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Judge sentences three in beating death of man after '09 Phillies game

A judge sentenced three men Tuesday who pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter in October for beating a man to death after a 2009 Phillies game in an argument over spilled beer.

James Groves, 48, reportedly held the victim down while he was beaten.
James Groves, 48, reportedly held the victim down while he was beaten.Read more

A judge sentenced three men Tuesday who pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter in October for beating a man to death after a 2009 Phillies game in an argument over spilled beer.

The defendants, who had been bused to the ballpark from Moe's Tavern in Fishtown, had been charged with murder in the death of David W. Sale Jr., 22, of Lansdale, but accepted a plea bargain after a mistrial. Tuesday, to the anger of Sale's family, they received terms ranging from two to 18 years.

Sale had been at a Saturday afternoon game against the St. Louis Cardinals as part of a friend's bachelor party. It was also his birthday.

He was beaten so badly in a parking lot outside Citizens Bank Park that at a 2009 preliminary hearing, it took a medical examiner nearly an hour to list his injuries. They included severe brain trauma and lacerations to the spleen, liver, left kidney, and bowels. His left ear was partly torn off, and he suffered a tear in his left vertebral neck artery so deep that it caused blood to pour into his spinal column - the wound that probably killed him, the prosecution argued.

Common Pleas Court Judge Shelley Robins New sentenced Francis Kirchner, 30, of Fishtown, identified in sworn testimony as the man who made the fatal kick, to nine to 18 years. He will receive credit for the 21/2 years he has been held without bail.

Charles Bowers, 37, of Oxford Circle, who witnesses said repeatedly punched Sale, was sentenced to five to 10 years.

James Groves, 48, of Kensington, who punched and held Sale down while others also punched him, got two to four years.

The sentences came after an emotional eight-hour hearing, where more than two dozen of Sale's relatives and friends shared remembrances of his life and spoke to the pain of his absence.

Afterward, many of them said the sentences did not represent justice.

"I thought I was going to come in and get some sort of closure," Sale's father, David Sr., said outside the courtroom, where he was being consoled by family.

"I am disappointed. I am angry. I am empty," he said.

After each sentence was read, Laverne Sale Young, Sale's mother, cried loudly in the gallery.

"This is not fair," she wailed. "They killed my baby. They killed my baby."

Kirchner and the other defendants accepted a plea bargain after New declared their September trial a mistrial when a witness unexpectedly identified Kirchner as the main assailant. New ruled that the surprise identification violated a court ruling obligating a prosecutor to disclose incriminating evidence to defense lawyers in advance.

At the trial, witnesses from the Moe's Tavern group and friends of Sale's described how the three sucker-punched Sale inside McFadden's bar, punched him again outside, and pounced on him in the parking lot.

Dan Curran, who held his dying best friend's head in his lap, was the first to address the court Tuesday. He described the scene that day and spoke of the guilt he felt over not being able to save his friend.

"We ordered what would be our last round together" inside the ballpark bar, he said. Suddenly, a drink was spilled, and without warning, punches were being thrown from all angles.

Once they got outside, he saw his friend being beaten and tried to help.

"I crawled my way over to Dave," he said, "who was also crawling on all fours, when a face I will never forget came out of nowhere and delivered what I know in my heart was the vicious strike that killed my best friend."

One after another, Sale's friends and loved ones painted a portrait of a fun-loving and kind person who enjoyed country music including that of Taylor Swift, the Phillies, and his friendships.

His girlfriend recalled slow dancing in the glow of his car's headlights in a mall parking lot days before he died. A friend remembered the thrill of celebrating a 2008 Phillies playoff game with Sale in the same Citizens Bank Park lot where he was killed.

And Brianna Bennett, a childhood friend, remembered the heartbreak at the hospital that summer night.

"I remember the coroner pulling away from the hospital with Dave, and how quiet it got," she said, "and how, the harder it rained, the harder we cried."

Sale was more of a father than an uncle to his nieces and nephews, said his sister, Army Spc. Jennifer Alvarez, who returned from Iraq nine days ago.

Sale was attending the bachelor party of the man marrying Curran's sister. She, like many of Sale's friends, said she considered Sale more like a brother.

"I cannot look at my wedding pictures, because all I see is sadness," said Aime Curran. "I see the empty look in all of our eyes. I see a group of young people whose hearts are broken."