CLEVELAND — A mentally disabled former drug dealer convicted in the 2005 fire deaths of nine people, including eight children at a birthday sleepover, yesterday won a new trial from a judge who said jailhouse snitches and other witnesses were unreliable.
US District Court Judge Solomon Oliver overturned the arson conviction of 28-year-old Antun Lewis and said the bulk of the evidence against him came from “suspect witnesses, career criminals, and jailhouse informants.’’
“In so ruling, it is important to note that the court does not find that Lewis did not commit the arson or that there was no evidence at all which would support a conviction,’’ the judge said in a 95-page ruling.
“However, this is also a case that was marked by many unresolved questions. A new trial would provide an incentive for both sides to better develop the facts in this case.’’
Prosecutors will appeal, said US attorney’s office spokesman Mike Tobin.
Timothy Ivey, part of Lewis’s four-member defense team, said he called Lewis, who is still locked up, to inform him of the ruling.
“His response is one of elation but one of vindication. . . . He’s maintained from the beginning his innocence,’’ Ivey said.
Oliver had postponed Lewis’s sentencing pending a decision on his motion for a new trial. The judge earlier had ruled out the death penalty because of Lewis’s low IQ. Lewis had been charged with one federal count of arson because the house was rented with a federal subsidy.