Paralyzing punch case now in judge’s hands
By Janet Lundquist email@example.com December 10, 2012 4:48PM
Joseph P. Messina
Updated: January 12, 2013 6:13AM
Did he do it, or didn’t he?
Over the next few weeks, a Will County judge will decide whether she believes a New Lenox man accused of throwing a near-fatal punch in summer 2009 actually did the deed, or whether she believes witnesses who claim a different guy did it.
Joseph P. Messina, 24, of New Lenox, faces three counts of aggravated battery for punching Eric Bartels so hard he fell and fractured his skull on the pavement outside a Mokena bar, authorities said.
Messina’s bench trial wrapped up Monday, and Judge Sarah Jones said she will issue her verdict on Jan. 3.
During their closing arguments Monday afternoon, prosecutors showed a photo of a streak of blood on the asphalt of the parking lot just outside the front doors to 191 South.
They left the photo up as they recounted the testimony of independent, sober witnesses to the fight who said they saw Messina punch Bartels.
But several witnesses last week contradicted that testimony, saying another member of Messina’s group of friends actually punched Bartels.
Stephen Raymond of Manhattan said he was the designated driver that night and saw the fight as he was driving a van to pick up the group.
Messina was shoved to the side, and another one of their friends, Michael Glielmi, punched Bartels, Raymond said.
Raymond said he kept his mouth shut until now because he thought Glielmi would confess.
Two other men who were there that night also blamed Glielmi on the witness stand. All three acknowledged they never told police or prosecutors previously about Glielmi being the assailant.
Glielmi invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and was not forced to testify.
Prosecutors said Monday the testimony from Messina’s friends was not believable, especially compared to 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.
Defense attorney Dave Carlson argued that conflicting testimony and a lack of evidence is enough to make someone doubt the prosecutors’ version of events.
There was also no evidence of injury to Messina’s hand, and nothing documenting what others in his crew of friends were wearing that night, Carlson said.
Police at the scene didn’t consider anyone else in the group, but handcuffed Messina in front of the crowd of witnesses, Carlson said.
“What we have ... is 15 to 20 people out in essentially a melee,” Carlson said. “All the testimony is that the guy who hit Mr. Bartels ran into the van. They pulled someone out, and that was Joey.”