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New Lenox man found guilty in '09 bar attack

(MCT) — Covered in a fleece Chicago Bears blanket and Blackhawks scarf, his arms propped up on pillows, Eric Bartels was wheeled into a Will County courtroom Thursday to hear a judge give her verdict on the man who with two punches left Bartels blind, paralyzed and unable to speak.

Judge Sarah Jones reminded those in the gallery packed with family of Bartels and defendant Joseph Messina, 24, to show respect in the courtroom.

Bartels' mother, Jan, gasped as Jones found Messina guilty of three counts of aggravated battery. "Justice was served," said Jan Bartels, whose 29-year-old son now lives in her Tinley Park dining room.

Messina, a New Lenox resident, remains free on bond before his March 6 sentencing, where he faces up to five years in prison but also could be released on court supervision. His father, Joe Messina, vowed to appeal the verdict.

"It's ludicrous. It's completely, completely off the wall," he said.

"I want my son's name cleared of this. He didn't do it. He didn't do it, and they all know he didn't do it."

In July 2009, five days after turning 21, former Lincoln-Way Central High School baseball standout Messina went out to celebrate with friends at 191 South, a Mokena bar and restaurant. Eric Bartels was also at the bar with three of his friends.

Bartels and his best friend's sister Anna Minette were waiting for a ride outside the bar under the same canopy as Messina when Minette asked Messina about a spot on his shirt, according to her trial testimony.

Messina told her it was blood and allegedly became enraged when Bartels said "he should take care of that," Minette testified. Bartels and Minette were moving away when Messina allegedly threw two punches.

Minette saw her friend on the pavement with "blood pooling around his head," she testified. Prosecutors said Bartels' DNA was on Messina's clothes.

At trial, defense attorney Dave Carlson called a witness who had changed his account and said another man in the party, not Messina, had thrown the punches. That man refused to testify on the grounds he could incriminate himself.

State's Attorney James Glasgow said in a statement that Jones "wisely saw through the fraudulent statements."

Jan Bartels said she woke at 4 a.m. Thursday to get her son ready to come to court with a caregiver's help.

She takes care of her son — who has a 6-year-old boy of his own — then leaves him with a caregiver while she works.

"It's been very devastating for everyone that knows him," Jan Bartels said. "It's very devastating to live with a traumatic brain injury. It's a lifelong problem."

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