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Junta convicted of lesser charge in hockey death

Junta listens to his verdict.
Junta listens to his verdict.  

CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts (CNN) -- Jurors found Thomas Junta guilty Friday of involuntary manslaughter in the beating death of Michael Costin, 40, at a hockey practice attended by sons of both men.

Junta, 44, stood in the courtroom, his head bowed, biting his lower lip as he heard the verdict. He was led away by a bailiff.

Involuntary manslaughter is an unintentional killing as a result of a battery in which the defendant knew, or should have known, a human life was endangered.

Junta could be sentenced to a maximum of 20 years in prison -- Massachusetts state guidelines recommend three to five years for a first offender. Sentencing is set for January 25.

A Massachusetts jury convicts Thomas Junta of involuntary manslaughter in the death of another man following a youth hockey practice (January 11)

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The nine women and three men in the jury rejected the more serious charge of manslaughter after about 12 hours of deliberations.

"We feel we reached a very difficult, but proper decision," the jury said in a statement read by one juror. The verdict was "based on evidence and testimony presented to the jury," the statement said.

The deadly fight between the two fathers took place after a youth hockey practice at an ice rink in Reading, Massachusetts, on July 5, 2000.

Victim's father forgives Junta

As jurors deliberated Friday, the father of the dead man said he forgave Junta. "We need to put this behind us," he said.

Another Costin family member said later the father was only speaking for himself and did not represent the views of the family.

Gus Costin said he prayed at a statue of Saint Jude in his back yard Friday morning before going to court to wait for the jury to return a verdict.

"When I got here, I saw Junta's mother. I went to her, put my hand on her and said, 'I don't have any hatred toward you,' " said Costin, 68, a retired technician.

"After that, Junta walked in and I said to him, 'I don't have any hatred in my heart for you.' He put his hand out. I didn't really want to shake his hand, but I did, because he put it out," Costin said.

"Some people might think that I'm condoning what he did, but I'm not. If my son was alive today, I don't think he'd want to punish his [Junta's] son, his family.

"We need to put this behind us. You can imagine what this family is going through. I don't think his kid needs to go to school and be told, 'Your father is a murderer.' Let's put a closure on this. I'm not saying he's a saint; he did wrong and he realizes it."

Mary Costin Barbouzi, a sister of Michael, said she did not agree with her father.

"He does not represent the family," she said.

Conflicting accounts of fight

The two men got into two fights at the ice rink after arguing over what Junta described as rough play during hockey drills that both men's sons participated in.

The closing arguments Thursday offered starkly different portraits of the accused and followed four days of testimony from witnesses who offered varying accounts of what happened at the Burbank Ice Arena in Reading.

Junta's attorney described his client as a "gentle giant" trying to defend himself, an assertion that drew scoffs from the prosecutor.

"Send Tom Junta back to his hockey family and stop what is going on here," Thomas Orlandi Jr. told the jurors.

Orlandi said the smaller Costin was the aggressor in both altercations. "This little 160-pound guy was all set to take him [Junta] out," Orlandi said. Junta "defended himself," he said.

Prosecutor Sheila Calkins called Junta's account of what happened unbelievable and said he changed his story on the witness stand to make Costin the aggressor.

"It doesn't make any sense. It's just not reasonable," said Calkins, who at one point knelt on the courtroom floor to re-enact Junta's description of what happened.

Calkins cited the testimony of several witnesses who said they saw Junta over Costin, who was face up on the ground, beating him.

Junta testified he was kneeling next to Costin during the second fight, unable to get away because Costin held him by the wrist.

"He was on top of him, straddling him," Calkins said. "He was over Michael Costin and he was pounding Michael Costin on the left side of his head."

Orlandi said there were "inconsistencies" in the testimony of witnesses. He described two women's accounts of the fights as full of "anxiety [and] emotions." Both women said they had screamed at Junta to stop.

Calkins said the women may have been upset but they had "plenty of time" to see what happened.

The two women -- one a grandmother at the rink with her grandson and another an employee there -- said Junta overpowered Costin, pinned him to the ground and beat him in the head repeatedly.

Junta's 12-year-old son said he saw Costin jump on his father's back, but he also said that Junta was kneeling over Costin at one point and he acknowledged screaming at his father to stop.

Another witness, a college student, said he saw Junta over Costin, beating him. But he also said he saw Costin come at Junta with a punch when Junta re-entered the rink after leaving following the first altercation.

On Wednesday, Junta took the stand and said Costin attacked him twice and that he punched the smaller man no more than three times during the second -- and fatal -- altercation. Junta is 6-feet-1 and weighs 270 pounds. Costin weighed 156 pounds and was 6 feet.

Speaking in a deep but soft voice, Junta struggled at times to maintain his composure on the witness stand, insisting he acted only in self-defense and saying he had no idea how seriously Costin was injured after the second fight.

"I just wanted him to stop hitting me," Junta said. The prosecution countered that the bigger man could have tried to stop the fight but kept beating Costin until he was pulled off the man.

A medical examiner called by the prosecution described "a lot of trauma" on Costin's body, saying he suffered deep hemorrhages on the left side of his neck and a torn artery in the brain, a form of stroke.

Dr. Stanton Kessler said Costin's "brain was shaken so badly" that small blood vessels ruptured, resulting in extensive bleeding in the brain and spinal column.

Another medical examiner called by the defense said one punch could have killed Costin.




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