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Rink-rage claim: self-defense

Hockey dad was defending self, attorney says

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CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — A hockey dad accused of beating another father to death was defending himself from a "sucker punch" thrown by the victim, a defense attorney said at the manslaughter trial Thursday.

Prosecutors countered that Thomas Junta, a 270-pound truck driver, lunged at the 160-pound Michael Costin after their sons' hockey practice, pinned him to the ground and repeatedly pounded his head to the floor until he lost consciousness.

Junta, 42, is charged with manslaughter in the death of Costin, 40, who died after an argument over rough play at the Burbank Ice Arena in Reading, a Boston suburb. Several young players saw the fatal beating.

The case has become a national symbol of parental violence in youth sports.

Prosecutors described the 6-foot-1 Junta as the aggressor, whose size overpowered the much-smaller Costin. The defense says otherwise.

"Everything in life is not always as it seems," defense attorney Thomas Orlandi Jr. told jurors during opening statements. "I promise you today that there are two sides to every story."

Junta concedes he became incensed when he saw "hitting, fighting, slashing" in his 10-year-old son's noncontact practice, Orlandi said. Junta plans to testify in his own defense.

According to Orlandi, Junta yelled for Costin, who was supervising on the ice, to control the game, and he replied: "It's hockey."

As the practice ended, Junta claims a player threw an elbow at his son's head. Quinlan Junta left the ice in tears, Orlandi said.

Junta escorted his son to the locker room, admonishing him: "Quinny. You've got to defend yourself. You shouldn't take those cheap shots," Orlandi said.

After that, Junta and Costin had two physical confrontations; the last one left Costin unconscious.

Both sides agree Costin walked past Junta after the practice and said something to him about hockey being rough. Junta swore at Costin, and a fight started. The defense claims Costin, who stood 6-foot-3 in his hockey skates, thrust his chest into Junta, cut him in his face and neck and slashed Junta's sneakers and shins with his hockey skates.

The fight was broken up and Junta left the rink, only to return a few minutes later.

That's when the stories take much different paths.

The prosecutors say the assistant rink manager saw Junta lunge at Costin, kneel over him and repeatedly punch him.

"Some of the witnesses will tell you they saw Mr. Costin attempting to avoid the blows by turning his head to the right but that the blows continued to hit him," Assistant District Attorney Sheila Calkins said.

The defense says Costin blindsided Junta when he walked back into the rink. "He was leaving intently and seconds later he tried to sucker punch . . . (Junta) in the face," Orlandi said.

Costin jumped on Junta's back and the two rolled to the ground, Orlandi said. When they did, Orlandi said, Costin hit his head.

The defense admits Junta landed some punches.

"Three punches — one-two-three and it's over," Orlandi said. "Costin then goes into a defensive position. When he does, Mr. Junta stops."

Junta waited outside the rink for police.

Eleven children, ages 11 to 15, who were at the rink and saw the beatings, are on the prosecutor's list of potential witnesses, including the men's sons.

Nine women and three men were chosen as jurors earlier Thursday. Before opening statements, they traveled to the rink to see where the fights took place.

Potential jurors were asked if their children played on sports teams and if they had ever witnessed a fight between parents.

Middlesex Superior Court Judge Charles Grabau said he would allow the jury to see photos taken just before Costin's autopsy, but put off a decision on whether to allow photographs of Costin's internal injuries.