Hours after a Will County Judge found a New Lenox man guilty of punching another man into a coma, she received an email from the state's attorney's office.
Attached to the email was a statement from Will County State's Attorney James Glasgow about the case. The judge, Sarah Jones, said she never opened the attachment, but the lawyers for the New Lenox man awaiting sentencing for the fateful punch want her off the case anyway.
"It's about the appearance to everyone in the county—it's about the appearance to the citizen's of Illinois," defense attorney Dave Carlson said as he argued Judge Jones should recuse herself from the case of Joseph Messina during a Thursday afternoon hearing at the Will County Courthouse.
Messina, 24, was found guilty in January of punching 29-year-old Eric Bartels of Joliet, outside the Mokena bar 191 South in July 2009. The attack left Bartels in a coma.
Messina was set to be sentenced March 6 but Carlson and his other attorney, Ken Zelazo, instead argued for a new trial based on a lack of evidence, among other things. Before that hearing started, Judge Jones revealed that she received the email from the state's attorney's office. Glasgow's attached statement said:
"'This was a senseless and unprovoked act of aggression on the part of Joseph Messina that literally destroyed Eric Bartels' life. The defendant's conduct—striking the victim while he lay helpless on the ground and then cheering victoriously over him—reflects the culture of violence woven into every aspect of our entertainment and media,' said State's Attorney James Glasgow. 'Fortunately, Judge Jones found him guilty after weighing the totality of the evidence as well as the credibility of the defense witnesses. She wisely saw through the fraudulent statements made by a defense witness, who changed his story in order to blame someone else three years after the crime.'"
"This court has to recuse itself," Carlson said. "Because any decision made from Jan. 3, when you received that communication ... will now be under a microscope."
Carlson also told Judge Jones that "for justice to be done in this, the court has to recuse itself."
After the hearing, Charles B. Pelkie, the spokesman for the state's attorney's office, said the statement was sent to Judge Jones well after it was delivered to media outlets and posted online.
"It was done as a courtesy two hours after it was distributed and after it was published as well," Pelkie said. "There was no intent whatsoever to sway the court."
Jones said issues in her personal life prevented her from researching the matter. She put off making a ruling until June 28.
Bartels attended the hearing. He sat in a wheelchair in the center aisle of the courtroom. Bartels' mother, Janet Bartels of Tinley Park, said after a previous hearing that her son is sometimes aware of what is going on around him.
Assistant State's Attorney Chris Koch asked Jones to send the case straight to sentencing if she decides not to recuse herself. Carlson said Koch was "being a little presumptuous."