3 plead guilty in fatal Philly ballpark beating

David Sale
philadelphia.cbslocal.com

PHILADELPHIA - Three men accused of fatally beating a man outside a Philadelphia Phillies game during a drunken melee pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter on Tuesday.

Francis Kirchner, Charles Bowers and James Groves, all of Philadelphia, face up to 40 years in prison for their roles in the July 2009 brawl, which prosecutors said started in a ballpark restaurant over a spilled beer.

Twenty-two-year-old David Sale Jr., of Lansdale, died of injuries sustained in the assault.

Sale and three friends were celebrating a bachelor's party at McFadden's eatery while the defendants were on group trip sponsored by a local tavern. A fight over the spilled drink led to both groups being ejected from the eatery, but the violence escalated in a parking lot.

Kirchner, 30, was charged with first-degree murder for allegedly delivering the lethal blow to Sale's head. Bowers, 37, and Groves, 48, were charged with third-degree murder.

A trial that began last month ended in a mistrial after a prosecution witness identified Kirchner as the person who fatally kicked Sale. Defense lawyers said they weren't told the witness could identify Kirchner.

The trio's surprise pleas to voluntary manslaughter and conspiracy charges on Tuesday came during a court hearing that was supposed to determine if they would be retried. Attorneys could not immediately explain the turn of events because of a gag order.

After the three entered their pleas, CBS Philadelphia reports that a teary-eyed Bowers turned to relatives and friends of the victim and apologized, saying, "I'm sorry for the actions that led to the loss of a loved one."

Sentencing is set for Dec. 20.