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Slurs push noose charge to felony

Published February 14, 2004

LARGO - The Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office has formally charged a Zephyrhills man with a felony battery in an incident in which he is accused of placing a noose around the neck of a 14-year-old sitting in a Largo Wendy's.

Louis John Giannola's charge was bumped up to a third-degree felony because prosecutors believe his actions were motivated by prejudice.

"It's a battery because we're alleging that Giannola intentionally touched or struck the victim against his will with the rope," said Joe Bulone, assistant state attorney and the head prosecutor on the case. "It's a felony because we're alleging a hate crime."

Largo police also arrested two juveniles - a girl and a boy. The girl, who authorities say bet 19-year-old Giannola $10 to use the noose, and the boy, accused of tying the noose, are both charged with felony battery.

They will be tried in juvenile court.

Attempts to reach both Giannola and his attorney were unsuccessful late Friday afternoon.

Giannola could serve anything from probation up to five years in prison, said Bruce Bartlett, the chief assistant in the State Attorney's Office.

"The underlying crime was a misdemeanor battery, and because it was done with racial implications, it enhances the crime by a degree," Bartlett said. "In this case, it was a first-degree misdemeanor."

Largo police arrested and charged Giannola with hate crime battery on Jan. 14. Giannola was released from jail on Jan. 18. A police report said that Giannola used racial epithets when addressing Largo High School student Dionte Hall.

Those racial epithets are part of the evidence, Bartlett said.

"The problem in these kinds of cases is being able to establish the purpose for which he did the act," Bartlett said. "The racial epithet locks the No. 1 guy. The other juvenile made some statements outside, again racially motivated, and that ties him in. A third individual, the female, enticed (Giannola) to do what he did. Racial epithets establish the qualifications for the hate crime statute."

Chris Hall, Dionte's father, declined to comment.

- Adrienne Samuels can be reached at 445-4157 or Staff writer Shannon Tan contributed to this report. [Last modified February 14, 2004, 01:31:45]

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