Hockey dad Thomas Junta was sentenced Friday to six to 10 years in prison for beating another father, Michael Costin, to death at a suburban Boston ice rink while their children watched.
Although Junta faced as much as 20 years in jail for his involuntary manslaughter conviction, the sentence was harsher than many expected because state guidelines call for a three- to five-year prison term for first offenses. Junta's attorney Thomas Orlandi Jr. said Friday that he would appeal the decision.
However, Middlesex Superior Court Judge Charles Grabau, in explaining his sentence, noted that Junta had a record of violence and that the crime during the summer of 2000 was made that much more heinous because so many children, including Junta's own son and the victim's three sons, witnessed the brutality. The judge also noted that Junta continued the beating after many people tried to stop him.
Junta, 44, began sobbing in the Cambridge, Mass., courtroom before the sentencing as Orlandi read letters he had written to his two children.
"Remember, hockey is supposed to be fun, but it's just a game," Junta wrote to 12-year-old Quinlan, who was among those pleading with his father to stop the beating. The boy had testified that Junta acted in self-defense.
But in a moving statement about Costin, who had led a troubled life, the dead man's middle son, Michael, implored the judge to be tough on Junta:
"My dad isn't there in the morning to wake me up. My dad isn't there when I play sports. My dad doesn't cook us dinner anymore. . . . Please teach Thomas Junta a lesson."
Although the defense attempted to portray Junta, a truck driver who weighed 275 pounds at the time of the attack, as a "gentle giant," it became apparent during a pre-sentencing investigation that it was not the first time he had become violent.
Alleged Domestic Violence in 1991
The judge pointed out that Junta had a restraining order against him in 1991 for allegedly beating his wife, Michelle, in front of their two children. A court at the time ordered Junta out of the couple's apartment and gave his wife temporary custody of the children.
However, Orlandi insisted the order was irrelevant, noting the couple still are together. But the judge read from part of that order, inferring it had influenced his sentencing decision.
The judge also expressed dismay that the defense Friday revealed the victim's past legal problems to the courtroom, information that was kept from the jury during the trial because it was not pertinent to the case.
Costin, 40, and his wife were divorced and had four children, ages 11 to 14. He apparently had for many years had a severe drinking problem and had served time in prison. But Costin had stopped drinking, was working as a carpenter and painter and, six months before his death, had regained custody of his children.
Argument Escalated Into Deadly Fight
The fight with Junta occurred July 5, 2000, at a rink in Reading, just north of Boston. The Costin children and their father were skating and joined a pickup game against a group of boys including Junta's son. Junta was watching from the sidelines.
When the game got rough, Junta charged out onto the ice and argued with Costin. Later they scuffled in the locker room until a college-age hockey player separated them. But outside the locker room they started fighting again, and this time the 156-pound Costin did not get up. He suffered severe head and neck injuries.
During the weeklong trial, Quinlan Junta testified that his father had hit Costin only three times quickly.
But rink manager Nancy Blanchard and several others said they saw the much larger Junta strike Costin as many as 10 times. Junta also bruised Blanchard during the imbroglio, pushing her aside when she tried to stop the men from fighting. Photographs of her bruises were shown to the judge and jurors at the trial.
During the sentencing, Junta, wearing handcuffs, said little. He hung his head for most of the time and cried intermittently. He spoke once, quietly. "I'd just like to apologize to both families and thank my family for all their support of me," he said. The defense called no witnesses.
Before being led away, Junta raised his shackled hands to blow a kiss and wave to his family seated behind him.
Later, chief prosecutor Martha Coakley issued a statement saying she was satisfied with the sentence, but she also conceded that nothing good had come of this case.
"One and a half years ago, the Costin family lost a father, the full impact of which they continue to feel to this day," she said. "Today, a second father is sentenced to a substantial prison term. Clearly, there are no winners in this case."