Man found guilty of throwing near-fatal punch outside bar
By Janet Lundquist email@example.com January 3, 2013 10:58AM
Updated: February 5, 2013 6:18AM
A New Lenox man was the one who threw the near-fatal punch that paralyzed another man outside a Mokena bar in 2009, a judge decided Thursday in Joliet.
The mothers of both men were in tears after Circuit Court Judge Sarah Jones announced that she found Joseph Messina, 24, guilty of three counts of aggravated battery after a bench trial.
Eric Bartels, 29, was in the courtroom along with about 30 of his family members for the verdict. Left paralyzed, mute and blind by the traumatic brain injury he suffered when he fell after being punched that night, he was in a wheelchair in the courtroom aisle when the verdict was announced.
Bartels’ mother, Janet Bartels, hugged her family members and a prosecutor in the courthouse hallway after the verdict was given. Outside the courthouse, she said she knew all along the verdict would be guilty.
Bartels said her son likely realized what had happened, though it was hard to tell what his reaction was to the news.
“It’s indescribable, the impact (the punch) has had on us,” Bartels said.
She called the claims by Messina’s friends that another man — Michael Glielmi, who was out with the group that night — punched Bartels “extremely disturbing.”
But Messina’s father, Joseph Messina, left the courthouse convinced his son was railroaded.
“The facts that come up, they ignore,” he said as he left the courthouse. “How much doubt could you have in a case? There could be no more.”
Several of Messina’s friends testified during the trial that 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 Central High School, both star athletes who were coached by Glielmi’s father, Rob Glielmi — hired a lawyer immediately after the incident and never said a word about it.
Formerly of Manhattan, Glielmi has since moved to St. Louis.
Prosecutors believe they had the right guy.
The testimony from Messina’s friends was not believable, they said, 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.
Messina now faces probation or up to five years in prison when he is sentenced March 6.
“To have the person that did this on the street, clear? There’s something wrong with the judicial system,” Joseph Messina Sr. said.
“My son didn’t do this,” said Messina’s mother, Michelle Messina, her eyes filled with tears. “He didn’t do it.”
“This was a senseless and unprovoked act of aggression on the part of Joseph Messina that literally destroyed Eric Bartels’ life. The defendant’s conduct — striking the victim while he lay helpless on the ground and then cheering victoriously over him — reflects the culture of violence woven into every aspect of our entertainment and media,” State’s Attorney James Glasgow said.