Jan. 25, 2002 -- Thomas Junta — the hockey dad convicted of beating another father to death at their sons' hockey practice — was sentenced today to six to 10 years in prison.
Before announcing his decision, Middlesex Superior Court Judge Charles Grabau rebuked Junta's defense for introducing criticism of the victim, Michael Costin, into its pleas for lenient sentencing and pointed out that this incident was not the first time Junta had "struck another adult in front of his minor children."
Grabau also dismissed any suggestion that the sentence was meant as a warning to parents to restrain themselves at their children's sporting events.
"My sentence is not meant to be a message to anyone in the outside world," Grabau said.
The judge's rebuke was in reference to an incident in 1991, when Junta's wife, Michelle, was granted a restraining order against him when she alleged he beat her continuously in front of their two children and another child. A court ordered Junta out of the couple's Charlestown neighborhood apartment, and gave his wife temporary custody of the children.
Junta could have received up to 20 years in prison, but Massachusetts guidelines call for leniency for first-time offenders. Prosecutor Sheila Calkin asked for a sentence of six to 10 years in state prison.
Junta's defense attorney asked for either an alternative sentence of closely supervised probation that would allow Junta to avoid prison and remain with his family, or for a minimum sentence with credit for time served.
Earlier this month, a jury found the 44-year-old father guilty of involuntary manslaughter for his actions in the July 2000 incident, when he killed Michael Costin in a fight after hockey scrimmage, but rejected the more serious charge of voluntary manslaughter.
Victim’s Family Satisfied
Junta sat, head bowed and his hands folded in his lap, as members of Costin's family read memorials to the victim. Two of his sons described him as a quiet man who gave his all to his children, and his sister pleaded for a stiff sentence.
"I ask the court to please punish accordingly and remember our sentence — life without Michael," his sister Mary Barbuzzi said.
"No matter how much of a sentence you give to Thomas Junta, my dad got more," Costin's son Michael said. "Please teach Thomas Junta a lesson. Please let the world know that a man can't do what Thomas Junta did to my dad."
Brendan, Costin's oldest son, described how he saw his father after the fight.
"I can still remember being hysterical, trying to wake him up, and the blood streaming down his face," Brendan Costin said.
Costin's family was satisfied with the punishment. "We believe justice has been served," Barbuzzi said after the sentencing, with Costin's two children by her side. "Our prayers will be with the Junta family. Our family will try to move beyond this tragedy."
‘A Fight That Got Out of Hand’
Junta's lawyer, Thomas Orlandi, countered by recalling testimony that one punch "with minimal force" could have been enough to cause the injuries that killed Costin. He described the incident as "a fight between two men that got out of hand."
Junta sat nodding, his face twitching as he tried to hold back tears while Orlandi pleaded for leniency, describing him as a man who had made a better life for his family.
Orlandi said that what Junta did was no different from what any other father would have done in the same situation, seeing his children involved in a "rough, potentially dangerous" hockey practice that he said was not being controlled by the adult in charge.
"He confronted violence," Orlandi said. "He attempted to protect himself, his son and their friends and as a result he, not Michael Costin, has become a national symbol for parental rage. … Thomas Junta is truly sorry for what happened. … He never intended to kill anyone."
Jury Faced Differing Accounts of Deadly Incident
Both sides in the trial agreed that Junta fought with Costin at a Reading, Mass., hockey rink two summers ago, but disagreed over who was the aggressor and how far each man went.
The struggle between the hockey fathers took place after a scrimmage that, Junta said, became too rough.
The fight left Costin dead with a ruptured artery in his neck.
The case pitted dramatically different accounts of the confrontation between the 270-pound Junta and 40-year-old, 160-pound Costin.
Both the defense and the prosecution presented various witnesses who supported their versions of the fight, with some witnesses saying Junta threw just three punches, and others saying he threw as many as 20 while he was on top of the smaller man.
Jurors deliberated for more than 13 hours over two days before reaching their decision.
Junta crossed the line from self-defense when he got on top of Richard Costin and started hitting him, juror Richard Rotberg told ABCNEWS' Good Morning America earlier this month.
"When he was on top of Mr. Costin he had the right to stop. I think the rage of mind took over in him. That's when the incident happened."