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Lehighton man found guilty of torching his house, car

Published August 09. 2011 05:01PM

A Carbon County jury found a Lehighton man guilty of two counts of arson on Monday.

Joe Lincen Mesa, 63, was charged with setting on fire his home and his car at 12 Cub Road in Penn Forest Township, on Feb. 27, 2009.

The panel deliberated for about two hours before finding him guilty. The verdict was reached following a trial that began Thursday morning.

Mesa did not testify at the trial.

State police Trooper David Klitsch, a fire marshal working out of the Hazleton barracks, testified at the trial that his investigation revealed there were three separate fires started the morning of Feb. 27, 2009. One fire was in a 2000 Pontiac Grand Am parked near the front entrance of the home; the second in the kitchen area; and the third in a rear bedroom. The fire in the rear bedroom burned itself out, Klitsch said. The car was destroyed and there was extensive fire damage to the kitchen.

During the course of the investigation Klitsch interviewed Mesa on several occasions. During one of those interviews Mesa claimed a ghost was living in the basement of his home and said the ghost might have started the fire. Mesa then said he had worked for the FBI during an investigation of the mob in New York City and that the mob was out to get him.

During a May 9, 2009, interview at his apartment in Lehighton, Mesa told Klitsch the ghost told him to "watch his back" because someone was out to get him. Klitsch said Mesa then admitted setting the fire. He added that Mesa said he could not admit to setting the fire because it would embarrass his granddaughter, who is a firefighter. Later in the same interview Mesa denied he set the fire, Klitsch said.

The trial ended abruptly on Thursday when Mesa became ill. An ambulance was called to the courthouse in Jim Thorpe. Ambulance personnel checked Mesa out and he went home under his own power.

Assistant District Attorney James M. Lavelle argued that Mesa set the fire for insurance purposes. Testimony revealed that the home was in foreclosure at the time.

Defense Attorney Joseph Perilli presented testimony from Mesa's wife who said they had reached an agreement with the mortgage company to reduce the monthly payments considerably. She had told the jury she "loved her home" and didn't want to lose it.

The two counts are felonies. One count is arson-danger of death or bodily injury and arson-intent to collect insurance.

President Judge Roger N. Nanovic deferred sentencing and ordered the adult probation office to prepare a presentence investigation (PSI). Sentencing is scheduled for Oct. 17. Mesa remains free on bail.

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