That hockey dad who was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter is a victim of profiling, stereotyping and discrimination. You think?
I do an issues-driven radio talk show. I manage the content and flow of the program. I make a concerted effort to provide issues for discussion that are ahead of the mainstream, significant and compelling. However, occasionally a story strikes such a spark that no matter how a host tries to move on to another topic, you realize the caller's judgment may be better than your own that day.
It happened recently with the verdict of Thomas Junta, the hockey dad found guilty of involuntary manslaughter. We talked about it on the air and then I tried to move on to the Enron mess, Islam being taught in California schools and the huge Ford layoffs. I tried and failed.
The hockey dad story sparked a lot of discussion. The one indisputable fact (maybe the only one) is a man died.
There were two brief fights (mutual combat). Allegedly in each of the confrontations, the smaller man, Michael Costin started it. Some folks think Junta was a victim of stereotype profiling ... and it is increasingly beginning to seem there may be substance to that claim. Much has been made of his size (270 pounds) and his work (truck driver). Nothing has been mentioned about the dead guy's physicality (he was a hockey coach), temper or the fact he was a scrapper.
Junta could get 20 years in prison for killing 40-year-old Michael. There is a sad irony in the fact the cause of the fatal confrontation was over excessive violence.
I don't know what really happened, and neither do you. In fact, the jurors were faced with no less than six variations of what happened. Both guys were probably at fault for the fights and both guys share the blame for the outcome. However, only one of them is still alive.
The big guy testified he tried to avoid fighting Costin, and only fought back after the 156-pound Costin knocked him over with a "sucker punch" and continued to pummel him with blows after falling down. Even then, Junta claims he only landed "three off-balance" blows ... that's his story and he's sticking to it.
A couple of witnesses testified that Junta struck repeatedly, ignoring cries of, "Stop. You're going to kill him!" Other witnesses disagreed, corroborating Junta's claim that only three punches were thrown at Costin. He said/she said/they said.
Anyone who has watched a fight -- or been in one -- knows that although there may be a lot of arm swinging and movement, few blows usually land effectively.
Expert witnesses on both sides agreed on little except that Costin died from a ruptured artery in his neck.
Those same medical experts disagreed on how much force would be required to cause the brain damage and eventual death. The prosecution witness, Dr. Stanton Kessler, said Costin sustained "severe trauma" from repeated blows to his head and neck. The defense witness, Dr. Ira Kanfer, said a single blow could have caused the rupture.
Well a single blow could have been fatal ... but you and I and the jury don't know.
The first fight started when Junta became angry with a player elbowing his son in the face. Reportedly, it was supposed to be a non-contact scrimmage, supervised by Costin. Witnesses say, Junta yelled at Costin for not controlling the rough play. Costin replied: "That's hockey." Yeah, that's hockey, but a non-contact scrimmage is supposed to be non-contact. That means discipline on the part of the players and control on the part of the coach. If a player knows he can be hit, he is prepared and can respond.
Words turned into action and the two men got into a scuffle that was broken up by bystanders. Costin apparently won the first fight.
Junta went outside, but returned to pick up his son and his friends, who were still inside the locker room.
The prosecution emphasized the size difference between the two men. They said that Junta couldn't possibly have feared Costin's blows and therefore was not acting in self-defense. Hold on. The big bad truck driver kinda got his big butt kicked in the first scuffle. He sustained a 4-inch scratch on his face, his shirt was ripped, and his arms and legs were cut up from Costin having kicked him with his skates. In some venues the use of hockey skates as a deadly weapon might have been significant.
Outside the universe of professional athletes in the NFL or NBA, I'm a big guy -- six foot two, 210 pounds. I'm a former Airborne, Ranger, Green Beret and a Black Belt. One of the few men I fear is five nine and 160 pounds. In matters of physical combat size does not matter. Watch one of those Ultimate Fighting events and you will regularly see some 600 pound monster crushed by a guy 400 pounds smaller.
Behind-the-scene stories raise more questions than answers. Costin's dad "forgave" Junta. It turns out the elder Costin himself had been convicted of involuntary manslaughter in the killing of another son ... who had attacked him.
One listener wrote, "Where's the responsibility of the smaller guy having enough sense not to attack or pick a fight with the larger?" Another wrote, "He should get probation and no jail time. Both fought and both are equally responsible." Another wrote, "Appeal for a retrial and go for acquittal ... After the verdict it was made known that the little guy had a history of being in trouble for picking fights before. I think he should walk. Probation for a year."
manslaughter seems like the appropriate verdict. However, what kind of
sentence should Junta get? He obviously didn't mean to kill Costin. He
certainly seems remorseful. What is the benefit to incarcerating him? There
must be consequences to what we do and don't do. Reason suggests the sentence
should be lenient. Sentencing is Jan. 25.