UPDATE: Lena Lunsford's attorney asks for acquittal or new trial

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WESTON, W.Va. (AP) -- UPDATE 1/9/19 @ 11:25 p.m.
An attorney for a West Virginia woman convicted of killing her 3-year-old daughter is asking the West Virginia Supreme Court for an acquittal or a new trial.

News outlets report defense attorney Jeremy Cooper filed the appeal on Jan. 7 for Lena Lunsford-Conaway, who was convicted by a Lewis County jury in April of murder and abuse in the death of her daughter, Aliayah Lunsford.

The child went missing in 2011 and her body was never found. Conaway's two older daughters testified at trail that their mother hit Aliayah Lunsford in the head, then put her body in a clothes hamper and dumped it in the woods.

Among other things, Cooper argues that there was insufficient evidence for a conviction and that the judge should have allowed a change of venue.

Prosecutors have until Feb. 21 to respond.



UPDATE 7/2/18 @ 3:55 p.m.
Lena Lunsford Conaway has been sentenced to life in prison without mercy in connection with the presumed death of her 3-year-old daughter Aliayah, affiliate WDTV reports.

Prior to sentencing, Lunsford Conaway addressed the court at the hearing Monday, stating she wasn’t able to get a fair trial in Lewis County.

The life sentence is for the murder charge. Lunsford Conaway will also face 40 years for death of a child by parent or guardian.



UPDATE 6/21/18 @ 10:50 p.m.
A Lewis County judge did not grant the motion of Lena Lunsford Conaway requesting a new trial.

As a result of Thursday’s hearing, Lunsford’s sentencing hearing has been pushed back from it’s original date of June 28 to July 2.

Thursday’s hearing started nearly an hour after it was scheduled to begin, as her attorney, Tom Dyer, needed extra time to prepare requests to the court from Lunsford Conaway herself, including Brady violations, double jeopardy and juror misconduct.

Dyer requested a continuance in the case to review those requests. The state objected continuance, and Lewis County Circuit Judge Jake Reger denied Dyer’s motion saying, “I think it’s time to go forward with this.”

Dyer then proceeded with the two motions he filed earlier this month — one claiming that the State suppressed or withheld evidence from the defense and a second that the State is in violation of Brady v. Maryland.

Approximately one year ago, Dr. Mel Wright, a pediatric trauma specialist of WVU Medicine was approached by State Police Sgt. Shannon Loudin and briefed on the case. According to Dyer, Dr. Wright said the manner in which Lunsford Conaway hit Aliayah “may have” represented cause of death, but that it would be impossible to determine with certainty without a body.

While the State sought this expert opinion during pre-trial Dr. Wright did not testify on the stand, he added. Without any expert testimony, Dyer said the bulk of the evidence presented during the trial was “circumstantial.

“We don’t have any evidence other than the story that’s related from the two sisters who are 9 and 11 at the time,” he said. “We don’t have any evidence to a cause of death.”

“This is a trial of physical abuse,” Dyer added. “It may or may not be a cause of death.”

Dyer also argued that by not offering this information to the defense, Dr. Wright’s expert witness is “exculpatory evidence,” to which the State denied.

Lewis County Prosecutor Christina Flanigan said that Dyer consulted his own physicians during pre-trial that were not used as witnesses during the trial.

Additionally, once Wright’s name arose during the trial, that Dyer could have posed further questions about the discussions.

“I don’t think he was harmed in any way by that,” Flanigan said. “I think there’s different avenues he could have taken.”

Reger denied Dyer’s motion, stating he found that the state did present sufficient evidence to the jury during the trial.

Dyer also requested a new trial for his defendant, to which Reger also denied.
Lunsford Conaway’s sentencing will be at 2 p.m. on July 2.



UPDATE 4/24/18 @ 1:05 p.m.
A mother convicted for the murder of her 3-year-old daughter was denied mercy by the jury on Tuesday.

That means Lena Lunsford-Conaway faces life in prison for the death of Aliayah Lunsford who disappeared in 2011 and whose body was never found.

Sentencing is set for 9 a.m. June 28.

On Monday, Lunsford, 35, was found guilty on four counts including murder, child abuse and concealment of a deceased body.

The jury deliberated for only about 20 minutes before recommending no mercy. The defense says it plans to appeal the conviction.

Keep checking WSAZ Mobile and WSAZ.com for the latest information.



UPDATE 4/23/18 @ 5:20 p.m.
A mother has been found guilty of all counts in the murder of her 3-year-old daughter.

Lena Lunsford-Conaway, 35, was charged with multiple felony counts related to the 2011 disappearance and presumed death of her then 3-year-old daughter, Aliayah Lunsford.

The jury deliberated for about two hours Monday before delivering the verdict.

Lunsford, 35, who faced four charges ranging from murder to child abuse and concealment of a deceased body, was found guilty of all four counts.

Keep checking WSAZ Mobile and WSAZ.com for the latest information.



UPDATE 4/23/18 @ 5:15 p.m.
WV MetroNews is reporting a verdict is upcoming in the case of a woman accused of killing her 3-year-old daughter.

The courtroom is reconvening at this time. The jury has deliberated for nearly two hours.

Lena Lunsford-Conaway, 35, is charged with multiple felony counts related to the 2011 disappearance and presumed death of her then 3-year-old daughter, Aliayah Lunsford.

Keep checking WSAZ Mobile and WSAZ.com for the latest information.



UPDATE 4/23/18 @ 12:35 p.m.
An IHOP manager from Louisiana claims she saw Aliayah Lunsford in her restaurant last November, imploring investigators not to quit searching for the girl who vanished in 2011 and is presumed dead.

“There is no mistaking who she was,” Becky Disotell of Houma, Louisiana, testified Monday as defense attorneys for Lena Lunsford sought to cast doubt on whether she killed her then 3-year-old daughter Aliayah. “That is the little girl and she is alive,” Disotell said. “If y’all put her as dead then she’ll never be looked for again.”

Last week the jury heard tearful testimony from Lunsford’s teenaged daughters — identified as DC and KC — claiming their mother struck Aliayah in the head with a wooden slat from a bunk bed on Sept. 23, 2011.

When the child was found dead in her bedroom the next morning, the girls said their mom placed Aliayah in a clothes hamper and disposed of the body in a rural area known as Vadis.

Lunsford, 35, faces four charges ranging from murder to child abuse and concealment of a deceased body.

Disotell said she knew nothing of the case six months ago upon noticing a 7- or 8-year-old appearing “scared and terrified” while dining in an IHOP booth opposite a man in his late-50s man.

“The little girl’s demeanor was upsetting to me,” said Disotell, who sensed the child had been instructed not to speak. “You could tell something just wasn’t right. As a mother you would know.”

Intending to snap a photo of the girl — who was adorned in a purple dress “that didn’t quite fit her” — Disotell returned with a phone only to discover the booth empty and cash left on the table.

Compelled to search a missing children’s database online, Disotell claimed she scrolled through photos and recognized Aliayah Lunsford.

“This little girl looks the same as that 3-year-old picture, just taller and older. Her big, brown eyes — there’s no mistaking who it is. She has her own look.”

Disotell said she discussed the incident with her uncle, who is a sheriff in Houma, Louisiana, and subsequently contacted the FBI four times. When “it seemed like I was getting nowhere with them,” she conducted more online research and reached out to defense attorney Tom Dyer. She testified to receiving no compensation for her testimony beyond the plane ticket to attend trial.

“That little girl, she kept staying on my mind and in my heart,” Disotell said. “If I knew now what I knew then I would’ve grabbed her.”

In a scaled-back defense that lasted only 90 minutes, Dyer called only one other witness — former Harrison County sheriff’s deputy Pat McCarty, who raised the possibility that a member of the Pagan’s motorcycle gang had trafficked Aliayah as a drug payoff.

McCarty arrested Brian Mitchell in 2015 for DUI, and claims that during a follow-up conversation the gang member had been ordered to pick up the child.

“(Mitchell) said he knew all about it and he was willing to talk to me about it,” McCarty testified. “He informed me that he himself had purchased the child from the mother in Lewis County for a pound of badly cut heroin” and brought the child to Harrison County.

In testimony for the prosecution last week, Mitchell said he knew no details about Lunsford’s disappearance, and denied having the conversation with McCarty.

Closing arguments were slated to begin Monday afternoon.



UPDATE 4/20/18 @ 5:30 p.m.
Prosecutors in the murder trial of Lena Lunsford rested their case Friday afternoon.

A second daughter of Lunsford took the stand giving an emotional testimony recalling her mother dumping the body of 3-year-old Aliayah Lunsford in the woods.

The witness, identified as KC, was 11 at the time of Aliayah’s disappearance on Sept. 24, 2011, and took the stand as an 18-year-old at the Lewis County Courthouse.

Testifying just a few feet from her mother, KC joined younger sister DC, who testified Monday, in claiming they were made to “promise that we wouldn’t tell” about finding Aliayah unresponsive hours after their mother struck the toddler in the head with a wooden bed slat.

The sisters say they kept the secret for five years, out of fear for their mother, as Aliayah’s missing persons case turned cold. KC sobbed upon recalling Lena Lunsford’s favorite line: “I brought you into this world, I can take you out.”

KC testified that the wooden slat was about a foot-long piece broken wood from a set of bunk beds. She called it “a common punishment” when Lunsford disciplined Aliayah.

KC told jurors she heard the hit from the other room and came in time to see their mom walking away as Aliayah struggled to get to her feet.

She also told the court Aliayah’s head “felt soft” after the strike and she had difficulty remaining upright when their mother ordered the child to stand in a corner. She was then ordered to put Aliayah in bed where she gave her Flintstones vitamins because the 3-year-old was always allow to eat after being punished.

Defense attorney Tom Dyer’s cross-examination focused on Aliayah’s vomiting in previous days, raising the possibility she may have succumbed to sickness rather than the blunt force trauma prosecutors allege.

Dyer pointed out how KC told police in 2016 about opting to sleep on the couch instead of the bedroom the daughters shared because Aliayah “was sicker than usual” that night.

Jurors were excused several hours early, given the weekend to contemplate KC’s testimony before the defense calls its first witness Monday.



UPDATE 4/19/18 @ 7:35 p.m.
A Lewis County sheriffs corporal investigating the disappearance of 3-year-old Aliayah Lunsford says he evaluated and debunked a 2016 tip that a motorcycle gang exchanged drugs for the toddler.

The child’s mother, Lena Lunsford, is standing trial for murder this week though Aliayah has been missing since 2011. Without a victim’s body, defense attorneys are expected to explore the possibility that members of the Pagan’s motorcycle gang played a role.

That theory aims to cast doubt on the prosecution’s case that Lunsford fatally struck her youngest daughter in the head with a wooden bed slat on Sept. 23, 2011, and dumped the body in the woods the next morning. One of Aliayah’s older sisters — a 15-year-old identified as DC who was age 9 at the time of the vanishing — testified she witnessed the lethal blow, followed by their mother carrying Aliayah’s body in a basket into the woods.

Cpl. Elijah Carpenter of the Lewis County Sheriffs Department was on the case when DC came forward in 2016 with that story she had been withholding for five years. DC’s statement, and one from another sister identified as KC, refocused a case that had gone cold despite efforts of state police, FBI and Homeland Security.

Combing through hundreds of leads — including a series of so-called psychics claiming to possess information — Carpenter became intrigued by one in particular in July 2016. A tip came from a Harrison County lawman who said two ex-members of the Pagan motorcycle gang possessed information about Aliayah being sold into human trafficking in exchange for a pound of heroin.

Upon receiving denials from Brian Mitchell and James Claypool, both of whom reportedly left the Pagans in 2009, Carpenter said he dismissed the theory.

When prosecutors called Mitchell and Claypool to the stand Thursday, both emphatically denied ever hearing of the gang’s involvement with Aliayah.

“Completely false,” Mitchell said.

“Ridiculous,” added Claypool, who recently removed himself from witness protection after turning state’s evidence against the Pagans in a previous criminal case.

Both men could be recalled to testify once the defense begins presenting its case.

As for whether Lena Lunsford will testify in her own defense? The 35-year-old woman’s attorney Tom Dyer told MetroNews “it’s doubtful,” though he said the strategy could hinge on the upcoming testimony from KC.

Lunsford claims she discovered Aliayah missing from her bed on the morning of Sept. 24, 2011, and soon joined her daughters DC and KC in driving around the neighborhood.

However, six of the Lunsfords’ adjacent neighbors on Dennison Street and Armory Road in Bendale testified they never heard the defendant searching for Aliayah that morning.

Lunsford’s waited several hours before calling 911, and video footage taken from surrounding areas shows her van in places that contradict her timeline of searching for Aliayah.

Aliayah’s siblings, DC and KC, separately led investigators to the same isolated spot near Vadis, claiming that’s where their mother took the body out of sight into the woods. However, cadaver dogs have never turned up any remains.

“Other than the testimony of the daughters, what do we have?” Dyer ask Carpenter during cross-examination Thursday. “Other than the memories — the story that’s been related by the daughters — we have no evidence of that, right?”

When DC first came forward with her statement, KC initially was unwilling to corroborate. Carpenter said DC and her adoptive father Craig Cole ultimately signed consent forms to electronically eavesdrop on a conversation in which DC urged KC to join her in telling police what they remembered.

The prosecution was poised to play a 30-minute segment of that recording Thursday before the defense objected and Judge Jacob E. Reger told jurors to disregard it.



UPDATE 4/18/18 @ 5:19 p.m.
The ex-husband of Lena Lunsford-Conaway claims he and his then-wife used bath salts the night police allege Lunsford-Conaway hit her three-year-old daughter Aliayah with a wooden slab from a bed board.

Ralph Lunsford testified on the witness stand Wednesday, as he recalled the events of September 23-24, 2011.

Lunsford said that he, Lena, and their children drove in a van to buy bath salts at a head shop in Clarksburg.

Later that night, Lunsford said, he and Lena used the bath salts. He had a beer and then went to bed.

He said he woke up the next morning, at about 5:30 or 6 a.m., and left for work.

A co-worker at the time testified Wednesday that he picked up Lunsford and drove him home from work on September 24.

Lunsford arrived home shortly before Lena pulled up in the van beside him. He said she asked him if he had seen Aliayah. When he told her he hadn't, he asked her if she called 911.

Lunsford-Conaway would later tell police that she first noticed Aliayah was missing at about 9 or 9:30 a.m. The first 911 call didn't come until 11:31 a.m.

Some of Lunsford's testimony mirrored that of several law enforcement officials. Like police, he said he noticed that two of his daughters lacked any emotion and that "it was like they were programmed."

D.C., who was nine at the time, testified earlier this week. She claimed that she witnessed her mother strike Aliayah in the head, and then ushered her and her sister into the van the next morning to dispose of Aliayah's body in a wooded area near Vadis.

Lunsford also painted a grim picture of the relationship between Lena and Aliayah. He claimed that Lena treated Aliayah differently than the other children and punished her in a much harsher manner.

Under cross-examination, defense attorney Tom Dyer raised questions about Lunsford's credibility. Dyer brought up Lunsford's history of domestic abuse and pointed out that he spent a decent amount of time at a second home in Vadis.

Lunsford, who was not Aliayah's biological father, vehemently denied any role in her disappearance or presumed death. He said that many of his arguments with Lena revolved around her treatment of Aliayah, and that he would spend time at his house in Vadis when Lena kicked him out.

Earlier in the day, the jury heard an audio recording of an interview police conducted with Lunsford-Conaway in the immediate aftermath of Aliayah's disappearance.

At the outset of the interview, she can be heard railing against media coverage of the disappearance and venting about gossip in the community.

The attention eventually turned to Aliayah. Her mother said Aliayah "is a good kid" and has the "most beautiful eyes."

At one point in the tape, a law enforcement official suggested whatever happened to Aliayah could have been an accident.

Lunsford-Conaway shoots back: "I did not do anything intentionally or unintentionally to my daughter."

Aliayah's body has never been found, and the defense has pointed that out in an attempt to poke holes in the state's theory. Without a body, Dyer has argued, there is no evidence of a cause of death.

UPDATE 4/17/18 @ 6 p.m.
The prosecution believes they have a number of significant holes in the story that Lena Lunsford-Conaway told police about Aliayah Lunsford’s disappearance on Sept. 24, 2011.

The defense, led by attorney Tom Dyer, is arguing that without a body, there’s no actual evidence the crime took place other than testimony from the witness identified as DC.

State Police Sgt. Shannon Loudin was the second member of law enforcement to take the stand in the trial, recounting the opening days after Aliayah Lunsford’s disappearance was reported.

Loudin recounted discrepancies, including that Lena Lunsford told police she had been looking for Aliayah around 9:30 Saturday morning, Sept. 24. But Loudin said video surveillance shows the Lunsford van leaving their Bendale home at 9:13 and going directly out of town.

At 11:27 a.m., the Lunsford van returned to their Bendale home. At 11:31 a.m., Lunsford called 911.

DC told the court on Monday that the Lunsford family was in the van with Lena Lunsford, en route to a small community called Vadis.

She claims that’s where Lena Lunsford buried the remains of then 3-year-old Aliayah Lunsford.

Loudin interviewed two of Lunsford’s other children during the initial investigation phase, telling the court he felt the children’s stories felt rehearsed and emotionless.

As the investigation progressed, Loudin said he was part of a number of follow-ups on leads and tips provided to law enforcement. Each one was disproved, including a wild claim that Aliayah Lunsford had been seen at Disney World.

But Loudin believed the information he received from DC in October 2016 might have panned out. Loudin told the court that DC and another witness, known as KC, were able to separately bring investigators to the same location where they claimed Aliayah Lunsford’s body had been left in 2011.

It was Sgt. Loudin who served the warrant for Lunsford-Conaway’s arrest in Florida in November 2016. He recalled her reaction upon seeing him.

“She said, ‘Oh my God. Did you find Aliayah? Am I in trouble?'” Loudin told the court.

But the defense took an opportunity to cross-examine Loudin, suggesting that there remains no evidence that Lena Lunsford killed Aliayah Lunsford, no evidence that — if dead — Aliayah died from a blow to the head, and that the wooden bed slat was never taken into evidence.

It was also revealed that Aliayah had been suffering from the flu at the time of her disappearance. Dyer also suggested that it was possible that medication provided to Aliayah could have caused death, even at one point suggesting that Lena Lunsford had “found a dead 3-year-old.”

Dyer walked that back though, saying that was part of the State’s theory about how the events of September 23 and September 24 occurred.

Additionally, Dyer claimed that, without a body or remains, there isn’t much proof that a crime occurred.

Sgt. Shannon Loudin testified that there was a “slim chance” of police finding Lunsford’s body in the Vadis area, due to the time that had passed since the original allegation.

He suggested, if anything, they might find bones and hair. Cadaver dogs searched the area in 2016.

Court recessed for a one-hour lunch at noon.



UPDATE 4/16/18 @ 8:20 p.m.
The children knew what fate had befallen their 3-year-old sister but were too frightened to come forward in the immediate aftermath of Aliayah Lunsford’s death, Lewis County prosecuting attorney Christina Flanagan told jurors Monday.

The defense simply asked jurors to keep an open mind throughout the expected two-week trial of Lena Lunsford, the mother accused of killing Aliayah on Sept. 23, 2011. The subject of a missing person’s search for five years, Aliayah’s whereabouts remain unknown.

DC, an older sister of Aliayah, testified she saw their mother strike the girl with the slab of a wooden bedpost.

“I saw the strike with my own two eyes,” she told the court.

DC, who has since taken the last name of her adoptive father, was 9 at the time of the alleged killing. She’s now 15.

She told the court that when she went to bed, Aliayah was still alive. She checked on her during the night, and said Aliayah was breathing.

By the next morning of Sept. 24, the 3-year-old girl was non-responsive, and DC told the court she saw Lena Lunsford conceal Aliayah’s body in a clothing hamper.

After the entire family drove 20 miles to a rural area called Vadis, DC said Lena Lunsford left the van with the hamper and returned covered in dirt.
“It seemed like forever,” DC testified.

DC recalled her mother asking the children to “promise that they wouldn’t tell anybody the events of what happened that day.”

“After everything was clean, we did the plan and then we called the police,” DC said. “I was afraid of making that promise, and that she would hurt us.”

The teenage witness broke down crying under cross-examination from defense attorney Tom Dyer — specifically when asked to re-enact the events of September 23, 2011.

“To pretend I’m my mother hitting my baby sister with a wood slab on the head?” DC said through tears.

The witness said her mother “very heavily cleaned the house” and “she seemed frenzied and worried” in the immediate aftermath of Aliayah’s disappearance.

Last October, some five years after the disappearance, DC told her adoptive father, Craig Cole, that she could no longer keep the secret.

“I know where Aliayah is,” she recounted telling him.

Cole also testified Monday, becoming tearful when describing how DC was kept the killing secret for years out of fear “Lena would track her down and kill her.”

Former Lewis County Sheriff’s deputy Mike Posey recounted the first days of the investigation, finding no indication of a break-in at the Lunsfords’ home in Bendale.

When officers examined video from nearby businesses, time-stamped footage from Sept. 24 indicate the family van was away from the home for hours before Lunsford called 911 pleading for police to “Please help me find her.”

Posey’s suspicion heightened when neighbors said they hadn’t heard Lena Lunsford out searching for the child or calling her name, directly contradicting her account to police.

After the jury heard the 911 call, they then were shown a two-hour interview between Lunsford and authorities at the State Police Barracks in Weston.

That interview occurred Sept. 26, 2011, two days after Aliayah was first reported missing.

“We were in the mindset that something was afoul,” Posey said.

They read Lunsford her Miranda Rights in the belief she may incriminate herself during the interview.

The interview grew testy, Posey said. An FBI agent accused her of lying, or at least withholding information, when she kept saying she didn’t know anything.

The trial resumes Tuesday morning, with Posey expected to continue testifying.

In earlier testimony, DC claimed her mother typically treated Aliayah more harshly than the other children.

“She was in trouble a lot and was made to drink salt water” as punishment, DC said. “I assumed it was because Lena was jealous of the relationship Aliayah held with her grandma.”

Among other signs that Aliayah was being singled out, DC said the missing child wasn’t allowed to eat with the family.

“Whenever we’d eat, she wasn’t allowed to eat at the same time. Sometimes she would get to eat after. Sometimes she would not.”



UPDATE 4/13/18 @ 7:25 p.m.
The trial for Lena Lunsford-Conaway begins Monday April 16 at 9 a.m.

Lena Lunsford-Conaway, 35, is charged with multiple felony counts related to the 2011 disappearance and presumed death of her then 3-year-old daughter, Aliayah Lunsford.

She was arrested in November 2016 in Florida and extradited to West Virginia more than five years after Aliayah’s disappearance on Sept, 24, 2011.

A 12-member jury is set for the trial after two days of jury selection.

The jury consists of 10 women and two men. The two alternate jurors are both women.

A total of seven jurors were excused with cause Friday, after individual jury selection executed by Judge Jake Reger, Lewis County Prosecuting Attorney Christina Flannigan and defense attorney Tom Dyer.

Both Flannigan and Dyer were then permitted to strike two and six jurors respectively from the 20-member panel, as well as one alternate juror each.

Dyer requested a motion in pre-trial to change the venue of the trial, in belief they would not be able to set a fair and impartial jury in Lewis County.



UPDATE 4/12/18 @ 6:32 p.m.
Jury selection is underway for the mom accused of killing her 3-year-old daughter.

Lena Lunsford-Conaway, 35, is charged with four counts including murder.

Her daughter Aliayah, then three years old, disappeared in 2011. Although they haven't found a body, investigators believe Lunsford-Conaway hit Aliayah with a blunt object then failed to get her help.

Cameras were not allowed in the courtroom Thursday for jury selection.

The day started with 67 potential jurors in the jury pool. The process could continue into Friday as the judge looks to narrow the group to 12 main jurors plus alternates.

Earlier this year the judge denied a motion to move the case out of Lewis County.

UPDATE 1/24/18 @ 10 p.m.
It could be months before Lena Lunsford-Conaway faces trial in the death of her 3-year-old daughter Aliayah.

Pre-trial motions are scheduled for next week. One of them is to delay the trial until April, which would be yet another delay.

Currently it is scheduled for Feb. 12.

Lunsford-Conaway is accused of murder in connection with the 2011 disappearance of Aliayah.

Although they haven't found a body, investigators believe Lunsford-Conaway hit Aliayah with a blunt object then failed to get her help.



UPDATE 1/8/18 @ 5:10 p.m.
Lena Lunsford-Conaway will at least have to sit through a jury selection, a Lewis County judge determined Monday.

Circuit Court Judge Jacob Reger refused to grant the defense’s motion for a venue change in the case of Lunsford’s missing daughter, Aliayah, who is presumed dead.

Lunsford-Conaway is accused of hitting her then-three-year-old daughter in the head with a blunt object in the early morning hours of September 24, 2011. Investigators claim the former Lewis County woman, arrested in Florida November 2016, also refused to provide medical treatment to her ailing daughter.

Aliayah Lunsford is presumed dead, but no remains have ever been discovered.

The venue change was requested by defense attorneys Tom and Zach Dyer, claiming Lunsford-Conaway would not be met with an impartial jury. Their request to use a taxpayer-funded jury consultant to provide evidence of their claim was denied last year.

“Judge Reger feels strongly that we need to make an effort in the court to pick a jury from Lewis County,” Tom Dyer said. “He had been discouraging any direct surveys all along, and we respected that. We understood his reasoning behind that.”

Local media outlets are reporting that the defense used comments from social media and local media websites to suggest that Lunsford wouldn’t receive a fair trial.

“We presented a significant amount of social media from cyber space, so to speak, for him to consider, which we believed demonstrated a pervasive negative sentiment about the defendant throughout the area,” Dyer said.

Dyer said jury selection will begin in February.

“(Reger) will reconsider the motion to change venue at that time after we begin the efforts to pick a jury in Lewis County,” he said. “In a case of this magnitude, it could take a couple days to seat a jury, and this trial may take three, four or five weeks. That would be typical. We’re going to need to be very careful in selecting this jury to make sure we get an impartial group, so it could take some time.”

Lunsford is charged with murder of a child by a parent, guardian, or custodian, or other person, by refusal or failure to provide necessities; one count of death of a child by parent, guardian, or custodian, or other person, by child abuse; one count of child abuse resulting in injury; and one count of concealment of a deceased human body.

Lunsford-Conaway will return to court Jan. 31 for a pre-trial motions hearing. The trial is scheduled to begin Feb. 13.



UPDATE 10/5/17 @ 3:25 p.m.
A murder trial in West Virginia has been postponed a second time for a woman charged in the death of her 3-year-old daughter.

The Exponent Telegram reports a Lewis County circuit judge Thursday rescheduled the trial of 35-year-old Lena Marie Lunsford Conaway to Feb. 13. Lunsford's trial originally was set to start in June and had been postponed to Oct. 10.

Harrison County Prosecutor Christina Flanigan sought more time to review evidence.

Conaway is charged with murder of a child by parent by failure to provide necessities, death of a child by parent by child abuse, child abuse resulting in injury and concealment of a dead human body.

She had reported her daughter, Aliayah Lunsford, missing in 2011.

According to a criminal complaint, witnesses saw Conaway bludgeoning the girl. The child's body hasn't been recovered.



UPDATE 7/27/17 @ 3:50 p.m.
LEWIS COUNTY, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- A motion was denied Thursday in the Lena Lunsford-Conaway case.

She is the mother charged in the disappearance of her 3-year-old daughter Aliayah Lunsford.

A Lewis County Circuit Court judge denied a motion to bring in a jury consultant to poll potential jurors.

Lunsford-Conaway is accused in the death of Aliayah who went missing in 2011.

Her defense attorneys do not believe they can seat an unbiased jury due to the high-profile of the case.

Jury selection is scheduled for Oct. 10, and the trial will start Oct. 12.



UPDATE 7/26/17 @ 5:10 p.m.
LEWIS COUNTY, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- A woman accused in the 2011 disappearance of her 3-year-old daughter will be back in court Thursday.

Lena Lunsford-Conaway will appear in a Lewis County courtroom. The judge is expected to rule on whether Conaway's defense team can hire a jury consultant to conduct a poll of the jury pool.

The search for 3-year-old Aliayah Lunsford continued for more than five years before Conaway was charged.

Thursday, the judge could grant the motion, change the trial location or deny the request and continue with the trial.

Jury selection is scheduled for Oct. 10, while the trial is set to begin Oct. 12.



UPDATE 5/18/17 @ 6:25 p.m.
LEWIS COUNTY, W.Va. (WSAZ) – The mother accused in the death of her missing daughter will not stand trial until October.

Lena Lunsford was supposed to go to trial in Lewis County next month.

Her new defense attorney asked for the trial to be pushed back because they needed more time to prepare.

Lunsford was arrested in November and charged with the death of her 3-year-old daughter Aliayah. The girl has been missing since September 2011.

Deputies say witnesses saw Lunsford hit Aliayah in the head and then she didn't get her help.

Lunsford’s pretrial motions will be Oct. 5.



UPDATE 3/10/17 @ 11:30 a.m.
LEWIS COUNTY, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- A trial date has been set in the case of a mother charged with the death of her missing daughter.

Lena Lunsford was in a Lewis County court room Friday where a trial date of June 19 was set.

Lunsford was arrested in November and charged for the death of her three-year-old daughter Aliayah.

Aliayah has been missing since September 2011.

Lewis County Deputies say witnesses observed Lunsford strike Aliayah in the head while inside their home. Aliayah then fell to the ground from the injury, according to the complaint.

Lunsford did not initially provide help or medical assistance and did not allow others to help when Aliayah was visibly suffering, according to the criminal complaint.

Deputies say Lunsford then covered up the crime by creating a fake story, destroying evidence, concealing the victim's body, and instructing witnesses to conceal what happened.

According to the complaint, the information came from witness testimony and physical evidence.

She remains in custody in Lewis County where bond was set at $250,000.



UPDATE 3/6/17 @ 4:25 p.m.
LEWIS COUNTY, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Lena Lunsford, the mother charged in the death of her 3-year-old daughter, was indicted on multiple charges related to that case, according to the Lewis County Prosecutor's Office.

Lunsford is charged in the death of her daughter Aliayah, who was missing for nearly five years before her mother was arrested.

Lunsford was indicted on the following charges: murder of child by parent or guardian, death of a child by parent/guardian by child abuse, child abuse resulting in injury, and concealment of a deceased human body.

Lunsford was arrested last fall in Pinellas County, Florida. She remains in custody in Lewis County where bond was set at $250,000.



UPDATE 11/16/16 @ 3:15 p.m.
LEWIS COUNTY, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Lena Lunsford, the mother charged in the death of her 3-year-old daughter, waived her preliminary hearing Wednesday.

Lunsford was in a Lewis County courtroom Wednesday for the second time since she was charged with the death of her daughter Aliayah.

Lunsford's lawyer asked for her $250,000 bond to be reduced and to be a candidate for home confinement. Both requests were denied by the judge.

The case will now go to a grand jury.



UPDATE 11/10/16 @ 5 p.m.
LEWIS COUNTY, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- The mother charged with death of her 3-year-old daughter was in a Lewis County courtroom Thursday.

Lena Lunsford waived the time part of the preliminary hearing. She will be allowed extra time before the preliminary hearing for more information to be gathered.

Lunsford showed no emotion walking into the courtroom or while addressing the judge.

It was the first time Aliayah's family had seen her since Lena was charged with her daughter's death.

"When she walked in I just wanted to throw up, I really did," Aliayah's great aunt Vicki Bowen said. "It was just horrible. I can't even put it into words."

Family told WSAZ they're still having a difficult time coming to terms with how 3-year-old Aliayah died.

"I still can't wrap my head around what she did to Aliayah. I just can't imagine anyone being that evil, that cruel to not even let anyone else comfort that child and they said it took hours for her to die," Bowen said. "That's heartless, that's cold, that's cruel I don't know how someone could do that to their own child I really don't."

Lunsford will be back in court next week for her preliminary hearing.

Aliayah's family is hosting a memorial this Saturday at Bendale United Methodist Church in Weston at 3 p.m.



UPDATE 11/4/16 @ 10:50 a.m.
LEWIS COUNTY, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- After a five-year wait, the mother of a missing girl has been charged with her death.

On Friday, Lena Lunsford, 34, was arraigned in Lewis County for the charge of death of a Child by a parent, guardian or other person by child abuse.

Lunsford was arrested in Pinellas County, Florida, on Thursday.

According to the criminal complaint, on or about Sept. 24, 2011, 3-year-old Aliayah Lunsford died in Lewis County.

The criminal complaint states that her death was the direct result of a blunt force strike to her head with a solid handheld object.

Lewis County Deputies say witnesses observed Lunsford strike Aliayah in the head while inside their home. Aliayah then fell to the ground from the injury, according to the complaint.

Lunsford did not initially provide help or medical assistance and did not allow others to help when Aliayah was visibly suffering, according to the criminal complaint.

Deputies say Lunsford then covered up the crime by creating a fake story, destroying evidence, concealing the victim's body, and instructing witnesses to conceal what happened.

According to the complaint, the information came from witness testimony and physical evidence.

Lena Lunsford originally told authorities that she put her daughter to bed, but when she went back to check on her about 9 a.m., she was gone.

At a news conference Friday, Lewis County Sheriff Adam Gissy said they believe they have the one person who knows where Aliayah's body is located in custody.

WSAZ previously reported, Lena Lunsford was jailed three times in the two years following her daughter's disappearance; although those arrests were unrelated to the case.

Keep checking WSAZ.com and WSAZ Mobile for the latest.



UPDATE 11/4/16 @ 12:30 a.m.
LEWIS COUNTY, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- The mother of a missing child has been charged with her death.

Lena Lunsford, 34, was arrested in Pinellas County, Florida on Thursday for the death of her daughter Aliayah.

She has been charged with death of a child by a parent by child abuse.

Aliayah has been missing since September 2011.

Lena Lunsford originally told authorities that she put her daughter to bed, but when she went back to check on her at about 9 a.m., she was gone.

WSAZ previously reported, Lena Lunsford was jailed three times in the two years following her daughter's disappearance; although those arrests were unrelated to the case.

But this time, according to law enforcement, there is a direct connection. Now, many of the Lunsfords' old neighbors, in the Ben Dale area near Weston, say they are saddened but not surprised.

"Doesn't shock me," former next door neighbor Linda Carr said. "A lot of people have felt that's where the answer did lay with this whole mystery. I do hope we get some resolution to it. I certainly feel after this many years it does need to be reconciled."

Other neighbors, like Michelle Hefner, say they are pleased to see apparent justice moving forward.

"Everybody thinks it's the mom so I'm happy," Hefner said. "She didn't come look for her little girl...If one of my kids went missing, I wouldn't sleep, I would keep looking, I wouldn't stop, I would still be looking and she didn't."

Lewis County Sheriff Adam Gissy says there will be a press conference Friday at the county courthouse at 11 a.m. to further detail Lena Lunsford's arrest.



ORIGINAL STORY 11/3/16 @ 2:45 p.m.
LEWIS COUNTY, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- The mother of a missing child has been charged with her death.

Lena Lunsford, 34, was arrested in Pinellas County, Florida Thursday for the death of her daughter Aliayah.

She has been charged with death of a child by a parent by child abuse.

Aliayah has been missing since September 2011.

More details about the arrest and investigation will be released at a news conference Friday morning.

Keep checking WSAZ Mobile and WSAZ.com for the latest information.




 
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