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Trial starts for New Lenox man accused of near-fatal punch outside bar

Joseph P. Messina

Joseph P. Messina

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Updated: June 26, 2012 12:06PM

Nearly three years after police said he took a punch in his face outside a Mokena bar, Eric Bartels’ mother said he still can’t see, speak or eat.

And though he can hear, she said he doesn’t know the man accused of throwing the punches that paralyzed him went on trial for aggravated battery Monday in Joliet.

But Jan Bartels said she’ll be in court for every day of testimony about the night prosecutors said 23-year-old Joseph P. Messina of New Lenox assaulted her son.

Dave Carlson, Messina’s attorney, contends his client is innocent.

Prosecutors said the fight happened July 25, 2009, outside 191 South in Mokena. Anna Minette, a former Frankfort resident and friend of Bartels’, said she was standing beside him outside the bar as they prepared to leave.

Minette said she noticed a man standing in front of her — Messina — had a spot on his shirt, and she tried to tell him about it.

“He turned to me and said, ‘Don’t worry about it, it’s just blood,’” Minette said.

She said she exchanged a glance with Bartels, who she said told Messina he “should take care of that.”

After that, Minette said, Messina looked at Bartels and started to yell, “It’s gonna be your blood.”

Minette said she felt uncomfortable, tried to push Bartels away and even told a friend of Messina’s “to please get his friend out of here.” But then she heard a “loud crack noise” behind her, turned and saw Bartels lying on his back in the parking lot.

Bartels, who was 26 at the time, was taken to Silver Cross Hospital with a fractured skull and brain damage.

A Mokena police officer testified Monday he arrived outside the bar and found Messina hiding in a white conversion van behind the driver’s seat.

He said he had to threaten the driver with a Taser to keep him from pulling away, then he had to point the Taser again to get Messina out of the van. Finally, he said he had to use a “forward throw” to put Messina on the ground after he ignored another order to get down.

More witnesses are expected to testify Tuesday in the bench trial before Judge Sarah Jones.

Jan Bartels said nothing she’s heard so far has surprised her. And though she felt anxious about the start of the trial, she said “this finally seems to be where it needs to be” as she left the courthouse.

“It wasn’t that difficult for me in there,” Bartels said. “It’s been difficult when I’ve seen my son almost dying.”

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