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Arson trial

Published August 06. 2011 09:01AM

The arson trial of a Lehighton man resumed Friday morning with more testimony given by Commonwealth witnesses. The defense started its part of the case in mid-afternoon but President Judge Roger N. Nanovic II recessed the trial about 3:30 p.m. and told the jury to come back at 9 a.m. Monday.

Joseph Lincen Mesa, 63, is facing two counts of arson, both felonies, filed against him by state police for allegedly setting his house at 12 Cub Lane, in Penn Forest Township, on fire during the early morning hours of Feb. 27, 2009.

Mesa is the final witness scheduled to be called by Public Defender Attorney Joseph Perilli.

Yesterday Assistant District Attorney James M. Lavelle continued his case by completing the testimony of Trooper David Klitsch, a fire marshal out of the Hazleton barracks, who is the prosecutor. Thursday's testimony ended abruptly when Mesa became ill. An ambulance was called to the courthouse. He was checked out by the ambulance personnel and went home on his own.

Klitsch testified Thursday that he determined that the fire was an arson. He said there were three fires set deliberately at the home. One was in the kitchen area, the second in a rear bedroom and the third in a 2000 Pontiac Grand Am owned by the defendant, and parked just outside the front door.

The case took a bizarre turn when Mesa told Klitsch a ghost was living in the basement of his home and it might have started the fire. At another time he told the trooper the ghost had told him there were people out to get him and he should "watch his back."

At a May 9, 2009, interview at Mesa's apartment, he admitted to Klitsch that he started the fire after hearing that the trooper was taking his evidence to the district attorney for charges to be filed.

Klitsch said Mesa told him he didn't want to admit to setting the fire because his granddaughter is a firefighter and he did not want to embarrass her.

Klitsch said Mesa then said he did not set the fire. Also, at one point he told Klitsch that he had worked for the FBI investigating the mob in New York and said the mob could be after him.

Other testimony

Friday Lavelle called Trooper Cpl. Sean Hilbert, the officer in charge of the arson unit at the Hazleton barracks.

He said he was called to the scene by Klitsch to assist. He said he handled the investigation of the vehicle fire and determined that it was also deliberately set.

Also called was Michael Mariano, a claims officer with Nationwide Insurance, who held the household policy on the structure.

He said Mesa called in a claim for the fire at 6:31 a.m. on Feb. 27. The insurance firm paid over $59,000 in claims, he said. He also said he had Mesa sign a notice that if the fire turned out not to be accidental he had to repay the monies the insurance company had paid him. Mariano said he was aware that the state police were investigating the fire as an arson.

Also testifying was Joann Behrens, the county prothonotary, who said the mortgage holder had filed a foreclosure action against Mesa on the property on Dec. 5, 2008, and on Jan. 21, 2009, a judgment was entered in favor of the bank holding the mortgage.

Brett Hannon, a former deputy sheriff and now a Summit Hill police officer, testified that he served Mesa and his wife with the notice of the foreclosure on Feb. 9, 2009, 18 days before the fire.

Nicholas Plumley, an employee of the state police crime lab in Harrisburg, said he tested a piece of charred carpet sent to him by Klitsch. He said a test revealed the carpet had rubbing alcohol in it.

Klitsch had testified he found two opened bottles of rubbing alcohol in the rear bedroom that was damaged by fire. Klitsch found a section of the rug in the room stained with a substance he felt was the rubbing alcohol. The test confirmed that.

Wife testifies

Charmain Mesa, wife of the defendant, testified that she also had seen the ghost her husband had told Klitsch about. She said she only sees it briefly and said it was a male wearing a white T-shirt and pants. She said she has never spoken to it.

She also said that prior to the fire her husband had made an arrangement with the mortgage holder to modify the monthly payments from over $900 to $516. She said that arrangement was made around Feb. 7, 2009.

She also testified on the morning of the fire her dog, who sleeps with her and her husband, woke her up and was acting unusual. Her husband left the bedroom to check and discovered the fire.

She and her husband along with the dog exited the house. As she was leaving she called 9-1-1.

She admitted purchasing two bottles of rubbing alcohol earlier but said they were not open and she had put them in the dining room. She said they always have rubbing alcohol in the home because her husband uses it for one of his many health issues.

A nephew of the defendant, Jose Mesa of New Jersey, said he had been loaning his uncle money over the years and in 2005 or 2006 loaned him $16,000. None of the money has been repaid.

Testimony should be concluded Monday morning and the jury should get the case either late in the morning or early Monday afternoon.

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