Family friend tells tale of troubled teen
BROOKSVILLE - A witness told the dramatic story of a teenager who torched his family's poolside cabana, scratched his mother's fiancé's car and openly wished the two would go to prison for life.
Minchi Phillips has known child abuse defendant Tai-Ling Gigliotti for most of their lives. They are close friends dating back to when the two played music together 30 years ago, she said.
Gigliotti, 51, is on trial in a Hernando County courtroom for two counts of aggravated child abuse.
She is accused of caging and beating her late husband's adopted son, whom she raised for nearly 10 years.
Phillips was the first witness called Saturday in Hernando County Circuit Court.
The trial, which was still going on as of deadline, is likely to continue at least through Monday. Closing arguments are expected that morning.
While on the stand, Phillips said she was close to Gigliotti and the victim, called her friend a "very forgiving" mother and said she was less strict than she probably could have been.
She first met the victim when he was 6 years old when he was adopted from a broken family out of Taiwan. For most of his life, the boy seemed to be a model child, she said.
"From what I'd seen … (the victim) was someone I wanted my children to be like," Phillips said. "He was always very helpful. He would help around the house … He would help TL with the business. I always thought he was really set for a really bright future … He was well-mannered and very polite to people."
Within the last couple of years the victim lived with his guardian, Phillips said her friend regularly confided in her. The boy's behavior was growing progressively worse.
"I told her she should probably report it to the police," she said of the boy's outbursts.
Phillips visited Gigliotti's home in Spring Hill once a year and would spend a week there, she said.
She testified Gigliotti wasn't violent nor could she inflict much harm even if she was capable.
Phillips said her friend suffers from high-blood pressure and diabetes. She also suffers from chronic shoulder pain.
While on the stand Saturday, Phillips described a conversation she had with the victim, a couple months after Gigliotti and her fiancé were arrested in February 2009.
"He told me after this is over … he wants to make sure she is put away for life," Phillips said.
She described the victim as defiant and mean-spirited whenever he talked about Gigliotti and her fiancé. He talked about suing them after their criminal case ends.
Gigliotti's fiancé, Anton Angelo, pleaded guilty to one count of aggravated child abuse and was sentenced to five years probation in exchange for his testimony. He took the stand Thursday for the prosecution.
If convicted, Gigliotti faces up to 60 years in prison.
Phillips also remembered Gigliotti telling her the story of how and why the victim burned down her cabana.
The boy, now 17 and living with a foster family, wanted to roast marshmallows in the house, Phillips said. His mother told him no, so he asked whether he could do so in the cabana. She refused again, the witness said.
"He was upset," Phillips testified. "He set it on fire."
The defense also called two medical professionals to the stand Saturday to refute the victim's statements that he was subjected to repeated beatings.
Among them was Dr. Donald Mellman, an expert in blunt force trauma. He suggested the victim was not telling the truth when he spoke to authorities following his escape.
He told jurors the victim would be a "badly broken person" if he had been beaten the way he described.
"The photographs are indicative of something else," Mellman said.
He thought the injuries more closely resembled scratches rather that blunt force trauma.
Gigliotti's testimony took place after deadline Saturday.
Reporter Tony Holt can be reached at 352-544-5283 or firstname.lastname@example.org