Saying that three Philadelphia women had "unleashed a savage act" on a homeless man when they brutally beat him outside an Olney gas station three years ago, leading to his death seven months later, a judge on Friday sentenced the women to prison terms of more than a decade.
During a nearly three-hour hearing, Common Pleas Court Judge Sandy Byrd said the beating death of Robert Barnes, 51, which was captured on surveillance video, "is one in which we all witnessed the very worst attributes of humanity."
The three women — Aleathea Gillard, 37; Kaisha Duggins, 27; and Duggins' sister, Shareena Joachim, 26 — pleaded guilty Jan. 29 to charges of voluntary manslaughter, conspiracy, and possession of an instrument of crime in Barnes' death.
Byrd sentenced Gillard and Duggins to the maximum term of 22½ to 45 years in state prison. He sentenced Joachim to 12½ to 25 years.
The attack occurred about 6:40 p.m. after Gillard's then-10-year-old son told his mother a lie. He claimed that Barnes hit him and called him a racial slur outside the Sunoco station at Fifth Street and Somerville Avenue.
Gillard, who lived on Wellens Street near Fourth, about 1½ blocks away, rounded up friends and family members in her Honda Odyssey minivan and drove to the gas station seeking revenge, prosecutors said.
Joachim tried to spray Barnes with Mace, but instead accidentally sprayed Gillard's 13-year-old son. Duggins hit Barnes with a hammer in the head, knocking him to the ground. Gillard punched and kicked Barnes and pummeled him in the head with a piece of wood.
Gillard's 13-year-old son is seen in the video throwing a punch at Barnes before he was sprayed with the Mace. Her 12-year-old daughter repeatedly kicked Barnes in the head while he was on the ground, and a 14-year-old male friend also participated in the attack.
Afterward, the group left Barnes unconscious and bleeding on the ground.
Gillard later learned that her 10-year-old son had lied. He was not charged.
The three juveniles in the attack pleaded guilty to charges of third-degree murder and conspiracy in Family Court and were sentenced to juvenile residential-treatment facilities, which focus on rehabilitation and treatment.
About 25 relatives and friends of Barnes' attended Friday's hearing. They said Barnes had a loving and supportive family, but had become addicted to alcohol and spent years periodically homeless around Fifth Street in Olney. He was always willing to help people, they said.
Diane Barnes, one of his sisters, recalled the day in January 2015 when she last saw him. She wanted to give him some gloves, but he insisted that she should give the gloves to his best friend, "who happened to be African American," saying, "'He needs them more than I do,' " the sister told the judge.
She called her brother a "kindhearted, gentle soul" and said she had been unable to persuade him to get off the streets.
"I have lost faith in the world we live in today," Diane Barnes testified.
Debbie Barnes, the victim's other sister, was in court but had a friend, Christine Rowan, read her letter to the judge. In it, Debbie, who lives in Connecticut, spoke of how her brother at times lived with her and helped take care of her daughter. "We planned in 2015 for Bobby to return," the letter said. "My last words to him were, 'Stay safe.' He said, 'I will.' "
Assistant District Attorney Chesley Lightsey pointed out that Gillard had brought two of her eight children and one of their friends to participate in the "brutal beatdown" and that the other women had encouraged the youths as well. The women were teaching the children that "if you feel slighted, you go kick someone's butt," Lightsey said.
The three women apologized to the victim's family and cried during the sentencing, which was also attended by members of their families.
Benjamin Cooper, Joachim's attorney, told the judge his client had been pregnant at the time of the incident and delivered her baby while in jail. He contended that Joachim's role made her "the least" culpable defendant.