MERCER – A man who pleaded guilty of participating in the arson murder of a Farrell woman three years ago received a lengthy prison sentence.
Brandon Vennall Gilchrist, 41, had pleaded guilty to arson, aggravated assault and murder in the third degree in connection with the arson death of 49-year-old Regina Norris, of 1141 Wallis Ave., Farrell.
Gilchrist will serve 17 to 80 years in prison, a sentence handed down by Common Pleas Judge Daniel P. Wallace.
“It was a negotiated sentence,” Mercer County District Attorney Peter C. Acker said. “This case had issues. There’s some debate as to whether Gilchrist or Coleman lit the fire.”
Blaine Elliott Coleman, 66, pleaded guilty in February to arson causing serious bodily injury and negotiated a plea deal with a sentence of 9 to 18 years in prison.
Acker said Coleman will likely serve a great percentage of his sentence.
Gilchrist’s sentence includes terms of 31/2 to 20 years for the arson charge, 31/2 to 20 years for the aggravated assault charge and 10 to 40 years for the murder three charge, all to be served consecutively.
Acker said the prosecution had met with Norris’ family on a number of occasions.
“I think they were satisfied with the resolution,” Acker said. “He’s not getting out at the minimum.”
Police said Norris’ death was the result of a tragic mistake, because Gilchrist had planned to burn down a house next to hers.
Witnesses and Coleman told police that Gilchrist wanted to kill his uncle, Leonard Savage, because Gilchrist thought Savage disrespected other family members.
Norris’ house, 1141 Wallis Ave., was less than five feet from Savage’s house at 1139 Wallis Ave., which witnesses say was the intended target, police said.
The series of events that led to 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 Norris’ back porch, causing her death.
Farrell police detective Capt. Chuck Rubano previously testified that Gilchrist admitted during an interview on March 26, 2017, that he was upset with his uncle.
Rubano testified that when he confronted Gilchrist about setting the fire, Gilchrist asked for a lawyer, then checked himself out of the facility about 20 minutes later.
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.
Coleman’s sentencing hearing is set for June 4.
“He’s already in the state system so they have to schedule a video sentencing,” Acker said.
Coleman is serving 4 to 8 years in prison on two counts of indecent assault.