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Bucks County woman standing trial in mother's death

For two years they shared a tarp-walled hut in a wooded homeless camp in Bristol Township - mother and daughter, seemingly devoted to each other.

For two years they shared a tarp-walled hut in a wooded homeless camp in Bristol Township - mother and daughter, seemingly devoted to each other.

Kimberly Venose, 44, was unemployed, hobbled by medical problems.

Her daughter, Rebecca Olenchock, worked long hours in a nearby pancake house, scraping together enough cash to buy a car, pay for essentials, and set a little aside for her dreams of someday.

But, authorities say, Olenchock grew impatient for her new life to start, and was willing to kill her mother to get it.

Olenchock, 25, went on trial Monday in Bucks County Court, accused of bludgeoning her sleeping mother's head with a baseball bat on a Sunday morning last fall.

Authorities say Olenchock burned her bloody clothes in the fire pit of their camp behind the Bristol Pathmark store, doused her mother with kerosene, and set her ablaze, padlocking a makeshift door as she fled.

Then Olenchock, who had no driver's license, roared off to Johnson City, Tenn., in the green, 2000 Kia sedan she had purchased. She drove so fast to join the boyfriend she had met on the Internet that she got pulled over for speeding in Virginia, forcing her beau to come fetch her.

When she arrived in Tennessee that night, Deputy District Attorney Daniel Sweeney said Monday in his opening statement, it was "with her birth certificate, her Social Security card, and the car . . . ready to begin her new life."

But Kimberly Venose somehow managed to escape that locked, burning hut. Volunteer firefighters, summoned to what they thought was a brush fire, found her moaning in a patch of burning weeds beside the hut, her clothes still aflame, begging for help.

When volunteer firefighter Ryan Cummings asked her what had happened, Venose responded, "My daughter [is] trying to kill me," Cummings testified.

Minutes after that statement, Sweeney said, "her heart gave out." Venose died of cardiac arrest.

Olenchock faces homicide, arson, and other charges. She has chosen not to have a jury trial, leaving her fate in the hands of Judge Albert J. Cepparulo. Cepparulo said he expected testimony to conclude late Tuesday or Wednesday.

Detectives tracked Olenchock through her cellphone, obtaining a court order to "ping" the location of her phone in Tennessee.

Two days after the Oct. 17 slaying, Bucks County Detective David Kemmerer and Bristol Township Detective Jack Slattery eased their rented car beside a white Mazda Miata convertible in a Johnson City parking lot, Kemmerer testified. Inside, he said, sat Olenchock and her new boyfriend.

Olenchock first tried to pin the killing on a large African American man who she said "looked like Mr. Clean" and forced her at gunpoint to beat her mother with the bat, Kemmerer said.

But when the detective confronted Olenchock with her mother's dying statement, asking her to "show some remorse," she confessed, Kemmerer testified.

"We may never have heard those words but for Kim Venose's extraordinary efforts to save her own life," Sweeney said.

In her handwritten confession, Olenchock complained that her mother had refused to move with her to Tennessee and had stolen large sums of her savings to buy drugs. She said her mother was associated with a motorcycle gang and feared retaliation if she left.

The slaying mystified area advocates for the homeless, Kemmerer said, who described the mother-daughter relationship "as being very loving and caring."

Tom Smith, a friend who said Venose sometimes babysat his 5-year-old son, described a lighthearted supper with the pair the night before the killing at a nearby Friendly's restaurant. Smith testified that he was struck by Olenchock's free spending, saying she had urged her mother "to order anything she wanted."

During the meal, Smith said, Olenchock "was on the phone, texting all night."

And when they parted, Smith said, Olenchock made what he took to be a casual remark at the time.

The women needed to stop on the way back to camp, she told him. They needed more kerosene.