CLEVELAND (AP) — The defense for a man convicted in the arson deaths of eight children and a woman at a birthday sleepover said Friday that a new witness has come forward and can prove the defendant was framed.
The defense for Antun Lewis, 27, outlined the claim in a request to a federal judge for a new trial.
The defense is still awaiting a response from U.S. District Court Judge Solomon Oliver to an unrelated earlier new-trial request based on the claim that testimony didn't support a conviction.
Federal prosecutors had no comment on the latest request, said spokesman Mike Tobin with the U.S. attorney's office. Prosecutors opposed the first request.
Lewis faces a possible life sentence. Oliver earlier ruled out the death penalty on mental grounds.
In the latest move, the defense said Lewis had claimed all along that he had been framed by jailhouse snitches trying to win lighter sentences by helping authorities convict him in the 2005 fire.
Lewis couldn't prove that without a corroborating witness, the defense said.
"Such a witness has now come forward," according to the defense motion, in 42-year-old Michael Miller, who met one of the snitches, Paul McKeever, in 2010 at the Cuyahoga County jail. Miller has since been sentenced to six years for gross sexual imposition and pandering sexual material involving minors.
According to Miller, McKeever bragged that he and others were angling to concoct a story that would get them leniency. McKeever mentioned nicknames used by snitches who blamed Lewis, Miller said.
Defense attorneys said Lewis likely would have been acquitted if they had known earlier about Miller and called him as a witness.
Lewis, a former drug dealer, was convicted in February of setting the Cleveland fire that killed a woman, four of her children and four other youngsters. Prosecutors said Lewis broke in the home, doused the first floor with gasoline and set fire to it.
Lewis told The Associated Press in an exchange of letters from prison in 2008 that he knew the victims and would never do anything to harm a child.