- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 12, 2002

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (AP) The father of a young hockey player was convicted of involuntary manslaughter yesterday for beating another man to death at their sons' practice as a horrified crowd begged him to stop.

Thomas Junta, 44, showed little reaction as the verdict was read, though several of his brothers sobbed and hugged other family members as he was led out of the courtroom.

The burly truck driver had been tried on the more serious charge of manslaughter. He faces up to 20 years in prison, but as a first-time offender will probably be sentenced to three to five years during a Jan. 25 hearing.

The closely watched case became a symbol of what some have said is a growing wave of parental violence at youth sporting events.

The trial was carried on national cable-TV networks, and the case dominated talk radio.

Junta claimed he killed Michael Costin, 40, in self-defense after they argued over rough play during the practice on July 5, 2000.

Junta said he tried to avoid coming to blows with Mr. Costin, but fought back after the 156-pound Costin threw a "sucker punch" at him, jumped on him and continued to hit and kick him after the two men fell to the floor. Junta claimed he landed just "three off-balance" punches.

But two witnesses testified Junta struck Mr. Costin repeatedly in the head while pinning him to the thinly matted floor of the Burbank Ice Arena in Reading.

The two women said Junta ignored their screams to stop and insistence that "you're going to kill him!"

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

Earlier yesterday, Mr. 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 nodded at me and said, 'Thank you.'"

Medical specialists for both sides said Mr. Costin died of a ruptured artery in his neck, which caused severe brain damage. They differed sharply on how much force (in this case, how many blows) was needed to cause the fatal injury.

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

All four boys, ages 11 through 14 as well as Mr. Costin's 11-year-old daughter sat in the courtroom during closing arguments Thursday.

The confrontation between Mr. Costin and Junta began after Junta became angry about slashing and checking at what was supposed to be a noncontact scrimmage, which Mr. Costin was supervising. Junta said he saw another player elbow his son in the face.

Witnesses said that when Junta yelled at Mr. Costin for not controlling the rough play, he snapped: "That's hockey."

The two men then got into a scuffle near the locker rooms that was quickly broken up by bystanders.

Junta went outside, but returned moments later. He said he came back to pick up his son and his friends, who were still inside the locker room.

Nancy Blanchard, a rink worker, said Junta shoved her aside and headed straight for Mr. Costin.

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