State Police Scientists Testify as Case Over Punch That Left Man Paralyzed Resumes
Joseph Messina, of New Lenox, is accused of hitting a man in 2009, putting him in a coma and leaving him with massive head trauma.
The trial of a New Lenox man charged with punching another man into a coma started more than five months ago, and on Wednesday it was back on with testimony from three state police scientists.
The scientists were questioned about blood evidence in the case against 24-year-old Joseph Messina, who allegedly beat a man into a coma outside the Mokena bar 191 South back in July 2009.
Messina's trial began in June but the high-profile murder prosecutions of wife-killer Drew Peterson and Christopher Vaughn—the Oswego man who executed his wife and three children—forced the postponement of his case.
Messina, who is free on a $250,000 bond, allegedly knocked Eric Bartels, 29, to the ground with a single punch. After Bartels fell, a witness testified previously, Messina straddled him, punched his face again, then "raised his arms above his head in victory."
The police arrived quickly and found Messina hiding between the seats of a van, witnesses said.
But one of the attorneys representing Messina said Messina didn't throw the punch that broke Bartels' skull and damaged his brain. In fact, said the attorney, Dave Carlson, Messina didn't punch anyone at all. Carlson said it was actually one of Messina's close friends who struck Bartels.
On Tuesday, forensic scientist David Turngren of the Illinois State Police Crime Lab said he performed DNA testing on clothing worn by Messina and Bartels. Turngren testified to finding a mixture of DNA from two people on a shirt Messina was wearing the night Bartels was beaten. The mixture contained DNA from Bartels and from a second person. He said he could not rule out Messina as that second person.
But when questioned by defense attorney Ken Zelazo, Turngren conceded that he could not say with "scientific certainty" the DNA was from Messina's body.
"So it could have come from someone else?" Zelazo asked. Turngren told him, "Yes, it's possible."
Turngren also said he found no DNA from either man on another shirt Messina had on or the blue jeans he was wearing.
After Turngren testified, Carlson told Judge Sarah Jones he plans to call three Mokena police officers and an investigator from the state's attorney's office to the witness stand Thursday morning. Carlson said he has another four civilian witnesses in store for Thursday afternoon.
Bartels suffered massive head trauma from the fight, leaving him paralyzed and blind, according to reports. Living in Joliet during the 2009 incident, Bartels currently lives with and is cared for by his mother in Tinley Park. In October, his mother filed a lawsuit on behalf of her son against two doctors and Silver Cross and Provena St. Joseph's hospitals, accusing them of negligence while treating him after the fight.
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