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March 09, 2016

Three women held for trial in fatal, brutal beating of homeless man

Robert Barnes died from injuries sustained in attack caught on camera outside Olney gas station

Crime and Courts Murder Charges
Robert Barnes Diane Barnes/for PhillyVoice

Robert Barnes remained comatose for months after a brutal attack outside an Olney gas station. His family announced his death on Nov. 25, 2015.

Three women charged with murder in connection with the brutal beating that led to the death of a homeless man last year waived their preliminary hearings in Philadelphia Municipal Court on Wednesday.

After a 10-minute appearance before Judge Karen Y. Simmons, the trio – Aleathea Gillard, 35; Shareena Joachim, 24; and Kaisha Duggins, 25 – was held for trial on murder, conspiracy and possession of an instrument of crime charges in connection with the death of 51-year-old Robert Barnes.

The suspects are accused of attacking Barnes, a Roxborough native, outside a Sunoco gas station at Fifth Street and Somerville Avenue on April 7, 2015. 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.

Barnes remained comatose before passing away seven months later from injuries sustained during the assault. The violence was allegedly precipitated by Gillard's 10-year-old son claiming Barnes hit him during an argument about who would pump gas for customers.

Investigators later dismissed that allegation, saying they learned later that he fell off his bicycle on the way home and made up a story to avoid getting in trouble for being late.

The three women, who will be arraigned on March 30, were in Courtroom 306 for less than 15 minutes on Thursday, spoke sparingly but smiled at several supporters there on their behalf.

At issue in trial will be the circumstances that led to the altercation for which the three youths – a 12-year-old girl and 13- and 14-year-old boys – were initially sentenced on assault charges, but saw those upgraded to murder after Barnes’ death.

For her part, Barnes’ sister Diane described the emotions of seeing the women who allegedly killed her sibling after waiting in court for several hours Wednesday.

“My stomach was in knots when I saw them come in the room,” she said. “It’s hard to see them knowing what they did to my brother.”