MERCER – The trial for a man accused of setting fire to the wrong house and killing a woman in 2017 could happen soon, without the co-defendant.
Two men were charged in the arson death of 49-year-old Regina Norris, of 1141 Wallis Ave., Farrell. But one of the cases is held up in Superior Court, waiting on a ruling of whether or not to suppress evidence.
Brandon Vennal Gilchrist, 39, of Farrell, is accused 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 Norris’ back porch, resulting in her death.
Gilchrist is charged with murder in the second degree, conspiracy to commit homicide, aggravated assault, conspiracy to commit aggravated arson, arson resulting in death, arson by placing the lives of Farrell, Sharon and Hermitage firefighters in danger, arson of an inhabited structure for helping to intentionally set a fire, according to the police criminal complaint.
Blaine Elliott Coleman, 65, of Farrell, incurred similar charges in the case. When his case advanced to Mercer County Common Pleas Court, his lawyer, Stanley T. Booker of New Castle, filed an appeal in the state Superior Court to suppress evidence in the case, Mercer County District Attorney Peter C. Acker said.
The court weighed during a status hearing Wednesday whether to proceed with Gilchrist’s case in Common Pleas Court or to wait for the Superior Court to rule on Coleman’s appeal.
“If the court has available time, we would proceed to trial without Blaine Coleman,” Acker said.
Testimony by Farrell detective Capt. Chuck Rubano during Gilchrist’s district preliminary hearing laid out a series of events that started with a fight over money between a brother and a sister.
Rubano said witnesses and Coleman told him Gilchrist wanted to kill his uncle, Leonard Savage, because Gilchrist thought Savage disrespected other family members.
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 to aggravated assault, according to court records.
Norris’ house is less than five feet from Savage’s house at 1139 Wallis Ave., which witnesses say was the intended target.
Rubano also testified at the time that the investigation is still open because more people might be involved.
Gilchrist’s next court date is at call of the list (a status hearing) on Tuesday.
Follow Melissa Klaric on Twitter and Facebook @HeraldKlaric, email: firstname.lastname@example.org.