CLEVELAND-- A federal appeals court has upheld the decision by a federal judge in Cleveland to grant a new trial for 29-year-old Antun Lewis.
Lewis was convicted in 2011 of federal charges that he set the deadliest house fire in Cleveland history. The May, 2005 blaze on East 87th Street claimed the lives of 33-year-old Medeia Carter and eight children, who were at the house for a birthday sleepover.
Ross Cockfield lost his 13-year-old grandson, Miles, in the fire, and told FOX 8, "It's been hell. I loved him like a son; miss him."
Cockfield and relatives of the other victims thought the case was closed in 2011, when Antun Lewis was found guilty of setting the deadly blaze.
But in 2012, Judge Solomon Oliver found that the testimony of government jailhouse informants against Lewis was unreliable and ordered a new trial. "The only feelings I have is the loss of my grandson. God will deal with Antun Lewis or whoever actually perpetrated the crime," said Ross Cockfield.
Federal prosecutors appealed the judge's ruling, but on Tuesday, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the judge and found that the testimony of the informants raised serious doubt about Lewis' conviction.
Defense attorney Angelo Lonardo told FOX 8, "Merely relying on the words of these people, which, there were some people who had worked the system before, had used testifying for the government to get benefits before, I mean they were very savvy in what they were doing."
If the Justice Department decides to retry Antun Lewis, defense attorneys said they will have their own informant testify to contradict the testimony of the government's informants. "He corroborates what we've been saying, is that Antun Lewis was framed, that he had nothing to do with this fire and that these snitches came together and framed Antun Lewis in order to benefit themselves," said attorney Jeff Lazarus.
The families who grieve the loss of the nine victims are left to wonder if there will ever be justice for their loved ones. "Nothing is going to bring my grandson back; however this plays out, it's going to be what it is. So, if there's another trial, then maybe I'll attend; maybe I won't," said Cockfield. "But it's in the hands of the legal system now."
The U.S. Attorney’s Office is now evaluating options that include appealing the court’s decision, or moving forward with a second trial.
Antun Lewis is currently being held in a federal prison in Milan, Michigan.