Woman gets 12 years in Hernando child abuse case
By TONY HOLT
BROOKSVILLE - He spoke softly and at times didn't appear as though he could go through with it.
Prosecutor Brian Trehy stood up ready to tell the boy he didn't need to say more.
He finally got it out.
His words were pointed directly at his adopted mother, who caged him and abused him for 15 months.
The 17-year-old boy, whose name is not being released, said Tai-Ling Gigliotti deprived him of his freedom. He was treated like a prisoner.
"Freedom is a symbol of this country," he said. "That symbol has been disgraced by Tai-Ling Gigliotti."
Hernando County Circuit Judge Jack Springstead sentenced Gigliotti to 12 years in prison. Two months ago, jurors convicted her of two counts of aggravated child abuse.
Gigliotti faced up to 60 years in prison. In his statements prior to Wednesday's sentencing, it appeared Springstead was prepared to incarcerate her for the rest of her life.
With his voice sometimes approaching a shout, the judge admonished the defendant for her perceived lack of remorse. He said it was evident throughout the case, including when she took the stand at her trial.
"Nowhere in her testimony did this court feel she … ever regretted any of her actions or whether she felt contrite in her actions," said Springstead. "She never accepted any responsibility nor did she ever, ever to this day admit wrongdoing."
Springstead held up a letter Gigliotti herself had submitted to the judge the day of her sentencing. He said it "contains no admission or statement of remorse."
He called it "just another letter asking for leniency."
After the sentence, the judge asked Gigliotti whether she understood his ruling. She was hesitant in her answer.
After conferring with her attorney, she addressed the judge almost in a whisper.
She said she was sorry, but followed that by offering excuses as to why she caged her son.
Springstead interrupted her.
"No, your actions created this problem," he said.
Publicizing victim's behavior was a 'travesty,' prosecutor says.
Gigliotti's defense attorneys had filed numerous motions arguing the victim was a sexually disturbed teen and prone to misbehavior.
They also said the state had failed to prove the victim had been injured or disfigured while he lived with Gigliotti. In short, they argued the state did not fulfill all the requirements for a conviction based on what is outlined in the statute.
The victim, now 17, attends a local high school and is under foster care. He has been removed from different foster homes because of his misconduct, according to the defense.
"(The victim) is not just a troubled teen," attorney Jimmy Brown said Wednesday to the judge. "He's not someone who became bad because of Tai-Ling. … He is someone who was absolutely out of control."
Brown called the boy a "provoker" and described his "escalating pattern of behavior." He listed instances when he stole from a department store, burned down his mother's cabana and tortured her pets out of revenge.
In motions that were published in local newspapers, Brown also described the boy as sexually deranged. He was removed from one foster home because he had performed a sex act on another child in the house who was 14, according to one of the motions.
Gigliotti testified the boy sexually assaulted her the morning he escaped from the house. His injuries were the result of her fighting back in self-defense, she said.
"I'm not excusing any excessive punishment," Brown told the judge, "but (the victim) was a significant part of that harm."
When it became prosecutor Brian Trehy's turn to speak, he took aim at that argument.
"She was in some perverse way, doing it out of love," he said mockingly. "A mother's love for a child should never come to the point of abuse."
Trehy said after Wednesday's hearing it was a "travesty" the boy's life was put "under a microscope." He stopped short of blaming Brown.
"I hope it doesn't do anything to deter another abused child from coming forward," he said.
A sad reunion with the mother left behind
During Wednesday's hearing, Yann Ling, a former New Jersey social worker, read a letter written by the boy's biological mother who lives in Taiwan.
Ling testified on the mother's behalf.
The letter explained the mother's side of the story. She described the circumstances surrounding the adoption. She said it was done deceptively.
Gigliotti is the boy's aunt. Her brother's ex-wife is his biological mother.
The mother agreed to let the boy, who was 6, stay with Gigliotti for six months. He never returned.
For years the mother tried to locate Gigliotti and her son, but her efforts failed.
"Finally, in May 2004, when (the victim) was 12, she got his address from a friend," Ling said to the judge.
Gigliotti informed the mother's attorney that if word got out the boy was an illegal immigrant, he would be expelled from school.
Gigliotti told the woman her only choice was to sign over her parental rights. In exchange, she would be able to see her son again either during the summer or Christmas, said Ling.
"After the paperwork was signed, Tai-Ling would never let the two talk to each other," she told the judge.
The victim put his head down during Ling's testimony. When she recited a letter written by the boy's mother, he covered his ears and cried.
The defense's story about Gigliotti saving the boy from a difficult home life in Taiwan was "misrepresented," said Ling.
In April, the boy and his biological mother met for the first time in nearly 12 years. They didn't know each other's language and needed an interpreter.
"She never abandoned her son," Ling said of the mother.
Caged, hog-tied and beaten
Gigliotti was arrested soon after the boy escaped from the house.
The morning of Feb. 9, 2009, she left her son locked in the guest bathroom. He was stripped naked and hog-tied with tape and bungee cords. The power was turned off. The door was bolted shut.
He broke free after his mother and her fiancé went to work and ran to a neighbor's house, deputies said.
Traces of blood were discovered on a stick and a metal-tipped hose that were later recovered by detectives during a search warrant. Both objects were submitted as evidence in the trial. The state's expert witnesses said the boy's injuries were consistent with his story — he was regularly beaten at the hands of his adopted mother.
"This case is not about (the victim)," Springstead said before he announced his sentence. "This case is about Tai-Ling Gigliotti and what she did to (her son). Nothing he did or could have done could have justified the treatment."
He then scorned the defendant for never trying to help the victim, even though there were obvious signs showing he needed counseling.
"There's no way you could come in here and attack the victim and at the same time fail to make any effort to have the victim treated and dealt with," the judge told Gigliotti. "That is, in the eyes of the court, inexcusable."
Following her 12-year sentence, Gigliotti also is required to serve three years probation.
Originally, Gigliotti wanted to enter a guilty plea after her co-defendant and fiancé Anton Angelo reached a plea agreement with the state that gave him five years probation. She changed her mind at the last minute during a hearing in late April.
Angelo originally was charged with the same two counts of aggravated child abuse. He pleaded guilty to one and the state dropped the other. The probation sentence was in exchange for his testimony at Gigliotti's trial.
He testified he saw Gigliotti beat her son with a wooden stick the morning before the boy escaped.