Prosecutors called their first witnesses yesterday in the trial of a Boston father who is charged with killing his son's ice hockey coach after a fight broke out between the two at the end of a practice game.
The manslaughter case has focused national attention on the growing problem of parental violence at children's sports games. There have been many reports of fights and shouting matches breaking out between overzealous and over-competitive mothers and fathers, but no case has matched this one for sheer bloodiness.
Thomas Junta, 43, is accused of pushing the coach, Michael Costin, 40, to the ground by the edge of the ice rink and repeatedly pounding his head on the floor in full view of the children who had been in the practice game, most of them aged 10 to 15. Mr Costin died the next day in hospital.
The trial, being held in Cambridge, Massachusetts, just outside Boston, is expected to last at least a week. It is certain to become emotionally charged as both prosecutors and defence lawyers bring some of the children to the witness stand, including the sons of both the victim and of the defendant.
The attack happened in July 2000 at the Burbank Ice Arena in Reading, north of Boston. Mr Junta apparently became incensed because the coach was allowing too much physical contact between the children on the rink. Moreover, his son was allegedly elbowed in the face by another boy as he left the ice.
The defence lawyer Thomas Orlandi said the dispute began when Mr Junta was angered by "hitting, fighting, slashing" during his 10-year-old son's practice. He also said that in the argument afterwards, Mr Costin shoved his chest into the defendant and slashed his shins with the blades of his skates.
"I submit to you that you will not find beyond a reasonable doubt that this man should be charged with manslaughter," Mr Orlandi said during opening arguments before a jury of three men and nine women.
Prosecutors asserted, however, that Mr Junta, who is a very large and burly man, mercilessly pinned down the coach, who was lighter than him, and set about his head.
Mr Costin, who was 6ft 1in tall but slight of frame, died after an artery near his spine ruptured and filled his spinal cavity with blood.
"Thomas Junta, the defendant, repeatedly punched Michael Costin intentionally in his head area and then intentionally took his head and hit it into the floor of the arena," the prosecutor, Sheila Calkins, insisted. "That caused severe injuries to Michael Costin and eventually caused Michael Costin's death."
The trial is taking place in the same court building that accommodated the shaking-baby trial of the British au pair Louise Woodward four years ago. She was found guilty of murder but was released after the trial judge controversially reduced the conviction to one of manslaughter.
Mr Junta told police the day after the fight that it had been a "stupid guy thing" and that he sincerely regretted it.
"I wish it never happened, no. And I hope the guy's fine," he said at the time. If he is convicted, he will face up to 20 years in prison.Reuse content