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April 19, 2018

Family outraged over sentencing delay in case of homeless man's fatal beating

Three women who pleaded guilty in brutal attack on Robert Barnes were scheduled for court on Friday

Courts Crime
Barnes funeral Brian Hickey/PhillyVoice

In December 2015, mourners said goodbye to Robert Barnes, 51, at a funeral in Manayunk. Barnes died seven months after being attacked outside an Olney gas station.

Yet again, Robert Barnes’ family will have to wait to see justice served.

Though three women already pleaded guilty to a brutal group attack that ultimately killed the 51-year-old homeless man, his family learned this week that sentencing will not go off this Friday as previously scheduled.

It's been three years since the April 2015 attack – three women and three juveniles jumped him outside an Olney gas station – drew national attention as it was caught on video. During that time, the victim’s family has faced countless delays.

To say news of this latest delay was more frustrating and disappointing for them would be an understatement.

Diane Barnes, the victim's sister, didn’t learn of the continuation until Wednesday. Word came after her sister Debbie had already traveled from Connecticut for the proceedings, countless supporters had rearranged their schedules to attend and Diane Barnes had prepared a victim-impact statement.

Barnes said she was told sentencing for the defendants – Aleathea Gillard, 37; Shareena Joachim, 26; and Kaisha Duggins, 27– will now occur “sometime in July or August." She has to provide dates that work for the family at least 60 days out.

“We are deeply sympathetic to the frustrations of Mr. Robert Barnes' family and understand that every delay is difficult to deal with for families of victims.” – Ben Waxman, D.A.'s office spokesman

“I’m sick to my stomach,” Barnes said. “I was preparing for this for months, and it brought all the pain back as I was trying to get on with life. Now, we have to put it aside and then bring it all back up again in a few months. It’s horrible.”

Barnes said she was told that the delay was based on one of the defendants – Duggins – hiring a mitigation expert. Should they proceed with sentencing without letting that defense work occur, it could prompt a potential appeal.

“It’s starting to feel like they care more about the criminals than the victims,” Barnes vented. “They’re giving her more time to say she was mentally ill when she hit my brother with a hammer, that she doesn’t know why she did it, or what it would do to him?

“What really gets me is that I was told specifically that the case couldn’t be continued anymore. So, what happened? It’s been three years. Do I have any rights here? Whatever happened to speedy trials?”

Ben Waxman, spokesman for the District Attorney’s Office, confirmed Barnes’ version what prompted the delay.

“We are deeply sympathetic to the frustrations of Mr. Robert Barnes' family and understand that every delay is difficult to deal with for families of victims,” he said, blaming defense counsel for the continuation. “Our ADAs have been prepared for some time to move forward at the sentencing hearing, either if it had occurred tomorrow or a date in the future as decided by the judge assigned to the case.”

ONE OF SEVERAL DELAYS

The viral video of the brutal attack on Robert Barnes on April 7, 2015 shows a group of three adults and three juveniles beating Barnes with their feet and fists, a hammer and a piece of wood.

While the juveniles were quickly sentenced on assault charges, the charges were upgraded to murder after the 51-year-old Barnes died on November 25, 2015. (He had remained comatose for more than seven months after the attack.)

All three juveniles have already pleaded guilty to third-degree murder.

The adults – Gillard, Joachim and Duggins – were initially scheduled to face trial in March 2017. That date was pushed back to July 31, 2017 as two defendants hired experts to claim they weren’t of sound mind on the day of the ultimately fatal attack.

Trial did not start then, however, as Gilliard brought on a new public defender, and got a doctor to evaluate her.

As the oft-delayed trial seemed ready to proceed this past January, the three women pleaded guilty.

The charges – voluntary manslaughter, conspiracy and possession of an instrument of crime – will land them behind bars for a maximum of 22.5 to 45 years in prison.