Date: 10/14/2008 4:54 PM

By THOMAS J. SHEERAN
Associated Press Writer

CLEVELAND (AP) _ A man indicted this month on charges of setting a fire that killed a woman and eight children at a birthday sleepover said he would never do anything to harm a child, and that he felt the same pain as relatives of the victims.

“I would never do anything like that,” Antun Lewis, 24, told The Associated Press in a short handwritten note mailed from prison and received Tuesday.

The May 21, 2005, fire killed Medeia Carter, 33, along with eight youngsters, including four of her five children. The deaths horrified Cleveland residents and drew 4,000 people to the victims’ funeral at a convention center.

“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,” Lewis said in a neatly printed, 12-line response to the AP’s mailed questions. It was signed with his printed name.

Lewis was indicted by a federal grand jury Oct. 1 and charged with arson. He is to be arraigned Oct. 30 and could face the death penalty if convicted.

Authorities said Lewis apparently knew Carter’s mother but haven’t detailed the relationship. Lewis described himself as a “good friend” of the family.

“All the kids that was in that house know me very will and everytime they saw me I had something for them I didn’t care how many it was I made sure I had something for all of them, so when that happend to them it hurt me just as much as it hurt they familys, because they was like family to me to,” Lewis wrote.

U.S. Attorney Bill Edwards said Tuesday he would not comment on Lewis’ letter. Court records don’t list a defense attorney representing Lewis, who is locked up at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville on unrelated drug and weapon charges.

Carter and the children were found on the second floor of the 2 1/2-story, 99-year-old home located in a poor neighborhood about 3 miles from downtown. All died of smoke inhalation.

Carter rented the house with a subsidy from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, a connection that gave federal prosecutors jurisdiction in the case.

The investigation had been slowed by differences between county and federal prosecutors, but both agencies agreed to go ahead with a federal trial, with a county assistant prosecutor helping.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press.

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