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Crime & Courts

Former Tampa principal pleads guilty in 2012 Pinellas rampage

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Published:   |   Updated: September 9, 2013 at 11:26 PM

CLEARWATER — Anthony Giancola's final destination in his precipitous decline from once-beloved Tampa middle school principal to accused crack-addicted murderer is no longer in question.

The 46-year-old St. Petersburg man was looking at death by lethal injection.

Instead, he'll spend the rest of his life behind bars.

The Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office was originally seeking the death penalty for Giancola, who killed two people and injured a half-dozen others in a 2012 rampage in Lealman and Pinellas Park. But then Giancola's attorneys with the public defender's office offered a guilty plea in exchange for a life sentence.

Prosecutors said OK, as long as Giancola received the maximum sentences for each of the eight charges filed against him and that those sentences run back-to-back. The public defender's office agreed.

That meant that in exchange for Giancola's guilty plea to two first-degree murder charges, four attempted-murder charges and two aggravated battery charges, Giancola would receives six consecutive life sentences, plus two consecutive 15-year sentences for the two aggravated battery charges.

“You'll never be released from prison,” Circuit Judge Thane Covert told Giancola, who was respectful and articulate as Covert accepted his plea and imposed the sentences.

Family members of the victims who were killed — and some of the victims who survived — left the courtroom Monday with mixed feelings.

“I feel Anthony Giancola should feel privileged that he was able to get life,” said Deborah Clem, the aunt of one of the murder victims, as she read from a handwritten statement in court penned by the victim's mother, who was too distraught to read it herself.

“He left behind a lot of broken hearts,” Clem read. “I hope you think about what you have done for the rest of your life,” she told Giancola.

Giancola's troubles in the criminal justice system began in 2007, when he bought a $20 piece of crack cocaine from an undercover Tampa police officer while in the principal's office at Van Buren Middle School. He was led away in handcuffs and was sentenced to 364 days in jail.

Things got decidedly worse after he resigned, culminating in the 2012 rampage on June 22 that investigators attributed to Giancola being high.

It began at 10:48 a.m. at a Lealman group home for the hearing impaired and lasted roughly an hour. At the group home, at 5100 35th Way N., Giancola stabbed four people, killing two — 59-year-old Mary Anne Allis and 27-year-old Justin Lee Vandenburgh. Then he bludgeoned two owners of a Pinellas Park hotel with a hammer and used his car to hit four pedestrians and a teenager on a bike, investigators said.

Assistant State Attorney Thomas Koskinas told Judge Covert that prosecutors' decision to accept the guilty plea in exchange for a life sentence was made after discussing the matter with family members of the victims.

While family members' statements before the judge seemed to dovetail with that sequence of events, a handful of remarks made outside the courtroom painted a different picture, with some family members complaining they weren't adequately consulted.

One of the survivors at the group home was Janice Rhoden, who was 43 when she was stabbed in the head.

“It's just not right he got life in prison,” Rhoden said outside the courtroom, in sign language that was translated by an interpreter.

“He took advantage of us. We couldn't hear him coming,” she said.

Vandenburgh's mother, Jennifer Waterman, couldn't speak before the judge, so she let Justin's aunt, Clem, read her letter, and there was no opposition to the plea contained in the missive. But outside court, she spoke, and she was clearly against a life sentence.

“He's gonna have the life of Riley,” said Waterman. “He's gonna get three hots and a cot,” along with visits from family members and access to a gym.

Justin's uncle, George Vandenburgh, echoed those sentiments.

“He should be sitting in the chair right now,” he said, referring to the now-defunct electric chair and offering to pull the switch himself.

But Sherwin Petrucelli, 27, the son of Allis, the other murder victim, was OK with the plea.

“I feel like it was fair,” Petrucelli said outside court. “I felt like the death penalty was too easy.”

Jamie Raulerson, 28, Allis' daughter, said she felt pretty much the same way.

“I felt that justice was served,” she said outside court. “No matter how much time he does — or whether he lives or dies — he will never be able to pay the debt.”

After he stabbed Allis, Vandenburgh, Rhoden, and Danielle Whitney Gilbert, then 25, Giancola went to the Kenvin's Motel, at 6801 Haines Road in Pinellas Park, where owner Kanu Patel and his wife, Indiranden, both 57, were beaten with a hammer, Pinellas Park police said.

Shortly after, Giancola talked to several people hanging out on a duplex porch in Lealman and asked if the women “were down to party,” said one person in the group. After being told all the women were married, Giancola cursed at the group and sped away, then turned the car around and rammed into the porch, hitting a man and three women, investigators said.

As Giancola drove away, a 13-year-old boy on a bike was struck by the car, investigators said.

sthompson@tampatrib.com

(727) 215-6504

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