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Mistrial Declared in Case of Fla. Teen

September 24, 2004

CLEARWATER, Fla. (AP) _ The case against a teenager accused of draping a noose around the shoulders of a black teen at a fast food restaurant ended Thursday in a mistrial after defense attorneys said prosecutors did not disclose some evidence.

The mistrial was declared after a friend and classmate of Dionte Hall, 15, said he heard Louis J. Giannola IV, 19, utter a racial slur against Hall. Defense attorney Sami Thalji argued the friend, Jason Cantone, never made that allegation in his deposition and state prosecutors never disclosed it.

``We had no idea this was coming,″ Thalji said.

There will be a new trial; a pre-trial hearing is set for Oct. 6.

The incident occurred in January at a Wendy’s restaurant in Largo as Hall sat at a table with his high school basketball teammates. Hall said he was angry, but walked away rather than starting a confrontation. He has since received awards from Largo city officials for handing the incident with grace.

Giannola contends he did not put the noose around Hall’s neck out of hate, but because another teen, whose father is black, bet him $10 to do it.

Giannola was charged with felony battery, and prosecutors must prove the act was fueled by prejudice for the state-enhanced hate crime penalties to be applied.

In opening statements Wednesday, Thalji told jurors his client did not mean to be offensive.

``What he did was wrong, but it was not a crime. ... Sometimes things are intended to be jokes and they’re not funny,″ Thalji said.

But prosecutor Scott Rosenwasser told jurors that calling the act a joke ``would be an insult to your common sense.″

``Jokes have punch lines. The punch line was hatred,″ he said.

Two other teenagers who were with Giannola were charged with being principles to the hate crime. Both pleaded guilty in juvenile court and received probation.

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