Initiating a sexual relationship with a minor generally
guarantees a jail term; however, a Chester County judge departed
from the norm yesterday, calling the case one of the most unusual he
had ever seen.
President Judge Howard F. Riley Jr. said he believed
incarceration would put Matthew D. Giannascoli at risk and would not
serve society. As a result, he sentenced the 21-year-old Bryn Mawr
man to 10 years' probation, the first year of which must be spent on
Riley said Giannascoli must continue to receive psychological
treatment, complete the sex offenders' program, and avoid any
contact with the victim or her family.
The judge said psychologists for both the defense and the
prosecution agreed that Giannascoli, diagnosed with various
developmental disorders, functions "emotionally as a 14- or
In addition, the experts said negative personality changes have
been reported as side effects of the drug Straterra, which
Giannascoli began taking several days before his visits with a
14-year-old girl he met in an Internet chat room. Straterra is used
to treat attention disorders.
"I cannot rule out the possibility that the medication may have
triggered behaviors which were uncharacteristic for the defendant,"
said Bruce Mapes, a forensic psychologist who concluded that
Giannascoli was not a sexually violent predator.
In another courtroom yesterday, a New Jersey man received a more
typical sentence for similar charges: 30 to 72 months in prison for
attempted involuntary deviate sexual intercourse and sexual assault.
Chester County Court Judge Juan R. Sanchez accepted the terms of
a plea agreement that also called for Mont Edward Shatley Jr., 34,
of Paulsboro, to spend five years on probation after the jail term.
Shatley, who presented no history of psychological problems,
entered a guilty plea in September, admitting that he picked up a
15-year-old girl on Aug. 19, 1999, in Parkesburg, forced her to have
sex with him, and threatened her if she told anyone. She did not
report the attack for more than two years.
Giannascoli, who pleaded guilty in September to attempted
involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, indecent assault, and
corruption of minors, admitted that he began a two-week online
correspondence with the victim, who was in the eighth grade.
He said the girl gave him directions to her house so they could
meet when her parents were away. The parents came home early on
March 28, his third visit, and found Giannascoli undressed in their
Assistant District Attorney Kimberly A. Callahan said that
factoring in Giannascoli's limitations did not change the severe
impact on the victim and her family. She said a sentence in the
standard range - 36 to 54 months - would be appropriate.
Giannascoli knew his behavior was wrong, Callahan argued.
Otherwise, he would not have entered the girl's home through a
bedroom window or lied about his age, Callahan said.
The girl's mother said the family had added an alarm system and a
dog in an effort to recover some sense of security, but her
daughter's nightmares continue.
Before this incident, the family had a "false sense of security,"
the mother said, adding that Internet access can be the equivalent
of "throwing the front door open."
Defense attorney Robert J. Donatoni said Giannascoli's emotional
immaturity and small stature would make a jail term "barbaric."
Gerald Cooke, a forensic psychologist hired by the defense, said
he believed Giannascoli would be a suicide risk in prison, where he
would "have to be kept in protective custody." Also, he would not
get the help he needs since "security is more important than
treatment" in prison, Cooke said.
Addressing the court in his own behalf, Giannascoli said, "If you
put me in jail ... you would do my family and me a bad thing. What
my doctor said about committing suicide, I would do it if I was in