CLEVELAND – A former drug dealer was found guilty Friday at his retrial in the 2005 arson deaths of a woman and eight children at a birthday sleepover – the citys deadliest house fire.
A U.S. District Court jury handed down the verdict in the case against 30-year-old Antun Lewis in the fire in an impoverished Cleveland neighborhood. Lewis also was convicted in the first trial.
Defense attorneys said Friday they believe the tragedys enormity overshadowed the evidence in the case.
Judge Solomon Oliver, who presided at both trials, ordered the second trial, agreeing with the defense that the government had used unreliable jailhouse informants.
The defense said the informants testimony was prompted by money paid by the government – one man got more than $20,000 – or the prospect of leniency in their criminal cases.
The fire killed 33-year-old Medeia Carter, four of her children and four other youngsters attending a sleepover party May 21, 2005.
The children were celebrating Moses Williams Jr.s 14th birthday. More than 4,000 people attended their funerals at Clevelands convention center.
Authorities say Lewis, upset over a drug debt, doused the three-story buildings first floor with gasoline.