The Lie That Turned Moms Into ‘Murderers’

It started with an excuse for being late—a 10-year-old said a homeless man had hit him. Then his mother, two friends, and several teens allegedly retaliated with a deadly beating.

Police Handout

PHILADELPHIA — Three Philadelphia women will face a judge next week for the murder of a homeless man whom they allegedly attacked in the most savage manner imaginable, with the assistance of several children, because one woman’s son falsely accused the man of hitting him.

Video shot by a surveillance camera at a Sunoco in the north Philly neighborhood of Olney on April 7 shows a minivan pull into the gas station parking lot, where a group that police say included Aleathea Gillard, Shareena Joachim, and Kaisha Duggins, as well as three unnamed teenagers, attacked Robert Barnes just outside the door of the convenience store.

The three women and three juveniles have been in custody since they were arrested in April for the gang assault on Barnes, who remained in a coma until he died Nov. 25. The death was ruled a homicide by Alexander Balacki, chief medical investigator for Montgomery County, who said Barnes died of “complications from blunt impact to the head.”

Authorities say the vicious, sustained assault was prompted when Gillard’s 10-year-old son, who did not participate in the beating but competed with Barnes pumping gas for tips at the Sunoco, told his mother Barnes had hit him during an argument at the gas station.

It was later revealed that the boy had fabricated that assault to explain an injury he received falling from his bicycle—he had argued with Barnes earlier in the day but concocted the story as an excuse for coming home late.

The brutal attack ended when the woman seen in the video wielding a chair leg and who inflicted the most obvious damage, who police say is Gillard, retrieved a boy who had returned for a few more kicks. She pulls him to the waiting minivan and the group makes a very professional-looking getaway.

At the height of the brutality, the woman, allegedly Gillard, crouches over Barnes, who is cowering on the sidewalk, to directly and repeatedly strike him in the head with her salvaged furniture bludgeon. Her alleged accomplice Duggins, police say, beat Barnes with a hammer, the first blow from which toppled Barnes to the ground, while Joachim allegedly bungled her role in the ambush, accidentally pepper-spraying Gillard’s 13-year-old son (this can been in the video when the young man begins yelling and jumping around the parking lot).

The alleged assailants, many of whom were wearing clothes spattered with Barnes’s blood, were arrested after they took the boy to an emergency room for treatment.

Last June, Gillard’s 13-year-old son, her then-12-year-old daughter, and a 14-year-old male friend who participated in the attack pleaded guilty before a Family Court judge to charges of aggravated assault and conspiracy, in exchange for the DA’s dismissing attempted murder charges.

The DA’s office says homicide charges are now also probable for the teens but have not been formally filed. A source close to the investigation says those charges are likely to come in the next few days.

People who knew Barnes, including the monsignor at an area parish, say that what little the homeless man had he was always willing to share with others.

“We’re the same age for a month,” Barnes’s sister Diane told The Daily Beast. “I turned 51 Nov. 27, two days after Bobby died. He used to tell people I was his twin sister.” He would have been 52 this coming Monday.

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Diane Barnes learned her brother had been critically wounded when her stepbrother, a Philly cop, called her about the incident when he saw it reported on the news.

She recognized her brother in the video by the boots she had given him.

Barnes said her brother was still conscious when paramedics arrived. “He told the ambulance driver that he was just jumped by five black girls and beat with a hammer, so he knew what happened to him. And then when he was brought to the hospital that’s when he fell unconscious from bleeding on the brain. At that time they raced him into surgery and removed a great portion of his skull to alleviate the pressure, and of course when I went in to see him, I just lost it.”

Her brother had been on the streets on and off for two decades and was estranged from many family members due to his alcoholism, she said. He worked occasionally with his father as a roofer.

“There were times that he lived with my father, when he was alive in Olney… he would live with my father and do well and work with him, and not drink, but occasionally he would tell us all to go to hell and start drinking again… that’s what caused him to stay on the streets, ultimately, because there were no rules for him.”

Robert and Diane Barnes have a sister, Debbie, who lives in Connecticut, and a half-brother, Steven, who lives in Philadelphia. Diane said Debbie will be in town next week, and both will attend the Dec. 30 appearance in court for the three women accused of killing their brother. They want to keep the pressure up.

“I want this mother that did this, I want her to get the death penalty,” Diane Barnes said. “I really do, I just think it’s terrible what she did, she brought all those people down with her, she initiated it all. And you know, she went there equipped with everything she needed to do this. She knew my brother, she knew him well, they all knew my brother.

“When he drank he could be mouthy, but he was harmless,” she added. “He would never hurt anybody, he would never hurt a child, he just ran his mouth sometimes. I don’t know whether he said something they didn’t like, maybe he urinated on their property, he did a lot of that over there, you know. I don’t know... they only lived a block away. You could tell they went there with a lot of anger inside them.

“They just didn’t give a shit, these people, I mean, it’s obvious. The cameras were right in their view and they didn’t care.”

Barnes started an online fundraiser to help pay for the costs of her brother’s funeral. She said she hopes to raise extra money to give other homeless men the same gift that meant so much to her brother: boots.

“We’re going to work with Payless Shoes and purchase a ton of work boots and donate them to a homeless shelter,” she said.