one of three women charged with aggravated battery with a deadly weapon after the beating of DeFranco outside Fat Boy's Bar-B-Q in Inverness. After the fight, which started over spilled drinks inside the lounge, DeFranco ran onto the highway and was hit by a truck. He died days later in a Tampa hospital.

Cuellar had accepted a plea agreement last month that called for two years' community control. Thurman then ordered a pre-sentence investigation and delayed sentencing until Monday.

But Frank and Jean DeFranco, the victim's parents, and their attorney, Marc Gordon of Fort Lauderdale, on Monday vehemently opposed the plea offer. They wanted Cuellar to spend time behind bars.

After prolonged debate Monday, the attorneys agreed that the Hernando woman would get 30 months in prison. She will begin serving her sentence Monday.

Mrs. DeFranco said the sentence would not bring her son back, but "at least (Cuellar) is not going to walk the streets."

At the heart of the hearing Monday was whether jail time or community control was appropriate.

State Attorney Brad King told Thurman that the state had a poor chance of convicting Cuellar on the charge. Community control would allow officials to keep close watch over her and force her to help pay restitution to the DeFrancos.

If Cuellar violated community control, King said, the court could sentence her for breaking that agreement. But with a jail term, Cuellar would serve only 20 or 30 percent of the sentence and then be free of probation or restitution.

Mrs. DeFranco then began yelling at King and had to be escorted from the courtroom by a bailiff.

King said he wished more could be done. "I'm not trying to minimize what happened," he said. "In the long run, this is the best resolution."

Gordon disagreed and launched a stinging critique of the way prosecutors handled the case, saying at one point that there "was no prosecutor in this case."

The DeFrancos have maintained that prosecutors should have pressed a manslaughter charge against Cuellar. Failing that, Gordon said, Cuellar should at least be made to spend time in prison.

Last Thursday, the television news magazine Hard Copy aired a dramatization of the attack on Frank DeFranco. On Monday, Gordon tried to show a portion of the show in the courtroom, but Thurman would not allow it.

"I've got a pretty good understanding of what happened," Thurman said, adding that he did not need some "Hollywood point of view" regarding the story.

Gordon said he was pleased with the sentence, but he still wanted prosecutors to pursue the stronger charges against Cuellar.

Paul Hawkes, who represented Cuellar, said his client will serve no more than six months of the 30-month sentence because of jail overcrowding in the state.

Delores Giglio of Hernando received two years of probation for her role in the attack. A teen-age girl, whose name is being withheld because of her age, was sentenced to an indefinite period of time in a juvenile training center, followed by community control.

Gordon also announced that a support fund for the DeFrancos has been established at Sun Bank in Inverness. The DeFrancos, who are from Pennsylvania, say they have spent nearly $20,000 traveling to Citrus for various court appearances.