A Cleveland man convicted of deliberately setting a house fire that killed nine people was sentenced to 35 years in prison late Friday.
Federal juries have twice found Antun Lewis, 30, guilty of setting a fire on the night of May 21, 2005 to a Cleveland house were eight children were holding a fourteenth-birthday sleepover, WKYC-TV, Cleveland reports. The eight children as well as one woman died in the blaze.
Evelyn Martin, the grandmother of six of the eight children at the party, said she rushed to the house the night of the fire and watched her grandchildren brought out of the house one by one. It was the deadliest fire in the city’s history.
“This defendant is responsible for taking nine innocent lives,” said U.S. Attorney Steve Dettelbach. “A coward in the night, he also stole the hopes and dreams of these families, who will never get to experience high school graduations, weddings, or the other things they had a right to enjoy.”
U.S. District Judge Solomon Oliver ruled out the death penalty because of Lewis’ low IQ and eased the subsequent sentence. Oliver expressed doubts Lewis set the fire over drug debts, calling it his “most difficult case.” Many of the jailhouse informants who testified against Lewis were deemed unreliable witnesses and an earlier verdict was overturned.
“It didn’t matter if it was one year or one thousand years,” said the father of one of the victims, referring to the length of the sentence. “My son is still gone.”