Lawyers: Jeannette man accused of 2 arsons, 1 fatal, deserves separate trials
A Jeannette man charged with setting two fires, including one that killed an elderly woman, wants separate trials for the alleged arsons.
Brian Rendon, 34, is scheduled for trial next month on two cases — one in which he is charged with setting fire to a couch in front of his Jeannette home, and another two days later that burned row houses on South Seventh Street.
That second fire, on April 9, 2018, resulted in the death of 87-year-old Shirley Kocherans, who was found dead in her apartment. Eleven other residents were left homeless.
Rendon was charged with 17 offenses, including a general criminal homicide charge as well as counts of second-degree murder, third-degree murder, arson, aggravated assault and reckless endangerment in connection with the fatal blaze.
He is charged with arson and other related counts to a April 7, 2018 fire, at his Railroad Street home. No one was injured.
Assistant Public Defenders Jack Manderino and Jennifer DeFlitch, in court documents, argued Rendon should have separate trials.
“The two accusations are separate acts, the evidence of each fire is irrelevant and inadmissible in the trial of the other, and allowing the consolidation of these accusations would invite the jury to find the defendant guilty based upon an improper inference of criminality,” the defense lawyers wrote.
Police said Rendon confessed to setting the fatal fire and told investigators he used a lighter and a deodorant can to ignite a porch between two homes.
Both cases are scheduled to be prosecuted together. Jury selection is slated to begin Sept. 9.
Westmoreland County Judge Meagan Bilik-DeFazio last month ruled Rendon was competent to stand trial. The case had been on hold after the judge in May ruled Rendon could not assist with his own defense and did not understand the charge he faced.
Rendon is scheduled to appear next week before Bilik-DeFazio for a status conference hearing ahead of the scheduled trial.
Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Rich at 724-830-6293, [email protected] or via Twitter .