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December 22, 2015

Three suspects charged with murder in brutal beating of homeless man

Robert Barnes died after spending seven months in a coma following an attack outside an Olney gas station

Crime and Courts Homelessness
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.

Hearing that the three adults suspected in the brutal beating that led to her brother’s death had been charged with murder last week was “the best Christmas gift” that Diane Barnes ever received.

“I’m relieved. There’s butterflies. It feels good,” said Barnes, who learned last week that Aleathea Gillard, Shareena Joachim and Kaisha Duggins had been charged in connection with the April 7 beating that left her brother comatose until his Nov. 25 death. “I kept wondering why it wasn’t on the news after I found out.”

District Attorney’s Office spokesman Cameron Kline confirmed to PhillyVoice that charges against the trio of adults had been upgraded from, among others, aggravated assault. Barnes said Tuesday that investigators told her the same would happen to three juveniles who have already been sentenced in connection with the case that drew national attention.

The suspects are accused of attacking Barnes, a Roxborough native, outside a Sunoco gas station at Fifth Street and Somerville Avenue on April 7.

Footage from nearby surveillance cameras shows a group of three adults and three juveniles beating Barnes with their feet and fists, a hammer, a piece of wood and pepper spray.

Three youths – a 12-year-old girl and 13- and 14-year-old boys – were sentenced on assault charges in July.

The assault was allegedly precipitated by Gillard's 10-year-old son claiming Barnes hit him during an argument about who would pump gas for customers, an allegation that investigators later dismissed. Investigators said they later learned that he fell off his bicycle on the way home and made up a story to avoid getting in trouble for being late.

Joachim’s attorney had no comment when contacted by NBC10, while the other two lawyers didn't return calls.

All three suspects are currently scheduled for a Dec. 30 preliminary hearing, according to court documents.