MERCER – A man who admitted in court Thursday to causing the death of Joseph DiFrischia in 2016 cut a deal with the district attorney’s office to receive 14 to 28 years in a state prison for multiple crimes.
Christopher Lee Shelatree, 45, admitted to getting in an argument with DiFrischia about April 28, 2016, tying him up, hitting him with a baseball bat, and mixing up a cocktail of drugs and injecting him with it, which resulted in his death. Shelatree also admitted to dismembering DiFrischia’s body and throwing the victim’s head and limbs into the Allegheny River.
Shelatree pleaded no contest to charges of aggravated assault and drug delivery resulting in death, and he pleaded guilty to charges of forgery, access-device fraud, obstructing the administration of law and abuse of a corpse.
In exchange for his plea, Mercer County District Attorney Peter C. Acker agreed that Shelatree will serve 14 to 28 years in state prison followed by 20 years of probation. He will also be ordered to pay $2,464 in restitution to the victims.
“Obviously, the family wanted the most severe punishment that could be obtained,” Acker said. “Like every case, this one had issues, and (DiFrischia’s) head and the limbs were never found.”
At the plea hearing, Assistant District Attorney Shane Crevar presented testimony that would have been given in a trial that was slated to begin July 13.
He said that Pennsylvania state troopers, Sharon Police Chief Edward Stabile and Shelatree’s nephew, Ernie Shelatree, were lined up to testify.
Crevar said that the nephew was present when Christopher Shelatree tied up DiFrischia, hit him with a baseball bat and drugged him, and would testify to that extent.
Defense Attorney Melissa Calvert said, and Christopher Shelatree agreed, that he signed and cashed two checks made out to DiFrischia. He also had a debit card that belonged to DiFrischia and used it to buy $500 worth of merchandise.
Acker said he believes Christopher Shelatree will serve his maximum sentence.
“He’ll be 63 before he’s eligible for parole consideration,” Acker said. “He’ll be in his seventies if he’s still alive, which I think is unlikely given his lifestyle of drug abuse.”
Acker said police worked very hard to solve the crime.
“The body was not found for some time,” Acker said. “My office worked very hard on the case. We avoided two weeks of trial.”
Christopher Shelatree was charged Sept. 10, 2018, with first- and third-degree murder and related crimes, more than two years after police found the charred remains of a body buried in a shallow grave on property at 2410 Mercer-West Middlesex Road, Shenango Township, police said in a criminal complaint.
Police later identified the victim as DiFrischia, 59, who had been missing since April 26, 2016. His girlfriend told police that DiFrischia was going to collect a debt from Shelatree, a friend and former jail cellmate.
After DiFrischia’s disappearance, a statement showed activity on his bank account. Sharon detectives discovered several unauthorized debit card purchases and ATM withdrawals were made between May 2 and June 8 at banks and businesses in the area.
Video surveillance showed Christopher Shelatree making several transactions using the victim’s banking personal identification number. He had also cashed checks made out to DiFrischia.
On June 8, Christopher Shelatree told Sharon detectives he repaid the debt to DiFrischia and hadn’t seen him since. He also said he had been staying with DiFrischia’s girlfriend since he disappeared.
On Aug. 1, Youngstown police recovered DiFrischia’s vehicle, which had been abandoned with the keys left in it. Then, a Sharon patrolman arrested Christopher Shelatree in an unrelated case. No transactions were made on DiFrischia’s account after then.
Police said in the criminal complaint that Shelatree admitted to them that he killed DiFrischia.
Shelatree was charged with murder, aggravated assault, robbery, theft, prohibited possession of a firearm, firearm ownership, forgery, access-device fraud, theft by deception, identity theft, obstructing the administration of law, abuse of a corpse and tampering with physical evidence in the case. The remainder of the charges in which Christopher Shelatree did not submit a plea were not prosecuted.
Shelatree remains in Mercer County Jail without bail. His sentencing hearing is scheduled for Sept. 3.
Follow Melissa Klaric on Twitter and Facebook @HeraldKlaric, email: firstname.lastname@example.org