On June 20 in a Cleveland courtroom, Antun Lewis, 30, was sentenced to 35 years in prison for setting the house fire that claimed the lives of eight children and one adult who died while attending a birthday party sleepover on May 21, 2005. Lewis was convicted twice in federal court for setting the deadliest fire in Cleveland’s history.
According to Fox News in Cleveland, prosecutors in the case against Lewis say he doused gasoline on the home of 33-year-old Medeia Carter and set the home on fire “in the middle of the night in retaliation for a drug debt.” Carter and eight children died in that horrific blaze. Four of the children were Carter’s with the other four youngsters being friends and relatives attending the celebratory and deadly sleepover.
As late as this Friday, Lewis was proclaiming his innocence in court. He said he was the victim of the truth being mixed with a lie. He admitted that nine people lost their lives in that 2005 fire, but that he wasn’t responsible.
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. ~ Wild About Trial
Lewis’ defense attorney was arguing and hoping for a 20 year prison term. Prosecutors and victims’ families wanted the convicted arsonist to serve life behind bars. The judge overseeing the trial had previously taken the death penalty off the table, citing Lewis's low IQ as his rationale.
Evelyn Martin, Carter's mother, spoke at Lewis’ sentencing on Friday and shared her memories of the night that six of her grandchildren died. USA Today reported that upon learning of the fire, Martin rushed to her daughter’s home, “pushed through a crowd and screamed one question over and over: ‘Where are my babies?’"
Martin talked about watching helplessly and in horror as her grandchildren were brought out of the home zipped up in body bags. One of her grandsons didn’t die immediately. She recounted the images of him in the hospital with the skin falling from his body before he eventually died of his injuries.
"I had to stand there and watch them bring them out one by one," Martin said.
"I hope you live long enough so all the skin falls off your damned body," she said, glaring at Lewis, who did not look at her.
Having been imprisoned since 2009, Lewis was also credited with time served. So he won’t be spending the entire next 35 years in jail. The judge remarked that this had been the most difficult case he had ever presided over.
In that house fire, killed were: Fakih Jones, age 7; Malee'ya Williams, age 12; Shauntavia Mitchell, age 12; Earnest Tate, Jr., age 13; Miles Golden Cockfield, age 13; Antwon Jackson, Jr., age 14; Moses Williams Jr., age 14; Devonte Carter, age 15, and Medeia Carter, 33.