Opening Arguments Begin in Cleveland’s Deadliest Fire Retrial

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CLEVELAND–The man accused of setting Cleveland’s deadliest fire in May 2005, returned to federal court on Tuesday morning to hear opening arguments in his new trial.

Antun Lewis was ushered back into U.S. District Judge Solomon Oliver Jr.’s courtroom, after a federal appeals court ruled in favor of a new trial in April.

Lewis was originally found guilty in February.

In opening statements, U.S. Attorney David Sierleja took 55 minutes to lay out the government’s case by telling the 10-women, 2-man jury, about Lewis’ extensive drug use, and subsequent prison time where he told various inmates about the alleged crime.

“The defendant set 1220 E. 87th Street on fire maliciously and carried the action out intentionally,” Sierleja told the panel. “In a world of threats against prison snitches, current and former inmates will testify against him (Mr. Lewis) because of the death of eight small children.”

Defense attorney Timothy Ivey refuted the government’s claims and made comments that Lewis was named as the primary suspect because of the desperate nature of the investigation.

“Law enforcement officials were under pressure to solve this case,” Ivey confidently said. “The government used unreliable, unsubstantiated evidence of questionable individuals to identify Mr. Lewis in this case.”

Eight children, ranging from 7 to 15 years of age and one adult died in the fire. The fire was set by the use of gasoline.

The trial is expected to last a minimum of six weeks, but court officials tell FOX 8 News it is likely to last until early January.

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