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Cliffhanger trial verdict expected Thursday

Joseph P. Messina

Joseph P. Messina

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Updated: February 3, 2013 6:01AM



For years, Joseph Messina’s friends kept their mouths shut about the night in the summer of 2009 when a man was nearly killed by a punch outside a Mokena bar.

All that time, the victim, Eric Bartels, 29, of Tinley Park, remained paralyzed, unable to see or talk.

Messina, 24, of New Lenox, sat in jail for two months after police arrested him for the beating. Eyewitnesses claimed to have clearly seen Messina punch Bartels and knock him to the ground. They testified to it during his trial, which ended last month.

But three years later, Messina’s friends told a judge they lied to the police investigating the crime. It wasn’t Messina who threw the punch, they said in court; it was their buddy, Mike Glielmi.

Glielmi — who played football alongside Messina at Lincoln-Way High School, both star athletes who were coached by Glielmi’s father, Rob Glielmi — hired a lawyer immediately, and never said a word about the incident.

Formerly of Manhattan, Glielmi moved to St. Louis for college and still lives there. Meanwhile, Messina has been facing an aggravated battery charge, and, possibly, prison time if he is convicted.

No one close to the situation wants to talk about it. Glielmi’s father did not return calls seeking comment. Neither did Eric Bartels’ mother, Janet Bartels, nor Mike Glielmi’s attorney, Steve Haney.

Glielmi invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and was not forced to testify during Messina’s trial.

“This whole thing is just a tragedy all the way around. It makes you sick to your stomach,” said Dave Carlson, Messina’s attorney. “There’s nothing good that comes out of this. It’s sad that we’re in this situation.”

Messina’s bench trial on the aggravated battery charge began in June. It came to an abrupt halt when a Mokena police officer testified that he took a picture of Messina’s hand the night he was arrested, which was news to both the prosecution and defense. The photo, if it was taken, was never found.

When the trial resumed in December, Messina’s friend, Steve Raymond, of Frankfort, said he was a sober witness to that night’s events — and that Messina didn’t do it.

Raymond sobbed while he told Judge Sarah Jones that he decided to come clean after his sister suffered brain injuries from a motorcycle accident. He admitted during cross-examination that it was more than a year before he mentioned Glielmi’s alleged involvement, and only after Carlson called him during preparations for the trial.

Prosecutors repeatedly asked Raymond why he let Messina, a friend so close that Raymond called him “my brother,” sit in jail without telling police that he saw another man throw the punch.

“I thought the situation was too bad already,” Raymond said. “As time went by, nothing happened. Mike (Glielmi) had a lawyer. ... I had no idea what to do.”

Another of the friends out that night, Sean Plarsky, of New Lenox, said he was holding Messina in his arms because his friend had been hit or shoved moments before Bartels was punched by someone else.

“Mike was really shook up,” said another friend, Andy Paver, of New Lenox. “He was real frantic. He kept saying, ‘Joe can’t get in trouble for this. Joe can’t take the fall.’ ”

Even if Messina is acquitted or his charge is dropped, Richard Kling, a criminal defense attorney and a law professor at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, said too much time has passed for Glielmi to face aggravated battery charges in the incident.

A three-year statute of limitations would prevent him from being charged with aggravated battery, Kling said. However, other charges might apply to the case, if enough evidence exists, Kling said.

Prosecutors, however, believe they have the right guy.

Prosecutors said the testimony from Messina’s friends was not believable, especially compared with the testimony of the independent witnesses who watched from a parked vehicle as the fight unfolded. Prosecutors also pointed out that witnesses who were in the thick of the confrontation said they did not remember seeing Glielmi that night.

State’s attorney spokesman Charles B. Pelkie would not speculate about what could happen if Messina is acquitted.

“The state has presented its case and the closing statements and the evidence presented shows exactly the position the state has on this case,” Pelkie said. “We’re awaiting a ruling on Jan. 3.”



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