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Man who lost sons to violence has conflicting emotions as sentencing in hockey death nears

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LYNN, Mass. (AP) _ The only solace Gus Costin finds sometimes is in the strand of bedside rosary beads given to him by his grandmother. He pulls the beads from their pouch almost every night and asks why his life turned out like it did.

Costin asks about that night 27 years ago when he killed his son during a fight. He ponders the loss of his second son, who was fatally beaten by a man after their sons' hockey practice a year and a half ago.

``What are the odds of a father having two sons dying the way my two sons died?'' Costin asked. ``About a billion to one.''

``Why (God) did this, I'll know someday,'' he added.

Costin is full of conflicting emotions as he awaits the sentencing next week of Thomas Junta, who was convicted of killing son Michael Costin in the hockey fight. That's because Costin himself was convicted of manslaughter in the stabbing death of his other son, Dennis.

He says the death was an accident. His family members wouldn't discuss the incident or the family in detail _ except to make clear that their relationship with him is a thing of the past.

``The information he gives you is inaccurate,'' said his daughter, Mary Barbuzzi. ``He isn't considered a part of this family and hasn't been for a while.'' His former wife, Joan, declined comment.

Costin, meanwhile, sees Junta's sentencing Jan. 25 as a chance to put one chapter behind him.

Costin said Junta must go to jail for what he did, but he's not calling for a long sentence. During the trial, he approached Junta and said he forgave him. Junta could get anywhere from probation to 20 years.

``I'm leaving it up to the judge,'' Costin said. ``Whatever comes down, let's accept it.''

Today, Costin, 68, lives alone in an apartment near downtown Lynn, the Boston-area suburb where he was born.

The bald and solidly built man talks expansively and tends to ramble, his throat narrowing and eyes filling with tears when the subject turns to his sons, his estranged wife and daughter, the grandchildren he can no longer see, and how things got to be the way they are.

The former Raytheon technician married Joan in 1957 and their two boys were born soon after.

Both sons developed drinking problems. The deadly confrontation between Costin and his son Dennis started when the son came home drunk, the father said.

Costin said he grabbed a hunting knife from under his son's pillow during the fight. He said the younger Costin rushed him in their kitchen, running into the knife. The knife pierced Dennis through the heart.

After Gus Costin's 1976 conviction, he said, he was sentenced to six months in a work-release program. His marriage fell apart, and his relationship with Michael was severely strained.

Michael Costin grew up to have numerous run-ins with the law, costing him custody of his four children for several years. He had seven prison stints between 1983 and 1995 on charges of breaking and entering, drunken driving and assaulting a police officer. He also spent time in psychiatric hospitals.

But his family said he was a good father and had been sober when he was killed by Junta.

Gus Costin for a time had custody of Michael's sons, and he said the fight for custody created further alienation. He said he didn't even find out Michael had been hurt in the fight with Junta until after he died.

Now, a restraining order taken against him for allegedly threatening his former wife _ which Costin denies _ means he can't see the grandchildren.

Costin says the separation from the children is devastating. His refrigerator is covered with school papers from the boys. His walls are plastered with their pictures. He keeps their room as a sort of shrine, their posters and sports trophies all in place.

Costin said he sees the grandsons as God's replacements for the sons he lost, and said he'll keep fighting to see them ``until they throw dirt on me.'' Several times in a recent interview, he mistakenly used his grandson's name, Brendan, when talking about his son Dennis.

Costin said he's saddened that he never got the chance to make peace with Michael. But he hopes death has resolved any doubts Michael had about Dennis' killing.

``Michael is with Dennis now. Michael knows now that I never meant any harm,'' Costin said. ``If he ever had any doubts, now he knows the truth. ...In my heart, I'm sure he knew I loved him.''
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