CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- The father of a young hockey player was
convicted of involuntary manslaughter Friday for beating another
man to death at their sons' practice as onlookers begged him to
Thomas Junta, 44, bowed his head as the jury forewoman haltingly
read the verdict. Junta said nothing and showed little reaction before he was led away as several of his brothers sobbed in the courtroom.
The burly truck driver had been tried on the more serious charge
of manslaughter, which includes excessive use of force in
self-defense. He faces up to 20 years in prison, but as a
first-time offender will probably be sentenced to a much shorter
term -- perhaps three to five years -- on Jan. 25.
"I feel sorry for him, I really do. But I can't say he's not
guilty," said juror Richard Rotberg, 53, a sales executive and
former youth soccer coach. "A man was killed. Someone has to be
accountable for it."
The closely watched case had become a symbol of what some say is
a growing wave of parental violence at youth sporting events. The
trial was carried on national cable networks and the case has
dominated talk radio shows.
Junta said he killed Michael Costin, 40, in self-defense after
they argued over rough play during the practice July 5, 2000.
He said he tried to avoid coming to blows with Costin, but
fought back after the smaller man threw a "sucker punch," jumped
on him and continued to hit and kick him after the two men fell to
Junta said he landed just "three off-balance" punches, a claim
backed up by witnesses that included his 12-year-old son, Quinlan.
But two witnesses testified Junta struck Costin repeatedly in
the head while pinning him to the floor of the Burbank Ice Arena in
Reading, Mass. The two women said Junta ignored their screams to stop and
insistence that "you're going to kill him!"
Costin never regained consciousness and died a day later.
After the verdict, Costin's sister, Mary Barbuzzi, said she
hoped no other family would have to endure such "senseless pain."
"Michael Costin was a loving brother, a caring son but most of
all he was a dedicated father," she said, standing next to
Costin's four children. "Michael Costin succeeded in the hardest
job there is -- he was a good father. Our family will never be
Added District Attorney Martha Coakley: "Our hope tonight is
that if there is any good that comes out of this it will be that we
will not see another parent on an autopsy table as a result of
parental rage over children's sports."
Medical experts for both sides said Costin died of a ruptured
artery in his neck. They differed sharply on how much force -- in
this case, how many blows -- was needed to cause the injury.
The fatal confrontation began after Junta became angry about
slashing and checking at what was supposed to be a non-contact
scrimmage that Costin was supervising. Junta said he saw a player
elbow his son in the face.
Witnesses said Junta yelled at Costin for not controlling the
play, and Costin replied: "That's hockey." The two men later got
into a scuffle near the locker rooms that was quickly broken up by
Junta went outside, but returned moments later. He said he came
back to pick up his son and his friends, who were still inside, but
a rink worker said he shoved her aside and headed straight for
Junta denied that claim, telling jurors that Costin jumped him
and he was forced to defend himself. He said he delivered three
quick blows, then stopped when he saw Costin put his hand up over
"I didn't know what that guy was doing," Junta said. "It was
The fatal brawl was witnessed by about a dozen children,
including Junta's son and Costin's three sons. Junta, who shed
tears during his testimony, said he left the rink without knowing
how gravely he had injured Costin.
Prosecutors repeatedly called attention to the difference in
size between the men. Junta is 6-foot-1 and weighed 270 pounds at
the time of the fight. Costin was 6 feet and 156 pounds.
In his closing argument, Junta's lawyer called him a "gentle
giant" who took a "serious thrashing" at the hands of Costin
during their first scuffle. Junta had a 4-inch scratch on his face,
cuts on his arms and scratches on his legs from where he said
Costin kicked him with his skates.
Earlier Friday, Costin's father put his hand on Junta's shoulder
in the hallway of the courthouse and told him he was forgiven.
"He nodded at me and said, 'Thank you,"' said Gus Costin, 68.
The elder Costin has a unique perspective in this case: In 1976,
he was convicted of manslaughter in the death of his son, Dennis,
who died of a knife wound. Gus Costin has said his son charged at
Junta spent much of Friday writing thank-you letters to family
and friends, including Quinlan's young teammates, who testified on
his behalf and gave him a rabbit's foot for good luck at the
beginning of the trial.
"Tom Junta is not the person he has been made out to be, but in
fact is a loving father and husband," defense attorney Thomas
Orlandi Jr. said.
|Thomas Junta, left, faces the possibility of up to 20 years in prison, but will probably be sentenced to 3-5 years at a Jan. 25 hearing.|