Hockey death trial in hands of jury


The jury in the manslaughter case against a hockey dad began deliberating yesterday whether he was a “gentle giant” who fought back in self-defense, or just a bully.

Thomas Junta could get up to 20 years in prison if convicted of beating another father to death in a case that has drawn national attention to parental violence at youth sporting events.

Junta claimed he was defending himself when he beat Michael Costin into unconsciousness on July 5, 2000, in an argument over rough play at their sons” hockey practice. Several young skaters, including the men”s sons, witnessed the fight between the 270-pound Junta and Costin, who was an inch shorter and 114 pounds smaller.

“Send Tom Junta back to his hockey family,” defense attorney Thomas Orlandi Jr. urged the jury during closing arguments. He described his client as “gentle giant” worried over what the other man might do.

Prosecutors mocked that description, saying Junta used his size to overpower Costin and pummeled him in an attack that ruptured an artery in Costin”s neck.

Prosecutor Sheila Calkins dropped to her knees before the jury and flailed her arms as she described how the burly truck driver struck the other man as he lay on the ground beneath him. She said Junta left Costin to die.

Bush signs $317.2 billion defense spending bill


President Bush signed a defense spending bill yesterday that he said is a down-payment on his pledge to give the nation”s military “every tool, every weapon and every advantage you need” to fight terrorism.

Bush went to the Pentagon, which still bears scars from the hijacked jet that hit it, and signed legislation that sets aside $317.2 billion for Defense Department operations in the budget year that began Oct. 1. The bill also earmarks an additional $20 billion for the military campaign in Afghanistan and recovery from the September attacks.

“Since September 11, the skill, the daring and the courage of our men and women in uniform is now clear to all,” Bush said. “It”s clear to your fellow Americans, and it”s clear to those who try to hide in caves.”

Bush was referring to the those behind the attacks, now being sought by American soldiers in the hills of Afghanistan. Bush rallied the military, saying its current campaign is noble, just and a salvation for Afghan people newly liberated from the oppressive rule of the Taliban.

“You”re delivering justice not revenge, but justice to agents of terror. And you”re making this nation proud,” Bush said.

Palestinian Authority linked to seized arms


Secretary of State Colin Powell yesterday linked the Palestinian Authority to a ship laden with arms that was seized in the Red Sea by Israeli commandos, but said there was no proof Yasser Arafat was involved.

If the ship had reached Palestinian territory and the weapons had been unloaded, Powell said, they “would have been put to the worst kind of use against Israel and others in the region.”

Powell was pleased Israel intercepted the ship last Thursday.

“Now we have to find all those responsible and accountable for this incident,” he said at a news conference.

A senior Israeli security official on Wednesday said the weapons would have been used most against reinforced buses that generally have not been penetrated in terrorist attacks.

Nuclear dump site approved in Nevada


The Energy Department gave the go-ahead for a nuclear waste dump in the Nevada desert yesterday, contending the site is scientifically sound and that “compelling national interests” override the state”s strong objections.

President Bush must decide whether to approve the site and apply for a federal license.

Nevada would need the support of Congress to have any hope of thwarting the proposed dump 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas. Under a 1982 law, Nevada can veto the project, but that could be overridden by Congress.

Congress singled out Yucca Mountain 15 years ago as the only site to be studied for the nation”s nuclear waste repository. Outraged Nevada politicians said the legislation passed only because lawmakers didn”t want the waste in their states.

Fighter jet crashes in N.J. pilot unharmed


An F-16 with the New Jersey Air National Guard crashed near a busy highway yesterday, and the pilot ejected safely, officials said.

The pilot, based at the 177th Fighter Wing at Pomona, parachuted into woods about one-quarter mile east of the Garden State Parkway. He suffered minor cuts and bruises. His identity was not released. Since Sept. 11, fighter jets from the 177th have been among those flying combat air patrols over New York and Washington.

The jet had been practicing bomb drops at the Warren Grove range and was returning to base when a malfunction occurred, according to Col. Michael Cosby, the unit”s commander.

Debris from the jet was scattered across the parkway, though no cars were damaged, said John Hagerty, a state police spokesman. The highway is a major north-south route.

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