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New trial ordered in Cleveland fire that killed nine

By Kim Palmer

CLEVELAND (Reuters) - Prosecutors said Thursday they plan to appeal a judge's order granting a new trial for a Cleveland man convicted of setting a fire that killed eight children and a woman in the deadliest house blaze in the city's history.

A federal jury convicted Antun Lewis, 28, last year of using gasoline to set the 2005 fire that killed Medeia Carter and the eight children, aged 7 to 14, who were attending a birthday sleepover at her house. He faced a possible life sentence.

Inconsistent testimony and the "dubious credibility" of key prosecution witnesses shed doubt on the verdict, U.S. District Court Judge Solomon Oliver ruled in a 95-page opinion released on Wednesday overturning the verdict and ordering a new trial.

Oliver said he was not ruling that Lewis was innocent of setting the deadly fire, but rather that the prosecution's case was built on "suspect witnesses, career criminals, and jailhouse informants who can easily insert themselves into the facts of a case given its high-profile nature."

Lewis' attorneys had contended that new evidence suggested key witnesses, including jailhouse informants, had colluded in fabricating testimony.

"The court does not conclude that, categorically, such witnesses are incredible, but in this case red flags abound," Oliver said of the trial testimony of the jailhouse informants.

Mike Tobin, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's office, said Thursday prosecutors planned to appeal the decision.

The case was prosecuted in federal court because Carter's rent was federally subsidized. Lewis remains in jail. Lewis has been found not eligible for the death penalty because of a low IQ.

(Editing by David Bailey and Paul Thomasch)

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