Antun Lewis, 29, was found guilty of arson resulting in death at his retrial in a 2005 fire that killed one woman and eight children at a birthday sleepover.  Defense attorneys said they believe the tragedy overshadowed the evidence.

“We truly believe that the charges in this case were so horrific, with the deaths of the children and the mother, that the community wanted to hold someone responsible, in spite of what the evidence showed,” attorney Angelo Lonardo said.

Judge Solomon Oliver, who presided over both trials, ordered the retrial because the prosecution used unreliable jailhouse informants in the first trial in 2011.  The defense said the informants’ testimony was prompted by money given to them by the government in exchange for their testimony.  One jailhouse informant got more than $20,000.  Others got leniency in their own cases.

The fire killed 33-year-old Medeia Carter, four of her children and four other children, who ranged in ages from 7 to 15, attending a birthday sleepover party on May 21, 2005.  The children were celebrating Moses Williams Jr.’s 14th birthday.  Prosecutors said that Lewis was upset over a drug debt and doused the three-story house’s first floor with gas before lighting it on fire.

Lewis did not take the stand in his first trial, but decided to testify on his own behalf in this trial.  He insisted to the jury that he was innocent.  Lewis, a convicted drug dealer, knew the victims, but denied having any motive.  He told the jury he had an alibi, he was several blocks away when the fire started.  However, Marion Jackson, 63, told the jury he accompanied Lewis that night and acted as his lookout while he set the house on fire.  Several other witnesses testified that Lewis’ van smelled like gasoline and that he was driving at a high speed to a friend’s home around 3 a.m., shortly after the fire started.  In 2011, it took nearly 2 days for the jury to convict Lewis, this time, the jury deliberated for less than a day.

Lewis was charged in federal court because the government subsidized the home.  Lewis is ineligible for the death penalty because he suffers from mild mental retardation.  Lewis faces a maximum sentence of life in prison.  Sentencing has been set for March 18th.

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