A New Lenox man who paralyzed a 28-year-old by punching him outside an Illinois bar will receive 30 months probation and a monetary forfeiture in lieu of prison time.
Joseph Messina, 25, could have received up to 10 years in prison for his aggravated battery charge. Messina threw a punch that left Eric Bartels in a months-long coma, but Judge Sarah Jones said prosecutors were unable to overcome the presumption of probation.
“I’m very disappointed with the sentence, and we believe there was sufficient evident in the record to justify a prison sentence,” said Will County State’s Attorney James Glasgow. “The injuries to Eric Bartels are a hair’s breadth from murder.”
The incident in question occurred in Mokena outside a restaurant and bar. According to prosecutors, Messina threw an unprovoked punch that knocked Bartels to the ground. Witnesses testified that Messina threw a second punch after Bartels hit the ground, and later threw his hands in the air and made a victory sign while on top of Bartels.
Bartels fell into a months-long coma as a result of his injuries. He was also left paralyzed, blind and unable to speak. He now requires constant care at his home in Tinley Park.
During testimony, witnesses suggested that the punches might have been thrown after a comment was made about a bloodstain on Messina’s shirt.
Along with the 30 months of probation, Messina was ordered to turn over the $20,000 his family put up for bond to the victim’s mother, who now helps care for her son. Messina was also ordered to pay $630 a month for the duration of his probation to help cover Bartel’s monthly medical expenses.
In addition, Messina was ordered to complete 250 hours of community service, and he must not drink any alcohol during the duration of his 10-year probation. If he fails to comply with the probation guidelines, Messina will receive a 180-day jail sentence.
Attorney Sean Sullivan comments
Despite avoiding prison time on his criminal case, Messina is still very likely to be subject to a civil lawsuit.
The law sets out that there are seven intentional “torts”, two of which are assault and battery. A tort is a legal term that refers to what is called a “cause of action”. A cause of action is the legal theory that allows someone the grounds to pursue a lawsuit.
In a case involving an assault and battery, it is often better to allow the criminal justice system pursue the criminal case before a person sues someone civilly. I am sure this man’s family is distraught that his punishment was not more severe on the criminal side, but they can take solace in the fact that they will be highly successful in pursuing any type of civil action against this man as the burden in a civil case is much lower than the burden in a criminal case. Once a person has been found criminally responsible for an act, it is almost a certainty they will also be found civilly liable. This family should seek a lawsuit against Messina and sue him for damages to help offset the high cost of medical care Bartels is now facing for the rest of his life.
Related source: Chicago Tribune