Madison Twp. man sent to prison for starting fatal fire

A Madison Twp. man was sentenced to prison Tuesday for setting a 2020 trailer fire that killed a man.

James D. Johnson, 57, of Catalina Manufactured Home Community, was arrested a few days after the Sept. 21, 2020, fire at the Germantown Road residence.

Steven C. Strain, 59, was found dead in the mobile home.

A month later, Johnson was indicted by a Butler County grand jury for murder and aggravated arson. In January of this year, Johnson pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and arson in Butler County Common Pleas Court.

Credit: Butler County Jail

Credit: Butler County Jail

On Tuesday, Judge Dan Haughey sentenced Johnson to an indefinite sentence of eight to 12 years in prison, meaning he will serve at least eight years and could serve up to 12 years if he gets in trouble while in prison.

Butler County Prosecutor Michael Gmoser said the plea means Johnson is accepting responsibility for his actions.

“The circumstances of his involvement were such that there is a genuine and legitimate question about his mental status at the time this fire was started by him and his knowledge of the consequences with respect to his friend who was still in the trailer,” Gmoser said. “Based on the evidence we had, I thought it was best to have the acceptance of responsibility.”

The defense questioned Johnson’s competency to stand trial, and after three separate forensic psychological evaluations, Haughey ruled him competent in October.

The trailer was engulfed in flames when deputies arrived about 8:06 p.m. The deputies attempted to get inside to the bedroom of a man trapped, but were unable because of the intensity of the fire, according to the Butler County Sheriff’s Office.

At the scene, Johnson told deputies he was smoking a cigar and laid it down on a roll of toilet paper, causing a fire.

Madison Twp. Fire Chief Kent Hall said last year, firefighters had put out a blaze at the same trailer on Aug. 12, 2020. During that fire, three trailer park employees pulled Johnson from inside the rear door and removed him from the trailer. He is the original owner of the trailer, according to fire officials.

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