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New Lenox Man in Coma Punch Case Says ‘I’m Not a Monster’

The New Lenox man convicted of punching another man into a coma more than four years ago will find out next week if he's bound for prison.

Joseph Messina. Credit: Will County Sheriff's Department.
Joseph Messina. Credit: Will County Sheriff's Department.
By Joseph Hosey

Joseph Messina's dream of being a teacher died on his 21st birthday when he punched a Joliet man into a coma outside a Mokena bar.

"This is something I've always wanted to do. I'm not going to be able to do it anymore," Messina said at his sentencing hearing Tuesday in Will County court.

Messina, 25, will find out next week whether Judge Sarah Jones will sentence him to probation or pack him off to prison for as long as 10 years. Judge Jones found Messina guilty in January of landing the fateful blows that put 30-year-old Eric Bartels into a coma in July 2009.

Messina and Bartels crossed paths at the Mokena bar 191 South. Messina and five friends had gone to 191 South to celebrate his 21st birthday and a fight erupted outside the bar.

During the fight, Messina allegedly punched Bartels, knocking him to the ground. After Bartels fell, Messina straddled his limp body, punched him in the face again and then "raised his arms above his head in victory," a witness testified during Messina's trial.

Bartels suffered a fracture skull and brain damage. He was present for the sentencing hearing and sat in the courtroom aisle in a wheelchair.

Prosecutors played a 20-minute video during the hearing to show the judge what Bartels' existence has been like since he was punched by Messina. A certified nursing assistant said during the video that Bartels cannot move, eat, drink or communicate and requires constant care.

Bartels' mother, sister, and the mother of his son read statements during the hearing. Messina's mother, sister, two aunts, an uncle and two of his bosses testified during the hearing and said that he is not a violent person.

"You couldn't ask for a better son," said Messina's mother, Michelle Messina. "He is strong. He is courageous. He is kind-hearted."

Messina said he was "sorry for Eric and his family, all the hardships they've had to go through," and also told of his "soft" side.

"I'm not a monster," Messina said. "I'm a soft guy. I love kids. I love dogs."

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hazelgreen August 07, 2013 at 10:20 AM
I don't know either man, but anyone that straddles a guy already down to punch him yet again doesn't sound like a sweet person to me, particularly when it had such devastating consequences for Mr. Bartels. He knew what he did was wrong, why else would he hide from the cops? He needs to own up and acknowledge what he did and face time for his assault. Such a shame for both families, but especially for Mr. Bartels family and his son.
E Nichole August 07, 2013 at 12:58 PM
I know Joe and he is an all around good guy who lacked judgment on his 21st bday and made a huge mistake. I feel awful for both parties and their families.
Laura Kinnan August 07, 2013 at 01:33 PM
It's not the public's job to sentence someone.It is the courts job. I can not believe you are asking us that question.
Amanda Horn August 07, 2013 at 02:00 PM
I hope he gets the max! Horrible! It's not the public's job to sentence him, but we are free to express our opinions! Straddled his limp body, punched him, and raised his arms in victory. Now he's feeling sorry for himself. Couldn't ask for a better son, huh?
Jim S August 07, 2013 at 02:10 PM
"You couldn't ask for a better son," said Messina's mother. Lady maybe you couldn't but I sure as hell could.
JCM August 07, 2013 at 05:33 PM
Unfortunate circumstances for both families involved. Everyone makes stupid mistakes that worsen with alcohol. I truly believe in forgiveness. Maybe a good punishment should be helping out in a rehabilitation center for brain injury patients. Not prison.
hazelgreen August 08, 2013 at 10:46 AM
I'm sorry, but making stupid mistakes shouldn't be excused just because he was young and drinking. Yes, I've drank in the past but never have I hurt someone willingingly or unwillingly. If he were driving a car while drunk and killed or seriously injured someone, would you be as forgiving? Just because he wasn't behind the wheel of a car doesn't mean his actions were any less harmful or punishable. And from what I've read of the case, he hid from the cops after the pummeled Mr. Bartels. So he had some inkling that what he did was wrong.
FrankfortDad60423 August 11, 2013 at 09:14 AM
I have to believe that this wasn't his first assault! I feel bad for the Bartels and God has reasons that we don't know. We can ask & in this lifetime we will never know! I think Messina serves 7 years in jail will make him a better man! Anything less would be a slap in the face to Bartel and do they need anymore pain??????
qetesh August 12, 2013 at 12:31 AM
He needs to serve the max and not get credit for timed served. Then they need to go after everyone who lied for him in this case. His friends need to start running. He will turn on them next, to get his sentence reduced. That's what weasels do. Showing that he cannot accept any responsibility, makes him the ultimate weasel.
Dm August 13, 2013 at 10:04 AM
Jails are filled with nice guys who never don't anything wrong. Sorry but you have to pay for what you did. You are a Monster. Sometimes you have to walk away, he didn't. Two people have lost their life's because of beer muscles. Sad

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