Messina tells judge: ‘I’m not a monster’
By Janet Lundquist firstname.lastname@example.org August 6, 2013 5:53PM
Joseph Messina outside the courthouse on Tuesday, Aug. 6, 2103, after a court hearing. His sister, Nicole Messina, on the left and aunt, Diane Beltran, right. | Janey Lundquist~Sun-Times Media
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Updated: September 8, 2013 6:25AM
A New Lenox man convicted of punching another man so hard it left him paralyzed told a Will County judge on Tuesday that he is really a “soft guy.”
“I’m not a monster,” Joseph Messina, 25, told Circuit Court Judge Sarah Jones during his sentencing hearing. “I’m a soft guy. I love kids, I love dogs. I’m a very happy person. I’m not the same man I was in 2009.”
Prosecutors said Messina was celebrating his 21st birthday in July 2009 when he confronted Eric Bartels, now 30, outside a Mokena bar and punched him, knocking Bartels to the pavement. He then straddled Bartels on the ground, punched him a second time and then raised his arms in victory, according to prosecutors.
In January, Jones found Messina guilty of three counts of aggravated battery after a bench trial. He faces probation or up to 10 years in prison when sentenced Aug. 13.
Prosecutors argued Tuesday that Messina deserved prison time, but defense attorney Dave Carlson said probation was more appropriate.
Bartels is a quadriplegic who cannot see or speak as a result of the injury he sustained in being struck by Messina. He was in a wheelchair in the courtroom Tuesday along with family members and friends.
As part of the hearing, prosecutors showed a video detailing a day in Bartels’ life. The 6-foot-6 man needs 24-hour care and is fed through a tube in his stomach. He is moved from his bed to his chair by a mechanical lift, with help from a nursing assistant.
“Look at the man you will never measure up to,” Bartels’ mother, Jan, told Messina, looking at him as he sat at the defense table. “Look, and raise your arms in victory now.”
After hitting Bartels, authorities said Messina hid in his parents’ van parked outside the bar until police told him to get out.
“Joseph Messina made a choice between good and evil that night,” Jan Bartels said. “Clearly, he chose evil and hid like the spineless coward that he is in his parents’ van.”
Later, Messina’s mother, Michelle, tearfully testified that her son is “her rock” and a “momma’s boy.”
“He’s so kind, he’d do anything for anyone. I’m very proud to be his mother,” she said, begging Jones not to send her son to prison.
“It was very tragic what happened that night. And as a mother, I can understand the pain that family is going through,” Michelle Messina said. “I do have pain myself because I know who my son is and I know he isn’t capable of this.”
Messina told Jones that he was sorry for Bartels and his family.
“These past four years I’ve been living court date to court date, never getting a chance to look ahead,” he said. “I’m a good son, a good brother, a good nephew. There are a lot of things I can do to make the community better.”