CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- Shedding tears and getting choked up at times, the burly truck driver who beat another father to death at their sons' hockey practice testified Wednesday that the other guy took a swing at him first and that he fought back in self-defense.
"I just wanted him to stop hitting me," said 44-year-old Thomas Junta.
Junta said he landed only three, off-balance blows against Michael Costin as the smaller man struggled beneath him on the ground.
Junta wept when he recalled that several children saw the fatal fight. Among them was his son, Quinlan, then 10, who testified in his father's defense a day earlier.
Charged with manslaughter
Junta is on trial on manslaughter charges in the fight that broke out at a Reading ice rink in July 2000 after the two fathers argued over rough play on the ice. Prosecutors say the 6-foot-1, 270-pound defendant overpowered Costin, who was an inch shorter and weighed 110 pounds less, and pummeled him. Costin never regained consciousness and died a day later.
During an aggressive cross-examination by prosecutor Sheila Calkins, Junta said he walked away from the fatal fight without checking to see if the victim was hurt.
"I thought when he laid back down that he was just resting," Junta testified, his voice choking and chin trembling. "I didn't know the man was hurt."
He described how he grabbed Costin after the other man took a swing at him, then how the two fell to the ground.
"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."
Junta said he was on his knees and Costin lay in front of him on his back, trying to punch and kick him. Junta said Costin held tight to his wrist and refused to let go.
Calkins grilled Junta about why he didn't try to walk away or pause between the "three off-balance punches" he said he landed.
"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?" she asked.
"Yes, I do, because that's the truth," Junta said.
The prosecution's medical experts have testified Costin was beaten with such force that the artery in the left side of his neck ruptured. A medical expert for the defense said that could have been caused by a single blow.
Junta said he did not hear the cries of two women who testified earlier they had yelled for Junta to stop hitting Costin and warned that he was going to kill the other man.
"The only thing I heard after that was a little boy say something," Junta said quietly, biting his lip and wiping his eyes.
Quinlan testified Tuesday that he yelled at his father to stop. The beating was also witnessed by Costin's sons, who were not called to testify.
Closing arguments are scheduled for Thursday.
The fatal fight was the second altercation between the men that day. Earlier, Junta had yelled to Costin, who was supervising the practice, because the play started to get too rough. According to witnesses, Costin told him: "That's hockey."
The two scuffled after practice. Junta said Costin, in full hockey gear including skates and a helmet, lashed out and ripped off his gold chain.
He said Costin "bumped" him, then the two grabbed each other by the shirts and took swings at each other, not really landing any blows -- "just like ... a regular hockey fight," he said.
Junta said Costin was going "totally crazy," even after they were pulled apart. He said Costin was "spitting, drooling" and continued to swing his arms and curse.
Junta said he left the rink after the first fight but returned about a minute later to make sure his son and son's friend, who were changing out of their hockey clothes, were safe.
He said Costin took a swing at him as soon as he re-entered the rink, sparking the second, fatal confrontation.
Some prosecution witnesses have said Junta beat Costin's head on the floor and pummeled him repeatedly, landing at least 10 blows by one account.