By Thomas J. Sheeran
CLEVELAND: The judge and attorneys interviewed prospective jurors for a second day Monday in the retrial of a man suspected in the arson deaths of a woman and eight children at a birthday sleepover in Cleveland.
U.S. District Court Judge Solomon Oliver Jr., prosecutors and attorneys for Antun Lewis, 29, interviewed prospective jurors one at a time in the judge’s chambers. Jury selection began Friday.
The judge wants to complete jury selection in time for jurors to be taken to the scene of the 2005 fire on Tuesday.
Lewis was convicted at his first trial. The conviction was overturned over what the judge called “deeply troubling” testimony by jailhouse snitches and an alleged accomplice never charged in the case.
The judge stopped short of saying Lewis was innocent and said evidence had been presented at trial supporting a conviction. But he said a new trial would provide “an incentive for both sides to better develop the facts.”
The government expects to recall at least some of the snitches to the stand to testify against Lewis, who could face life in prison if convicted.
The fire killed Medeia Carter, 33, four of her children and four other youngsters attending a birthday sleepover party May 21, 2005.
Authorities say Lewis, upset over a drug debt, doused the first floor with gasoline, setting what became Cleveland’s deadliest house fire.
Lewis, a convicted drug dealer who knew some of the victims, denied wrongdoing and said he was home several blocks away when the fire started before dawn.
Lewis was charged in federal court because the government subsidized the lease on the house where the fire occurred in an impoverished neighborhood.