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Trial recesses abruptly, defendant becomes ill

Published August 05. 2011 05:02PM

The trial of a Lehighton man, charged with setting his Penn Forest Township home on fire in 2009, recessed abruptly Thursday afternoon after the defendant complained of being ill. That came after the presiding judge had to recess the trial when the defendant caused a disruption in the proceedings.

Joseph Lincen Mesa, 63, is facing two counts of arson for a fire that damaged his home at 12 Cub Lane in Penn Forest Township, during the early hours of Feb. 27, 2009. The counts include arson-endangering persons and arson-endangering property.

The trial began on Thursday morning and only the second commonwealth witness was on the stand when President Judge Roger N. Nanovic II had to quickly recess because of actions by Mesa.

As Trooper David Klitsch, a fire marshal out of the Hazleton barracks and prosecutor in the case, was testifying about an interview he had conducted with Mesa, the defendant got up from the defense table and began to shout at the trooper, alleging he was lying. Public Defender Attorney Joseph Perilli attempted to calm Mesa down. At that point Nanovic recessed the trial for 10 minutes.

During the recess Mesa said he was ill, having a hard time walking, and then said he was experiencing chest pains. An ambulance was called and Nanovic sent the jury home, telling them to return at 9 a.m. today. The jury was in the deliberation room and was not told of the health problems Mesa said he was experiencing.

As the ambulance pulled up outside the courthouse in Jim Thorpe, Mesa walked out of the building under his own power and got in the ambulance. Perilli said his client was being taken to a hospital to be checked out. He was treated and released.

Mesa is accused of setting the home on fire for the insurance money. It was noted that the home was in foreclosure at the time and the fire reportedly occurred about two weeks after Mesa was served notice that the bank was foreclosing on the property.

Testimony heard

Klitsch testified that he responded to the fire from his home as a volunteer fireman with the Penn Forest Fire Company No. 1, where he served as an assistant chief.

After the fire was extinguished, Klitsch said he then assumed his position as a state police fire marshal.

During the course of the investigation, Klitsch said it was determined that there were three fires that were deliberately started. The first was in a 2000 Pontiac Grand Am, which was parked just outside the front door of the one-floor ranch style residence with a basement and attic. The second fire was in the kitchen area and the third in a bedroom to the rear of the home.

Klitsch said his investigation revealed all three fires were separate in nature and all had been deliberately started. Evidence found at the scene included two bottles of rubbing alcohol, which the trooper said was highly flammable. The bottles were found in the rear bedroom where one of the fires were found. He said a stain on the floor indicated the rubbing alcohol was poured and then ignited. He said the fire in the bedroom had extinguished itself but the car and the kitchen area sustained extensive damages.

Klitsch also ruled out that the fire was started by persons who may have attempted to enter the home for criminal purposes, as Mesa suggested. He said there were no signs of forced entry or any type of criminal activity.

The investigation took a bizarre turn when the trooper spoke to Mesa about the fires.

At one point, Klitsch said, Mesa said a ghost living in the basement of the home might have started the fires. Klitsch said Mesa told him the ghost spoke to him and said people were out to get him.

Klitsch said during another interview Mesa said he had been working for the FBI against the mob in New York and felt they were out to get them and they may have caused the fires.

Finally, in an interview at Mesa's apartment in Lehighton, Klitsch said after speaking with the defendant and telling him of the results of his investigation that indicated the fires were deliberately set and he was going to go to the district attorney with his findings, Mesa admitted setting the fires.

He said Mesa told him he could not admit to the fires because it would embarrass his granddaughter, who is a volunteer firefighter. Mesa, Klitsch said, then denied he started the fires.

At this point Mesa interrupted the testimony by standing up and pointing at the trooper and yelling he was lying.

The only other witness called by Assistant District Attorney James M. Lavelle, was Robert Bartholomew, who was fire chief at Penn Forest No. 1 at the time of the fire and the second person on scene. He described in detail the fire scene and damages involved.

Other potential witnesses include an employee of the insurance company, and a state police crime lab employee who tested the evidence gathered by Klitsch.

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