A homeless woman accused of fatally beating and setting her mother on fire in the wooded camp they shared in Bristol went on trial today in Bucks County Court.
Rebecca Olenchock, 25, faces homicide, arson and other charges in the Oct. 17 death of 44-year-old Kimberly Venose.
Prosecutors say Olenchock beat her mother 10 to 15 times with a baseball bat as she slept inside their hut near I-95, then spread kerosene on her bed and lit it. Olenchock then locked the makeshift door, hopped in a car and "left for a new life in Tennessee," Deputy District Attorney Daniel Sweeney said, driving all day to join a new boyfriend she had met on the Internet.
Her skull fractured and her clothing in flames, Venose managed to free herself from the burning hut. Arriving firefighters, summoned to the plume of black smoke behind a strip shopping center, found her moaning in the weeds beside the hut, her clothing still on fire.
"My daughter (is) trying to kill me," she told one rescuer before lapsing into cardiac arrest, according to testimony today.
Detectives caught up with Olenchock two days later in Johnson City, Tenn., having tracked her through her cellphone use.
She first said that a large, African American man had killed her mother, testified Lt. David Kemmerer, a Bucks County detective. When confronted with her mother's dying statement, Kemmerer said, Olenchock changed her story, saying the man had held a gun to her head and forced her to club her mother.
After further questioning, Kemmerer said, Olenchock confessed that she had killed her mother because she felt trapped. She said that Venose repeatedly refused to move from the homeless camp where they had lived together for two years.
Olenchock accused her mother of stealing money she had been trying to save from a waitressing job to find them a permanent home.
"We may never have heard these words but for Kimberly Venose's extraordinary efforts to save her own life," Sweeney told Judge Albert J. Cepparulo, who is hearing the case without a jury.
Olenchock's attorneys chose not to give an opening statement until her defense begins. The trial is expected to last two to three days.