coleman, gilchrist

MERCER – Two Farrell men accused of setting fire to the wrong house and killing a woman in March 2017 had hearings last week in Mercer County Court of Common Pleas.

Both men were facing charges of murder of the second degree, arson, aggravated assault and conspiracy in connection with the arson death of 49-year-old Regina Norris, of 1141 Wallis Ave., Farrell.

Blaine Elliott Coleman, 65, pleaded Tuesday to arson causing serious bodily injury and agreed to cooperate against his co-defendant.

Brandon Vennall Gilchrist, 40, the co-defendant, was offered a plea bargain by the district attorney but turned it down.

The pair are accused of setting fire to the wrong house, which resulted in Norris’ death. Witnesses and Coleman told police that Gilchrist wanted to kill his uncle, Leonard Savage, because Gilchrist thought Savage disrespected other family members.

Norris’ house is less than five feet from Savage’s house at 1139 Wallis Ave., which witnesses say was the intended target, police said.

During Gilchrist’s hearing Tuesday, Judge Daniel P. Wallace wanted to make sure that Gilchrist knew what he was turning down.

“In March of 2017 you allegedly made a big mistake,” Wallace said. “I’m just asking that you don’t make another one.”

Assistant District Attorney Andrew Acker said Coleman agreed to testify against Gilchrist.

“He gave a very in depth colloquy, which was very incriminating for Brandon Gilchrist, which is set for trial in April,” Acker said. “He said Brandon jumped the fence to start the fire.”

As part of his plea deal, Coleman’s sentence will be 9 to 18 years in prison. Mercer County District Attorney Peter C. Acker said Coleman will likely serve a great percentage of his sentence.

“Blaine Coleman is 66,” Peter Acker said. “That’s effectively a death sentence. I doubt he’ll get out in his lifetime.”

Coleman is currently serving a 4 to 8 year sentence in a sex crimes case. Any sentence would run concurrently.

The series of events that led to the Norris’ death started with a fight over money between a brother and sister, according to police.

Gilchrist was suspected of buying $1 worth of gas just after 9 p.m. March 25, 2017, at the Farrell Speed Check, 1301 Sharon New Castle Road, Farrell, and using it to set a fire on the back porch of 1141 Wallis Avenue, causing Norris’ death.

Farrell police detective Capt. Chuck Rubano previously testified that during an interview March 26, 2017, at a drug rehabilitation facility, Gilchrist admitted that he was upset with his uncle.

When Rubano confronted him about setting the fire, Gilchrist asked for a lawyer, then checked himself out of the facility about 20 minutes later, Rubano testified.

Just before 8 p.m. on the night of the fire, Savage allegedly hit his sister, Gilchrist’s aunt, in the head with a hard plastic tube and kicked her when she was on the ground. Charges of robbery were dropped in the case and Savage pleaded guilty in December to aggravated assault, according to court records.

Gilchrist’s trial will be set for April.

“Coleman is trying to secure new counsel, which I see as a delay tactic,” Peter Acker said. “We will convict him and he’ll get a life sentence. He’ll never get out.”