TESTIMONY: Ephrata man charged with arson claims basement “demons” set his house on fire

Joshua Witman

An Ephrata man was recently convicted at a nonjury trial of burning his own house last year.

Joshua A. Witman had told police the June 15, 2014, fire at 209 E. Mohler Church Road was the work of “demons” or “aliens.”

A local judge, after hearing testimony at a single-day trial, ruled that Witman set it, convicting him of a felony arson charge.

Lancaster County Judge Donald Totaro, who rendered the verdict, will order sentence on the first-degree felony after a background check is completed.

Witman, 33, is at Lancaster County Prison on $150,000 bail.

The fire seriously damaged the home’s basement and first floor, and killed a cat.

A neighbor reported to police that she saw Witman — who lived at the home for 25 years — riding his bike away from the house as it billowed smoke.

Witman, in a bizarre statement to police, said there was a “portal” in the basement that demons emerged from. Witman also told police “aliens” living in the walls could have been responsible.

First Assistant District Attorney Christopher Larsen, who won the conviction, said Witman stuck to those claims through the trial.

A mentally-ill defense wasn't pursued at trial.

Thomas Cusack III, Witman's attorney, said Witman applied to get the case into mental-health court, when he had a public defender. That petition was denied, Cusack said, due to Witman's prior record, which includes convictions for conspiracy to burglary, forgery, criminal trespass, and drug possession, court records show.