(CBS/AP) Former drug dealer Antun Lewis was convicted Monday in the Cleveland arson deaths of eight children and a woman at a birthday sleepover in May 2005.
The prosecution built its case around a felon, Marion Jackson, who recorded a jail conversation with Lewis, who said he had served as a lookout when the fire was set.
The defense denounced Jackson as unreliable and a jailhouse snitch. Jackson served six prison terms, totaling 15 years, over a 31-year period.
The fire killed 33-year-old Medeia Carter, four of her children and four other youngsters attending a sleepover marking Moses Williams Jr.'s 14th birthday. More than 4,000 people attended a convention center funeral.
The case had set the stage for a rare death penalty trial in federal court, but Judge Solomon Oliver ruled out the death penalty in December. He cited defense evidence that Lewis has an IQ of about 70 or less, meaning he falls within the range of mild mental retardation.
Lewis could still get life in prison, according to CBS affiliate WOIO.
No motive was specified, but the prosecution suggested that Lewis was upset about a drug debt and wanted to get even. The defense repeatedly highlighted the absence of a motive, but the prosecution said it wasn't required to identify one.
Lewis, a small-time Cleveland drug dealer, 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.
"The people that know me know that I am crazy about kids and know that I am against anybody that is out to do any harm to a child," he wrote.
Antun Lewis, 27, had been charged with one federal count of arson because the house was rented with a federal subsidy.
The U.S. District Court jury began deliberating Friday afternoon.