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Hockey Fight 'Self-Defense'

Testimony: Defendant says he wanted the victim, another father, 'to stop hitting me.'

January 10, 2002|ELIZABETH MEHREN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

BOSTON — His voice alternately calm and choked with emotion, hockey dad Thomas Junta on Wednesday testified that he was acting in self-defense when he beat another sports father to death.

"I just wanted him to stop hitting me," the 44-year-old truck driver told jurors.

But prosecutor Sheila Calkins challenged Junta's argument that he was acting in self-defense during the fistfight that took the life of 40-year-old Michael Costin.

"This is a 156-pound man lying on his back holding your wrist, and you want this jury to believe you couldn't get away from him?" Calkins asked.

Junta, 275 pounds at the time of the incident, replied, "Yes, I do, because that's the truth."

If convicted of manslaughter, Junta could face up to 20 years in prison. The defense rested its case Wednesday, and final arguments will be heard today.

The lethal altercation followed a children's pickup hockey game in which both men's sons participated. When the informal "stick practice" turned rough, Junta charged onto the ice to challenge Costin, who was skating with the boys.

Junta and Costin, who had not met until that day, traded angry words. Their animosity turned physical in a locker room, but that first scuffle was soon broken up by a college-age hockey player.

Junta left the skating arena in Reading, Mass., but said he returned to encourage his son to change out of his skating equipment. Once again, he and Costin were face to face, this time in an area alongside the rink. They began to fight again.

The following day, Costin died. The left side of his head was so badly injured that a medical examiner said it was nearly severed from his body.

In a Cambridge courtroom Wednesday, Junta insisted Costin swung at him first.

"I didn't know what that guy was doing. Why was he even jumping at me?" Junta said. "It was crazy. I didn't know if he had something in his hands."

He also maintained he landed just three blows on the other man--and that those swings were off balance.

Several prosecution witnesses testified they saw Junta pummel Costin repeatedly, pounding at his head until Costin lost consciousness. The former Massachusetts medical examiner who performed Costin's autopsy testified that such severe injuries could only have been the result of brute force.

A medical expert summoned Wednesday by the defense said one punch could have ruptured Costin's vertebral artery--an organ the prosecution's medical specialist said is well protected and difficult to damage.

"It's generally accepted with this type of injury a minimal amount of force is necessary to cause this type of injury," Ira Kamfer, an associate medical examiner from Connecticut, told the court Wednesday.

Junta's 12-year-old son, Quinlan, a witness to the fight, told the court Tuesday that his father gave Costin just three quick blows.

The beating also was witnessed by Costin's three sons, ages 12 to 14. The Costin boys were not called to testify.

At least a dozen other children--along with assorted parents, grandparents and baby-sitters--also were at the rink when the fight took place.

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