Prosecutors, victim's family hope some good comes from hockey dad's fatal beating conviction

Saturday, January 12th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (AP) _ As Thomas Junta was led out of a courtroom, prosecutors said they hoped parents of young athletes take note of his conviction in a man's beating death at their sons' hockey practice.

``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,'' Middlesex District Attorney Martha Coakley said.

Junta, 44, was convicted Friday of involuntary manslaughter in the July 2000 death of Michael Costin. Junta beat Costin to death at the Burbank Ice Arena in Reading, a suburb north of Boston, after the two men argued over rough play during the youth hockey practice.

Junta faces up to 20 years in prison when he is sentenced Jan. 25, but guidelines recommend a sentence of three to five years for a first-time offender.

The closely watched case had become a symbol of what some say is a growing wave of parental violence at youth sporting events.

Costin's father, Gus Costin, said he hoped the guilty verdict would make parents realize they can go too far in their fervor over children's sports.

``Every parent thinks their child is going to be the next Ted Williams or Bobby Orr,'' he said. ``They need to smarten up. That's why things like this happen.''

Junta claimed he killed Costin, 40, in self-defense after their argument descended into physical violence.

But two witnesses testified Junta struck Costin repeatedly in the head while pinning him to the thinly matted floor of the ice arena. They said Junta ignored them as they screamed, ``Stop! You're going to kill him!''

Other witnesses, including Junta's 12-year-old son, Quinlan, corroborated the defendant's claim that he threw only three punches.

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.

Junta's chin trembled after the verdict as he was led out of the courtroom by court officers. Several of his brothers sobbed.

``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.

Earlier Friday, Costin's father put his hand on Junta's shoulder in the hallway of the courthouse and told him he held no animosity.

``I don't hate you. I forgive you,'' Gus Costin, 68, said he told him. He said Junta shook his hand and thanked him.

Costin's sister, Mary Barbuzzi, said she hoped no other family would have to endure such ``senseless pain.''

``Michael Costin succeeded in the hardest job there is _ he was a good father,'' she said, standing next to Costin's four children. ``Our family will never be complete again.''

Junta had been tried for the more serious charge of manslaughter, which includes excessive use of force in self-defense. Involuntary manslaughter is defined as an unintentional killing during a battery.

Medical experts for both sides said Costin died of a ruptured artery in his neck that caused severe brain damage. But they differed sharply on how much force was used to cause the fatal injury.

The fight was witnessed by about a dozen children, including Junta's son and Costin's three sons.

The confrontation began when Junta became angry about slashing and checking at what was supposed to be a non-contact hockey scrimmage, which Costin was supervising. Junta saw a player elbow his son in the face.

Witnesses said that when Junta yelled at Costin for not controlling the rough play, Costin snapped, ``That's hockey.'' The two men got into a scuffle, but it was quickly broken up by bystanders. Junta left the rink but soon returned.

Nancy Blanchard, a rink worker, said Junta shoved her aside and headed for Costin. But Junta testified that Costin jumped him. Junta said he delivered three quick blows, then stopped when he saw Costin put his hand up over his face.

Costin never regained consciousness. He died the next day.

Juror Richard Rotberg, who coached his daughter's soccer team, said he has seen many parents yelling at referees. He said he sympathized with Junta, but felt he went too far during the fight.

``By what happened here, I hope it opens people's eyes,'' he said.