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Hockey dad trial jurors get two versions of fight

Thomas Junta: His lawyer says he acted in self-defense.  

CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts (CNN) -- A hockey dad standing trial for manslaughter pummeled the father of another player, threw him down, sat on him and banged his head on the floor in a fistfight over the violent play on the ice involving their sons, the prosecution charged Thursday.

The defense countered that the other father -- 100 pounds lighter than the defendant but wearing protective hockey gear -- was the aggressor, launching a "physical attack" against the defendant, choking him with his own necklace and kicking his shins and sneaker-clad feet with the 3-inch blades of his ice skates.

The claims were made in opening statements at the trial of Thomas Junta, 43, a thick-necked 6-foot-1, 260-pound truck driver.

Earlier in the day, attorneys agreed on a jury of three men and nine women, who were taken to the scene of the incident before proceedings began. Junta could face 20 years in prison if convicted.

Junta, his son and one of the victim's sons all were expected to testify in the trial, which the judge said is likely to end by the end of next week.

In Thursday's session, the defendant sat impassively with his lawyers, an imposing figure dressed in a dark suit, white shirt and tie, taking notes and occasionally rubbing his eyes.

Thomas Junta arrived in court to stand trial on charges he beat another hockey dad to death. CNN's Bill Delaney reports (January 3)

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The victim, Michael Costin, 40, a 6-foot, 160-pound single father, was supervising the boys' practice and acting as goalie at the Burbank Ice Rink in nearby Reading on July 5, 2000.

Three of Costin's sons were involved in the session as well as Junta's 10-year-old boy, who had been reduced to tears by body-checking, according to the defense.

Junta, watching from the stands, began complaining over the rough play and eventually rushed down to the rink.

"The defendant repeatedly punched Michael Costin intentionally in the head area, then intentionally took his head and hit it into the floor of the arena, and that caused severe injuries to Michael Costin when he did that, and eventually caused Michael Costin's death," said prosecutor Sheila Calkins.

Witnesses will testify that Junta threw the smaller man down and then "kneeled over and sat on Mr. Costin and proceeded to punch him repeatedly to the left side of his head and neck area" until he lost consciousness, Calkins said.

Costin was taken to a hospital where he died the following day. A medical examiner will testify that Costin suffered deep hemorrhages on the left side of his neck and that he suffered a torn artery to the brain, a form of stroke, Calkins said.

"Everything in life is not always as it seems," countered Junta's attorney, Thomas Orlandi Jr. He said defense witnesses will testify Costin was the aggressor and Junta was simply trying to defend himself.

The lawyer described his client as a part of a "hockey family" whose wife, children and job are central to his life.

Junta has a high school diploma, has been married for 14 years, has two children, and for 14 years has had the same job -- driving a truck 10 to 15 hours per day, four days a week "so the other three he can spend with his two kids and wife," Orlandi said.

Junta's son plays hockey and his daughter is captain of the Reading High School hockey team, which she helped found, Orlandi said.

The day of the fight, Junta had gone to the rink to pick up his son and two other boys from a practice. When he arrived, the 10-year-olds were finishing a practice against a group of 12- and 13-year-olds and began outscoring them, Orlandi said.

At that point, the "stick practice" -- intended to be non-contact -- escalated into "hitting, fighting, slashing," Orlandi said.

Upon witnessing the violence, Junta ran from a seat to the edge of the rink and asked Costin, who was acting as a goalie and coach, why he didn't stop it, the lawyer said.

"'It's hockey. It's hitting,'" Costin told Junta, according to Orlandi. "My client turns around -- his kid is now hurt, crying -- he says, 'Bull----. Hockey isn't about hitting. It's about kids having fun.'"

Costin, wearing protective hockey gear and standing taller than Junta because of his skates, then moved toward the other hockey dad and "pushes his chest up to Mr. Junta's face," Orlandi said.

"That ladies and gentlemen, is the first, I suggest to you, physical attack."

Costin then grabbed Junta's necklace and "tried to choke him with it, and ripped it off his neck, leaving a rope burn," Orlandi said. He then kicked the other man with his skates, Orlandi said.

The two men wrestled to the ground. Junta was pulled off Costin and told to leave the building. But when he returned to get the other boys, Orlandi said, he was immediately attacked again by Costin, who punched him in the face.

Junta responded by hitting Costin three or four times -- "once in the shoulder, and two or three times in the face," stopping as soon as Costin stopped punching him, Orlandi said.

Calkins said a prosecution witness will testify she saw Junta hit the smaller man 10 to 20 times.

Both the defendant and the victim had police records that included assault cases.




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