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Man who noosed teen is jailed 60 days

When a judge ordered Louis J. Giannola IV to jail last month for placing a hangman's noose around a black teen's neck, the 20-year-old's face burned red with grief.

Giannola returned to Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Timothy Peters' courtroom Monday to learn whether he would spend even more time behind bars.

This time, when Peters issued a final sentence of 60 days in jail, Giannola simply nodded his head. And when the judge ordered him to perform 50 hours of community service, Giannola asked him to double it. When the bailiffs led him away, Giannola appeared calm and relieved.

"I take full blame for what I have done, and from this I have learned another lesson within itself," Giannola read in a statement. "Regret has stowed upon me as I reflect back on my actions."

Prosecutors charged Giannola with a hate crime for placing the noose around 14-year-old Dionte Hall's neck inside a Wendy's near Largo High School in January 2004. If convicted of the felony, Giannola could have faced as much as five years in prison.

A jury took about 20 minutes in December to convict Giannola of misdemeanor battery but spared him the felony charge. The jury thought Giannola's actions were wrong but not motivated by prejudice.

Still, Peters ordered him jailed without bail, causing Giannola to sob.

He spent 21 days behind bars, including Christmas and his 20th birthday, before Peters granted him a $5,000 bail and he was released. He returned to court Monday knowing Peters could send him to jail for as much as a year.

Hall's parents, who attended the trial, did not attend the sentencing. Prosecutor Joe Bulone said he thought they were "a little weary of the whole thing." Hall's mother, Cheryl Hall, declined comment Monday evening other than to say they were glad the case was over.

Bulone suggested Peters consider the use of the noose, as well as racial slurs bystanders heard, during sentencing. He said Hall, who reacted calmly after the incident and reported it to authorities, "put his faith in the system and the police and the court."

Giannola's mother and aunt spoke on his behalf, as did Giannola's boss at an aircraft company in Las Vegas. He moved there to live with relatives after the incident.

They said Giannola finished high school, attended community college, worked his job dutifully and even started his own business detailing planes. They described his act with the noose as a stupid prank egged on by peers, including one girl who offered him $10 to do it.

"I know that my son did not mean to do what he did," said his mother, Damarys Giannola.

Family members also suggested the incident was a turning point in Giannola's life, that it turned an aimless and flagging teen into a young man with purpose and focus.

"His life has actually improved since this incident," said Sami Thalji, one of his attorneys. "He has dug himself out of the huge hole that he dug for himself last year."

Giannola read a statement to Hall's family asking for forgiveness.

"It is my misfortune that I am unable to turn back the hands of time and take back the evil I have caused," he said.

Before sentencing Giannola, Peters twice pointed out that he was not being critical of the jury's decision. But he said there were facts of the case he couldn't ignore.

"It's absolutely unacceptable. The symbolism of it is just overwhelming," Peters said.

The judge also praised Hall several times for not reacting to the incident.

"Our young victim, it seems to me, was a saint," Peters said.

Giannola will receive credit for the time he has already served in jail. He could be out by the end of the month. He also must serve 10 months of probation.

Giannola's mother blew him a kiss before he was led away to jail. Though family members cried, they also managed smiles outside the courtroom.

Giannola's attorneys said they feared Peters would be even more severe, so they were somewhat relieved with the sentence. They have claimed from the start that Giannola is not racist, that he perhaps didn't appreciate the serious symbolism a noose carries. They said his request for doubling the community service shows he's learned a lesson.

"It means that he got it," attorney Barry K. Taracks said. "We all get what that rope symbolizes. But I don't think Louis really got it. And it wasn't hatred, it was ignorance."