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Good Job By Hockey Dad Jury

Junta hockey dad (before verdict)
It would be nice if jury verdicts always fit the facts of a case as neatly as the jury's verdict convicting Thomas Junta of involuntary manslaughter fits the series of events which led to the death of Michael Costin at a Massachusetts hockey rink in July 2000.

Junta clearly didn't intend to kill Costin when their scuffle began — which is why the "involuntary" part of the conviction makes sense — but he did kill the man in a savage, brutal and completely unnecessary way, which justifies the manslaughter conviction. And it seems pretty clear that jurors were willing to give Junta at least a bit of a break — manslaughter would surely have generated a longer sentence than the one Junta now will receive — because the evidence pretty clearly showed that Costin was the aggressor in the fight.

Legal Analyst
Andrew Cohen

Indeed, the jury forewoman said after the verdict: "We feel we reached a very difficult but proper decision."

She's right. This wasn't a case where the killer's identity was unknown or the subject of dispute. It wasn't a case based upon forensic evidence. It wasn't a case about race or good cops and bad cops or cover-ups. It was a case about what can happen in a moment or two or three of rage and how responsible someone should be under the law for that rage.

It was a case based primarily on the testimony of eyewitnesses who saw the fatal fight. And while those eyewitnesses weren't always consistent about all the details — how many punches were thrown, how long the fight lasted, etc. — it was pretty clear after their testimony that Junta could have and should have stopped beating Costin before he did.

It's also pretty clear that the jury didn't buy the defense theory that only one punch, or even three punches, could have done the damage Junta did to Costin. And it's clearest of all that the nine women and three men on the jury believed the critical testimony offered by two female rink employees, despite efforts by the defense to destroy their credibility by claiming that they perhaps became "hysterical" while the fight was underway.

That's not to say that the defense didn't do a good job — they did — or that the defendant himself didn't aid his own cause when he testified Wednesday. Junta's calm, cool, regular-guy approach probably was the difference between what he got and what he would have got — manslaughter — had he not come to the stand. That means his brief appearance a few days ago probably will save him a half-dozen years in prison whn the judge is through with him.

That's right. Junta no doubt will spend some time in jail. He won't get the maximum sentence permitted by law — 20 years — but he won't get a slap on the wrist, either. Although the jury never heard about Junta's previous run-ins with the law, you can be sure that the judge will when the sentencing hearing begins a few weeks from now. The judge will be required to at least consider the state's non-binding sentencing guidelines when he decides Junta's fate but he'll obviously have some room to roam.

Will he go easy on Junta or not? Will he read into the jury's "compromise" verdict a plea for leniency? Or will he focus instead upon the brutality of Junta's assault and inch toward the higher end of his sentencing range?

It's always fascinating after a trial like this to finally learn what the judge thinks of it all and soon we'll know. But what we already know is that Thomas Junta will now have to pay in years for what he did in a matter of seconds to Michael Costin while the two were at a hockey rink watching their sons play.

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