Homeless man's death ruled a homicide

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Robert Barnes (far right) with his sisters (from left) Debbie Barnes and Diane Barnes and half-brother Steven Barnes at a family celebration in June 2012.

THE MONTGOMERY County Coroner's Office has ruled that last week's death of a homeless man who had been savagely beaten at an Olney gas station in April was a homicide.

The cause of Robert Barnes' death was determined to be complications following blunt impact to the head, and the manner of death was ruled a homicide, Alexander Balacki, chief medical investigator in the Montgomery County office, said yesterday.

Balacki said the ruling was based on an autopsy conducted Friday by one of the office's forensic pathologists and on a review of Barnes' medical history.

A Philadelphia District Attorney's Office spokesman said yesterday that prosecutors have not yet decided whether to charge the three women and three juveniles accused in the brutal beating with murder.

The D.A.'s homicide unit is "still reviewing" the case, spokesman Cameron Kline said.

Barnes, 51, died at Abington Hospital-Jefferson Health at 4:25 p.m. Wednesday, one of his sisters, Diane Barnes, has said.

A public funeral Mass will be held for Barnes at 1 p.m. Saturday at St. John the Baptist Church, on Rector Street near Tower, in Manayunk.

Diane Barnes, 51, said that Project HOME, the advocacy group for homeless people, had reached out to her and asked if it could do anything after learning of her brother's death.

"I just thought it was appropriate for Bobby to have a Mass," Diane Barnes said. "Everyone loved him, and I think this is a way everyone can show respect for Bobby."

She added: "My brother loved God. We were raised Catholic."

Project HOME is arranging the funeral Mass, Diane Barnes said.

She said her brother was to be cremated yesterday. Diane Barnes has created a GoFundMe page at gofundme.com/qtcgv5f8 to raise money to defray the costs of her brother's cremation and related expenses. Leftover donations will be used to buy sneakers and boots to give to the homeless, she said.

Her brother had been homeless on and off since he was about 30 years old, she said.

The siblings also have a sister, Debbie Barnes, who lives in East Haven, Conn., and a half brother, Steven Barnes, in Philadelphia.

About 6:40 p.m. April 7, Robert Barnes was viciously beaten outside a Sunoco gas station on 5th Street near Somerville Avenue. The beating was caught on video.

The assault landed him in a coma, in which he remained up until his death, Diane Barnes said. She said that even though her brother had opened his eyes periodically, he didn't regain consciousness and didn't follow her with his eyes.

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 charges of attempted murder, conspiracy and related offenses. They have a status listing Friday before Common Pleas Judge Daniel Anders. These dates were scheduled before Barnes died last 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 had hit him at the gas station. But the boy lied, according to the evidence.

During the attack, Gillard, who lived about 1 1/2 blocks from the gas station, allegedly pummeled Barnes in the head with a piece of wood from a broken rocking chair. Duggins allegedly hit him in the head, legs and feet with a hammer. Joachim allegedly tried to spray him with Mace, but instead accidentally sprayed Gillard's 13-year-old son.

The youths were also seen participating in the attack.

On Twitter: @julieshawphilly