Juror describes 'disturbing' child abuse trial

Date: 2010-05-11

By TONY HOLT | Hernando Today

Published: May 11, 2010

Updated: 05/11/2010 07:07 pm

BROOKSVILLE - Judy Rice braced herself that first day of jury duty.
The mother of two and a grandmother of two teenagers, she was bemoaning the prospect of sitting through a lengthy child abuse case.

The graphic photos offended her. The details of the abuse hurt her. The behavior of the defendant perplexed her.

"It was a very disturbing trial," said Rice, who took a day off Tuesday before returning to work.

Tai-Ling Gigliotti, 51, of Spring Hill, was convicted Monday in Hernando County Circuit Court on two counts of aggravated child abuse.

The six jurors sided with prosecutor Brian Trehy, who argued she caged her adopted son in the bathroom and regularly whipped him during a 15-month period.

The boy escaped Feb. 9, 2009, and ran to a neighbor's house. Earlier that morning, he received a severe beating by his mother. Photographs of his injuries were submitted to the jury.

Gigliotti will be sentenced June 9. She faces up to 60 years in prison.

After a day of jury selection, testimony last week began Tuesday morning and concluded Saturday night.

Monday consisted of an emotional day of closing arguments followed by nearly three hours of deliberations. Mostly everything the defense presented was promptly discarded by the six jurors, said Rice.

"Obviously, the defense had nothing," she said. "Almost every witness they brought up was discredited. The attorneys tried to convince us of one thing and the state just destroyed them."

The lopsided comparison between state and defense evidence was why jurors deliberated for less than three hours, she said.

It seemed out of balance with the rest of the trial, which included more than 100 hours of testimony and lengthy direct and cross examinations of key witnesses, including Gigliotti, her fiancé and the victim.

Defendant damaged herself on the stand

Gigliotti's testimony did nothing to help her, said Rice.

"Throughout the trial, she was very involved with her attorneys," she said. "She was taking notes. She was talking to them. She was very aware of what was going on."

Then Rice remembered the constant confused expression on the defendant's face while she sat on the witness chair.

"When she was called up to testify, it was like her first day in court," she said. "It was like she had just gotten into this."

Jurors turned to each other and looked surprised during portions of Gigliotti's testimony, particularly when she refused to answer Trehy's questions.

When the prosecutor asked her to provide specifics about her adopting the boy more than 10 years ago from Taiwan, she shot back, "Am I on trial for this?"

After a few more similar stonewalls, Circuit Judge Jack Springstead scolded Gigliotti and ordered her to answer Trehy's questions.

He was forced to tell her a few more times.

"Our jaws would just drop," she said of Gigliotti's combativeness with Trehy.

Gigliotti dressed in designer clothes each day in court. She wore a large silver cross around her neck.

She would often speak with her attorneys who sat on either side of her or lean back and whisper to one of the legal assistants working on the case.

She laughed whenever the judge playfully bantered with the jury or whenever the attorneys huddled and joked during a recess. She was animated throughout the trial.

The only tears Rice saw from Gigliotti came when her family friend and veterinarian testified about her cat that had died from kidney failure.

"She went to pieces," said Rice.

Comparatively, she showed no emotion when her son took the stand.

Jurors also caught Gigliotti glaring at her son, both when he testified early in the trial and again during closing arguments, when defense attorney Jimmy Brown read upsetting passages in the victim's journal.

"She just looked mean," recalled Rice.

As for the journal, it was the first piece of evidence jurors delved into when they reached the deliberation room.

"It was a very important piece of evidence, so we could barely wait to get our hands on that," she said.

They were shocked to see writings on only six pages.

They also noticed at least a couple of the pages were stitched into the binder. Rice thought it looked suspicious.

"He wrote things like, 'I'm evil. I'm a bad kid. I hurt my mom's cat,'" Rice said. "I know my personal journals wouldn't read like that."

The journal, perhaps the most important piece of the defense's evidence, didn't carry much weight when it came time to make a decision, she said.

Dramatizing an implausible story

Jurors didn't think much of the testimony from Anton Angelo, the defendant's fiancé who avoided prison time of his own by entering a guilty plea six weeks before the trial.

He received five years probation in exchange for his testimony. He nearly lost the privilege of probation after Springstead riled him for not being forthcoming with his testimony. The judge gave him an ultimatum. Testify honestly or else.

Angelo remains engaged to Gigliotti and has lived with her for years.

"He was wishy-washy at first," Rice said of Angelo.

"He was better after that," recalling the moment Springstead dressed him down, "but I feel the state got cheated. I think we all felt that."

Defense attorneys argued Gigliotti used self-defense against the victim the morning of Feb. 9, 2009. They said the boy, now 17, tried to sexually assault her and in the process, grabbed her shirt and bra.

The bra Gigliotti reportedly wore that morning was submitted into evidence. A wire in it was broken.

"It happens to every woman when she washes a bra," said Rice.

Defense attorneys also argued the boy was on top of his mother while the two were on the floor in his bedroom. Gigliotti testified she grabbed a nearby piece of lumber and whacked it against his buttocks to escape.

Two jurors reenacted the scenario, using the same piece of lumber that was submitted into evidence.

Rice lay on top of another juror who held the stick and tried to swing it the way the defendant described.

The juror, who was roughly the same size and strength as Gigliotti, could lift the stick, but couldn't find the strength to swing it with any force, Rice said.

Gigliotti also testified she suffered from an arthritic right shoulder. She's right-handed.

Rice said all seven people who sat in the jury box bonded quickly. When the lone man in the jury described how he picked out his clothes a day in advance, one of the jurors asked him, "What color is it going to be tomorrow."

From that point forward, everyone wore the same color. One day it was yellow, another purple and so forth, Rice said.

Some of them worried their fashion coordination could be perceived as a frivolous sideshow during a serious trial.

It had the opposite effect, Rice said. It showed the judge and attorneys they were a unit.

"We were on top of it from day one," she said. "We were a very close-knit group."

Reporter Tony Holt can be reached at 352-544-5283 or wholt@hernandotoday.com.

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