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."