Hockey Dad from Hell
Thomas Junta Manslaughter Trial
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"What a slave art thou to hack thy sword
thou hast done, and then say it was in a fight"
-- Shakespeare, Henry IV, Part 1
Thomas Junta, a 275-pound truck driver and "Hockey Dad" of two, faced 20 years in prison for beating and killing Michael Costin -- the informal referee of a scrimmage game involving the sons of both men.
The fight began after a hockey practice on July 5, 2000, at the Burbank Ice Arena in Reading, Massachusetts.
On January 12, 2002, Junta was found guilty of Involuntary Manslaughter. He was sentenced to a prison term of six to ten years. Junta was released on August 27, 2010.
Judge Charles M. Grabeau
Assistant District Attorney Sheila Calkins
Defense attorney Thomas Orlandi Jr.
Middlesex Superior Court in Cambridge
Prosecutors allege that the 6-foot-1, 275-pound Junta (44), who outweighed the 6-foot, 160-pound Costin (40), pummelled him to death in a rage over rough play on the ice, but Junta claims he threw only three punches in self-defense after the other man sucker-punched him.
Local reports suggest Mr. Junta may have renewed his attack after talking with his boy. They say prosecutors have a witness who said he heard the upset younger Junta say, "Dad, he told us not to crosscheck."
Michael Costin was declared brain dead Thursday, July 5, 2000 and removed from a ventilator Friday -- the same day Junta notified authorities he was leaving for a vacation.
"I only recall maybe throwing
maybe, two or three more punches."
The World According to Orlandi
Defense attorney Orlandi said the younger children from Reading, including the Junta boy, were playing better than Costin's 12 and 13-year-olds from Lynnfield. Junta allegedly yelled at Costin to control the checking and hitting.
Orlandi said Costin yelled back, "That's hockey!"
Orlandi claims Junta then took his son and the boy's friends to the locker room, but Costin came up from behind him dressed in full hockey gear, and began to argue again about the rough play and pushed his chest into Junta's face. The two came to blows, Orlandi said, with Costin ripping Junta's shirt, trying to choke him with Junta's necklace, cutting his face and kicking his shins and sneaker-clad feet with the 3-inch blades of his ice skates.
All the while, Orlandi said, Junta did little but protect himself before ''he leaves, he retreats.''
When Junta walked back into the rink to get his children, Orlandi said, he was set upon again by Costin, who swung at him as he entered the main doors, missed, then jumped on his back. After the two men hit a trash can and fell down, Orlandi said, Junta hit Costin three times, and it was over.
Forensic pathologist Stanley Kessler dismissed suggestions that Costin died from a minor assault or a hereditary condition and said Costin died after his neck was hyperextended and rotated a wrenching that caused a major artery in his neck to tear.
"This is a substantial force injury," Kessler told the Cambridge, Mass., courtroom. "It takes a lot of trauma to tear ligaments and the ligaments at the back of his skull were torn."
Sgt. James Cormier, the first police officer to arrive, said Junta was standing in front of the arena, his shirt torn and a cut on his face. Cormier said he asked Junta if he was a participant in the fight and Junta nodded or said yes. He then asked Junta where the other man was. "His response to me was that he was inside laying down," Courmier said, adding that Junta was polite and cooperative when he reached the scene. Inside, Cormier testified, a crowd of children, some as young as 7, had gathered around Costin's splayed body.
"That's my daddy"
Rink staffer Nancy Blanchard called 911. One small boy, she said, was crying and grabbing at the men. "That's my daddy," she recalled him saying.
The defense suffered a setback in an attempt to paint Mr. Costin as crazed when the presiding judge, Charles Grabeau, rejected a request to introduce the coach's psychological history. They said Mr. Costin was taking antidepressants and had a history of violent behaviour that had landed him in a psychiatric institution more than once. They said a dozen pills, including some to treat anxiety, were found in his pockets after the beating. Orlandi said Gus Costin had made statements that his son had a problem stifling rage.
Both the defendant and the victim had police records that included assault cases. They each had run-ins with police, both as juveniles and as adults. Costin was only a teenager when his father was convicted of manslaughter for the stabbing death of Costin's older brother.
"wanton and reckless assault and battery"
The Hockey Dad from Hell who first explained his overkill to police by offering, "He could've been a black belt for all I knew," was finally feeling some real pain when, in front of the entire nation, Michael Costin's mom fiercely defended her son without even raising her voice.
Joan Costin, not Thomas Junta, is the truly Gentle Giant.
"I don't have even a paper because there's no words that I can tell you about the loss we feel. He was their ray of hope. They did not have an easy childhood, so he meant everything to them, and he tried to be everything to them.
He took every course that he could take for his shyness, even went through a study at the Boston University, so he could help them, because he was so shy. He was a very quiet, shy man. I read the papers and they say what a violent man this man is. He was not a violent man."
-- Joan Costin
Thomas Junta's sister Barbara Tracy opined:
"I'm sorry Mr. Costin passed away -- that was terrible -- but I would want (the judge) to understand that he is a good man, a good father."
Prior Bad Acts
Although Junta was never convicted of domestic violence, the judge said the incident was a troubling indication. Costin's death, he said, "was not the first time Mr. Junta struck another adult in front of minor children."
Michelle Junta, in her affidavit of September 6, 1991:
"Physical and verbal abuse caused to me by my husband Thomas Junta. During this time, my two small children and a small girlfriend watched as my husband was hitting me continuously. He was telling my children, 'Don't worry kids. It will be OK.'"
Judge Grabau replied to the defense and by implication, to all Junta defenders who attacked Costin's character in an attempt to blame the victim of Junta's rage.
"These references cheapen the value of human life." Grabau commented.
Orlandi: And what happens to you if you don't tell the truth?
Quinlan: You get punished.
Orlandi: What if anything was your dad doing at that time?
Quinlan: My dad hit him three quick times, really quick.
Thomas Junta's taped police
"And I'm outside waiting. A couple of
minutes go by. And now I'm thinking this guy's still hit my kids and stuff.
So I go back in the rink; and as I walked in the door this way, he's coming
out this way and he made like a roundabout move at me, like a circle move,
like this kind of deal. And he goes like this. And again it was like a mutual
lunge, but you know I got the upper hand. I guess I outweigh him a little
bit, because now we're probably, maybe the same height. I really don't remember
how tall the guy was, but we're on the floor and stuff and he's kicking me
and trying to hit me, and I'm hitting him."
Although most jurors voted to convict Junta of Voluntary Manslaughter, they compromised on a guilty verdict of the lesser charge of Involuntary Manslaughter.
Juror, Richard Rotberg, spoke with reporters after the trial. "I feel, myself, when he was on top of Mr. Costin, he had the chance of not throwing any punches and saying, 'Someone call the police,'" Rotberg explained. "I guess with rage, your mind is going so fast, I think sometimes the human mind doesn't know what the body is doing."
Michael Costin, Jr.
"Please teach Thomas Junta a lesson. Let the world know that a person can't do what Thomas Junta did to my dad, to my family and to me, for my brothers and my sister. We all want Thomas Junta to go to prison for as long as your honor can put him there. Please punish Thomas Junta and do not allow him too soon to get out of prison and ruin another family's life."
-- Michael Costin Jr.
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