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Antun Lewis found guilty for the second time

James W. Wade III | 12/18/2013, 12:53 p.m.
The first verdict came nearly six years after the fire, as police and fire officials worked with agents from the ...

For a second time, a federal court jury has found Antun Lewis guilty of setting the fire that killed 8 children and one adult woman in one of Cleveland’s deadliest fires in 2005.

The first verdict came nearly six years after the fire, as police and fire officials worked with agents from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to complete an investigation. Federal prosecutors took the case using a statute that applied to arsons in federally subsidized homes.

For nearly three weeks, prosecutors built their case on the testimony of more than three dozen witnesses. They built their case around Marion Jackson, a felon who recorded a jailhouse conversation with Lewis. Jackson said he served as a lookout when Lewis set the fire at the three-story home on E. 87th Street.

In a statement to investigators in the first trial, Jackson said he and Lewis met on Superior Avenue near East 85th Street and walked around the neighborhood. Lewis bought $5 of gas and placed it in two containers. Jackson said Lewis received a call on his cell phone about 2:53 a.m. and disappeared with the gas cans into Madea Carter’s home.

Janine Chisholm, who dated Lewis at the time of the fire, countered Jackson’s story. She said she dropped Lewis off in the area near Union Avenue and East 102nd near midnight. She said she never saw anyone matching Jackson’s description with Lewis.

During the first trial, federal prosecutors used cell phone records that showed Lewis within a 16-block radius of Carter’s home at the time of the fire, according to investigators. That contradicted statements Lewis gave to an ATF agent concerning his whereabouts.

The jury in that 2011 trial found Lewis guilty but U.S. District Court Judge Solomon Oliver Jr., had a problem with some of the witness stories and decided he should get a new trial. Lewis was granted a new trial this year.

But, again, Lewis has been found guilty of arson resulting in death. The penalty carries a maximum sentence of life in prison. After the verdict was read, Oliver scheduled the sentencing for March 18, 2014.

The death of these eight children and one adult touched the entire community. Each year on the date of the fire, the community and family members hold a prayer vigil.