3 women plead guilty in 2015 beating death of homeless man outside Olney gas station

Shareena Joachim (left), Aleathea Gillard (center), and Kaisha Duggins (right).

After her 10-year-old son came home three years ago and claimed that a homeless man hit him and called him a racial slur at an Olney gas station, Aleathea Gillard rounded up her friends and family members who were in her home. They piled into Gillard’s minivan and drove off seeking revenge.

They found the man — Robert Barnes, 51 — about 6:40 p.m. that day, April 7, 2015, standing outside the Sunoco station at Fifth Street and Somerville Avenue.

In a beating that was captured on surveillance video and gained international attention, Gillard punched and kicked Barnes and pummeled him in the head with a piece of wood from a broken rocking chair that was in her van. Her friend Kaisha Duggins hit him with a hammer in the head, legs, and feet. Another friend, Shareena Joachim, tried to spray Barnes with Mace, but instead accidentally sprayed Gillard’s 13-year-old son.

The beating was so severe that Barnes fell into a coma. He died seven months later.

On Monday, the three women — Gillard, 37; Duggins, 27; and Joachim, 26 — pleaded guilty to charges of voluntary manslaughter, conspiracy, and possession of an instrument of crime in Barnes’ death.

They remain in custody and are scheduled to be sentenced April 20 before Common Pleas Court Judge Sandy Byrd.

Evidence in the case showed that Gillard’s 10-year-old son had lied.

Camera icon Philadelphia Police
The beating of Robert Barnes at a gas station in Olney was captured on surveillance video.

Assistant District Attorney Erica Rebstock told the judge Monday that the 10-year-old boy was seen on surveillance video riding his bike outside the gas station that day. The video showed no physical or verbal contact between Barnes and the boy, Rebstock said.

But after the boy went home and lied to his mother, Gillard, who lived on Wellens Street near Fourth, about 1½ blocks from the gas station, got into her Honda Odyssey minivan with her two friends, three of her children — her 10-year-old son, her 13-year-old son, and her 12-year-old daughter — and a 14-year-old male friend. After they drove to the gas station, all but the 10-year-old viciously beat Barnes.

The group then left in the minivan, leaving Barnes bleeding on the ground, Rebstock said.

Barnes initially was treated at Einstein Medical Center. He died Nov. 25, 2015, at a Montgomery County nursing home, Rebstock said.

Camera icon Courtesy of family
Robert Barnes, 51, was in a coma after the beating. He was initially treated at Einstein Medical Center.

One of Barnes’ sisters, Diane Barnes, who wept during Monday’s hearing, said afterward: “It’s a very emotional day today. It’s hard for me to look at their faces, the faces that beat my brother.”

Jimmy Barnes, an uncle, said: “I don’t know what their mindset was to attack him so maliciously.”

During the hearing, the three women told the judge they agreed to a summary of the facts of the case read by the prosecutor and understood the consequences of their guilty pleas, including that they could face a maximum of 22½ to 45 years in prison.

The three juveniles who participated in the beating had all 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. The 10-year-old boy was not charged.

Renewed attention to the beating was ignited in 2016 after a conservative website, the Christian Times, posted a fake article that claimed that the video of the beating showed a homeless veteran being beaten to death by anti-Trump protesters. The fake article was later taken down.