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D.A.'s Office to decide if murder charges will be filed in homeless man's death

Robert Barnes died Wednesday after being attacked at a gas station in April. Three women and three juveniles were charged.

Robert Barnes, 51, was attacked at the Sunoco at 5338 N. Fifth St. on April 7.
Robert Barnes, 51, was attacked at the Sunoco at 5338 N. Fifth St. on April 7.Read more

THE DISTRICT Attorney's Office said yesterday it has not yet decided whether it will charge three women and three juveniles with murder after a homeless man who had been savagely beaten at an Olney gas station in April died at a hospital on Wednesday.

"The Office is looking at the case and has not yet made a decision if we will be updating charges," spokesman Cameron Kline wrote in an email.

Robert Barnes, 51, died at Abington Hospital-Jefferson Health at 4:25 p.m. Wednesday, his sister Diane Barnes, said.

"I was by his bedside," she said yesterday.

She said she believed the people who beat her brother will face murder charges.

"I have all the confidence in the world that they [prosecutors] will upgrade charges," she said.

She said the Montgomery County Coroner's Office was conducting an autopsy on her brother.

Officer Leeloni Palmiero, a Philadelphia police spokeswoman, said yesterday: "It's going to take a little time to have a definitive cause [of death] pending the medical examiner's report."

On April 7, Barnes was viciously beaten outside a Sunoco gas station on 5th Street near Somerville Avenue. The horrific beating was caught on video.

Diane Barnes said while her brother had opened his eyes since he was transferred months ago from Einstein Medical Center to a care facility in Willow Grove, he had never come out of a coma since being beaten.

"He never regained consciousness," she said. "He never followed me around [with his eyes]. He was still considered in a vegetative state."

She said his condition worsened recently and he was transferred from the Willow Grove facility to Abington Hospital early Monday morning.

Diane Barnes, who lives in Plymouth Meeting, had visited her brother over the past months.

"Every day, it looked like he was going through the battle of his life," she said. "He would cough so profusely, it would lift his body off the bed."

In Abington Hospital, her brother looked tired, she said. "He let out a big sigh. It was like he was tired of fighting."

She said her brother never learned that their mother, Roseann Barnes, 68, of Roxborough, died July 13 from a vascular disease. "That was never shared with him," she said. "Now, they're together, unfortunately."

Yesterday, Diane Barnes turned 51 - the same age as her brother. "He would say we're both twins," since they were the same age for a month each year, she said. He would have turned 52 on Dec. 28.

The siblings also have a younger sister who lives in Connecticut and a younger half-brother.

The three women charged in the attack - Aleathea Gillard, 34, Kaisha Duggins, 24, and Shareena Joachim, 23 - have a trial date scheduled for Jan. 29 on attempted murder, conspiracy, and related offenses. They also have a Dec. 4 status listing before Common Pleas Judge Daniel Anders. These dates were scheduled before Barnes died Wednesday.

The women have not been able to make bail and remain in jail.

The three juveniles - two boys and a girl - pleaded guilty in June before a Family Court judge to felony aggravated assault and conspiracy charges. In exchange, prosecutors dropped attempted murder and other remaining charges. They were later sentenced to serve time in juvenile residential-treatment facilities.

One of Gillard's sons, then 13, and a daughter, then 12, were among the juveniles charged. A 14-year-old male friend of the son was also charged.

The attack happened after Gillard's 10-year-old son came home and told her that Barnes hit him. But the boy lied, according to evidence.

Barnes and the 10-year-old were earning some cash pumping gas at the station earlier that day when they had gotten into an argument. The boy rode his bike home, fell and hurt himself on the forehead and claimed that the injury was caused when Barnes hit him.

Gillard, of Wellens Street near Fourth, about 1 1/2 blocks from the gas station, then allegedly got into her Honda Odyssey minivan with other people who were in her home at the time and went to the gas station.

The attack, which happened about 6:40 p.m., lasted about a minute, after which the perpetrators drove away.

The 10-year-old boy allegedly pointed Barnes out to his family, but did not participate in the attack and was not charged.

The video from the convenience store at the gas station shows a group of people rushing out of a minivan toward Barnes.

In a statement that Joachim gave to police, she said she was about to spray Barnes with Mace, but missed him and instead sprayed Gillard's 13-year-old son.

In the video, the 13-year-old is seen throwing a punch at Barnes, then covering his eyes and jumping in pain.

It depicts Gillard, wearing a white T-shirt, repeatedly pummeling Barnes in the head - authorities have said she hit him with a piece of wood inside her van that had from a broken rocking chair - and then kicking Barnes as he lay on the ground.

Two youths - a girl and boy - are also seen stomping Barnes as he lay on the ground. Duggins allegedly used a hammer and hit Barnes in the head, legs and feet.

On Twitter: @julieshawphilly