UPDATE: Lunsford-Conaway sentenced to life without mercy in daughter's death

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WESTON, W.VA. - UPDATE: 07/02/18 4:15 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.

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: 06/01/2018, 1:57 P.M.

Lena Lunsford Conaway was back in court Friday for a post-trial hearing after being convicted of murdering her 3-year-old daughter, Aliayah Lunsford.

In her trial in April, 2018 in Lewis County Circuit Court, Lunsford Conaway was found guilty of one count of murder of a child by parent, guardian, or custodian or other person by refusal or failure to provide necessities, one count of the death of a child by a parent, guardian, or custodian or other person by child abuse, one count of child abuse resulting in injury, and one count of concealment of deceased human body.

Throughout the trial, Defense Attorney Tom Dyer argued that since Aliayah's body has never been found, there is no evidence of a cause of death.

On Friday, Dyer came to court wanting a retrial of the case outside of Lewis County.

Dyer was granted until June 19th, and the prosecution until the 14th, to file the necessary paperwork regarding an appeal.

No set decision has been made on whether the appeal will be granted.

The next hearing in this case is set for June 21 at 10:00 A.M.


UPDATE 4/24/2018, 1:05 P.M.

A West Virginia mother convicted for the murder of her 3-year-old daughter was denied mercy by the jury on Tuesday.

That means Lena Lunsford-Conaway, 35, faces life in prison for the death of Aliayah Lunsford who disappeared in 2011 and whose body was never found.

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

The jury only deliberated for about 20 minutes on Tuesday before recommending no mercy.


UPDATE 4/23/2018, 5:20 P.M.

A West Virginia mother has been found guilty of multiple felony counts related to the 2011 disappearance and presumed death of her then 3-year-old daughter, Aliayah Lunsford.

Lunsford was found guilty of the following charges:

One count of murder of a child by parent, guardian, or custodian or other person by refusal or failure to provide necessities.

One count of the death of a child by a parent, guardian, or custodian or other person by child abuse.

One count of child abuse resulting in injury.

One count of concealment of deceased human body.

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.


UPDATE 4/23/2018, 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.


UPDATE 4/23/2018, 12:35 P.M.

Witnesses have testified for the defense in the murder trial of Lena Lunsford Conaway, who is accused of killing her 3-year-old daughter Aliayah Lunsford and hiding her body in 2011.

On Monday in Lewis County Circuit Court, 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: 04/20/2018, 2:20 P.M.

The state has rested its case in the murder trial for Lena Lunsford Conaway, shortly after another sister of Aliayah took the witness stand.

Lewis County Prosecuting Attorney Christina Flanigan called one witness on the fifth day of the trial on Friday. The sister, K.C., testified that she was afraid of Lunsford Conaway and that's a reason why she didn't say anything about the alleged incident. When asked why she was afraid of her mother, K.C. said one of Lunsford Conaway's favorite lines was "I brought you into this world, and I can take you out."

K.C. said she remembers hearing Aliayah get hit on Sept. 23, 2011, and that she did not see Aliayah get hit, but remembered hearing a loud noise.

K.C. said that she and D.C., who testified earlier in the week, put Aliayah to bed after the alleged hit to the head. The sister stated concern about Aliayah being sick earlier in the week, and when she and her other sister put Aliayah to bed, Aliayah said she felt like her head was going to explode. K.C. testified that she also felt a soft spot on her head.

When K.C. woke up the next morning on Sept. 24, 2011, she went to talk with Lunsford Conaway in her bedroom. Shortly after, K.C. said she went to get Aliayah but she wasn't breathing.

K.C. testified that Lunsford Conaway did several things to revive Aliayah, including CPR as well as using a tub of cold water. She says she and the sister suggested calling for help, but Lunsford Conaway blew it off.

K.C. says that's when Lunsford Conaway put clothes in a hamper and then three-year-old Aliayah and then more clothes. She says that's when they got in the van and drove to Vadis.

They stopped in a wooded area of Vadis and then Lunsford Conaway went out of sight of her other two daughters, and came back without Aliayah's body, according to K.C.

According to the older daughter, who was 11 at the time, Lunsford Conaway made them promise they wouldn't tell anyone what happened. As previously testified earlier in the week, Lunsford Conaway called 911 at 11:31 on Sept. 24, 2011 to report Aliayah missing. Earlier this week, it was said in court that video surveillance captured the van leaving Dennsion Street at 9:13 a.m. on the 24th, and then again at 11:27 a.m.

K.C. testified that she finally came forward in October 2016 -- years after promising their mother that they wouldn't say anything.

Defense attorney Tom Dyer asked K.C. multiple questions regarding Aliayah's possible sickness and the fact that she mentioned Aliayah vomiting the days leading up to the alleged incident.

Aliayah's body has never been found. Dyer has argued throughout the case that without a body, there's no evidence of a cause of death.

The defense will have the opportunity call witnesses when the trial resumes on Monday.


UPDATE; 04/19/2018, 3:50 P.M.

On the fourth day of Lena Lunsford Conaway’s murder trial, defense attorney Tom Dyer questioned a corporal with the Lewis County Sheriff’s Department about a possible connection between an outlaw motorcycle gang and three-year-old Aliayah’s disappearance.

Called to the witness stand by the prosecution, Corporal E.E. Carpenter testified Thursday about his experience as the department’s case agent on the investigation, dating back to 2014.

Carpenter recalled that in June 2016, he received a call from a Harrison County Sheriff’s deputy, Pat McCarty, regarding two people tied to the motorcycle gang known as the “Pagans.”

McCarty advised Carpenter that he arrested one of the men on a DUI charge. During the course of the arrest, he said, the man mentioned something about Aliayah’s disappearance.

Carpenter said he spoke to both of the men in question, but that it soon became apparent that they had no useful information to provide nor did they have any connection to Aliayah’s disappearance.

The corporal testified that the DUI suspect said he never made a statement to McCarty about Aliayah.

Carpenter said he also spoke to a woman who claimed to know about the “Pagans” and the group’s link to a young girl.

She recalled seeing a young girl at a party and thought that the situation was odd, Carpenter said.

However, when the woman spoke with police, she said she didn’t recognize the girl to have a resemblance to Aliayah.

Under cross-examination, Dyer asked the corporal if he had ever heard about a link between the “Pagans” and human trafficking. Carpenter said he hadn’t.

Dyer reminded the court that motorcycle gangs have supposedly used children as collateral when trying to collect on drug debts.

Dyer also brought up the possibility that given the tough mentality of motorcycle gangs, it’s possible the two men police questioned didn’t want to “snitch,” out of fear.

Prosecuting attorney Christina Flanigan used a brief re-direct to suggest the theory about the motorcycle gang did not hold water. To prove that, she asked Carpenter again about the DUI arrest. Carpenter said that it occurred November of 2015, but McCarty didn’t inform Carpenter about the statement until June 2016.

Earlier Thursday morning, Flanigan called several neighbors of Lunsford to the witness stand.

Five neighbors who live on Dennison Street, the same street where the Lunsford family lived, and one neighbor who lives on Armory Road all testified about the morning of September 24, 2011.

The six neighbors all said they didn’t notice anything unusual that morning. They also said they never saw Aliayah or anyone looking for a missing girl.

In the aftermath of Aliayah’s disappearance, Lena Lunsford Conaway told police that she searched the area around Bendale for about two hours.

Video surveillance nearby, however, captured the family van leaving Dennison Street at 9:13 a.m. The van is not shown again until 11:27 a.m. The first 911 call reporting Aliayah’s disappearance case at 11:31 a.m.


UPDATE: 04/18/2018, 5:30 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: 04/17/2018

On Tuesday, a Lewis County, West Virginia Court jury heard testimony on day two of the murder trial of Lena Lunsford Conaway.

Conaway is accused of killing her 3-year-old daughter, Aliayah, in 2011 and disposing of her body.

West Virginia State Police Sergeant Shannon Loudin testified that just a day after Aliayah was reported missing, he quickly became suspicious, especially after interviewing Aliayah's sisters.

He recalled the answers they gave seemed scripted, and he said the girls didn't show any emotion, almost as if they were numb.

On Monday, one of Aliayah's sisters testified she and her older sister saw her mother strike Aliayah in the head, and the next morning hid the toddler's body in the woods, testifying that Lena made the two girls promise not to tell anyone.

The two girls came forward to police in October of 2016 and Lena was arrested in Florida in November, 2016, then was extradited to West Virginia.

Lena is charged with four counts, including murder, in Aliayah's disappearance and presumed death.

The trial is expected to last for two weeks.


UPDATE: 04/16/2018

Opening statements and testimony began Monday in the murder trial of Lena Lunsford-Conaway.

She's the Lewis County mother accused of killing her 3-year-old daughter, Aliayah, in September 2011.

The start of trial was delayed this morning due to heavy rain causing flooding on I-79 near Weston.

Once proceedings began, Prosecuting Attorney Christina Flanigan alleged in her opening argument that Lunsford-Conaway hit her daughter, Aliayah, with a broken piece of a wooden bed board, after the child was crying.

Flanigan alleges that two of Lunsford-Conaway's other daughters witnessed the strike, but were prevented from helping Aliayah.

One of the daughters, who was nine at the time, also testified.

She described how Lunsford-Conaway tried to resuscitate Aliayah before putting her body in a clothes hamper and then into a van, which they drove to a remote area.

She testified that's where Lunsford-Conaway disposed of her sister's body, which has never been found.

In Defense Attorney Tom Dyer's opening statements, he implored jurors to keep an open mind.

He also said that in his 30 years as a lawyer, this is the quote "most complicated mess" and "saddest" case in which he's been involved.

The trial is expected to last two weeks.


UPDATE: 04/13/2018

After two days in court, the jury for Lena Lunsford-Conaway's murder trial is set.

Ten women and two men will sit on the jury.

The jury will also have two women alternates.

Jury selection began on Thursday, with 67 potential jurors.

Lunsford-Conaway was in court throughout the process.

The 35-year-old is charged with four counts, including murder, in the 2011 death of her then-three-year-old daughter, Aliayah.

The trial is set to begin on Monday and is expected to last two weeks.


UPDATE: 04/13/2018

Jury selection has begun in the murder trial of Lena Lunsford-Conaway, who is charged with murdering her 3-year-old daughter.

The 35-year-old is charged with four counts, including murder, in the 2011 death of her then-three-year-old daughter, Aliayah.

The day started with 67 potential jurors in the jury pool, and the process could go into tomorrow, as the judge looks to narrow the group to 12 main jurors, in addition to alternates.

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


UPDATE: 01/08/2018

A motion to move Lena Lunsford-Conaway's trial away from Lewis County is denied. She's the Lewis County mother accused of killing her daughter, Aliayah.

The then three-year-old little girl went missing seven years ago in 2011. Her body has never been found.

Lunsford-Conaway's defense claims she can't have a fair trial due to the public's knowledge of the case. In the hearing Monday, the defense presented comments from Facebook pages.

They claim 98% of them are against her. The prosecution argued most of those comments came from out-of-the state or country.

In the end, the judge denied the request. That means the trial will take place in Lewis County.

Pretrial proceedings start at the end of January.


UPDATE: 12/21/17

A change of venue hearing in the murder case of Lena Lunsford-Conaway has been rescheduled for Jan. 8, according to defense attorney Tom Dyer.

The hearing was originally scheduled for Tuesday, but it was postponed by Lewis County Chief Circuit Judge Jake Reger.

The motion for a change in venue was filed in November by Dyer, who said the defense does not think Lunsford-Conway can receive a fair trial because of the intense publicity surrounding the case.

Lunsford-Conaway was arrested in 2016 in Florida and indicted in March on murder charges in the death of her 3-year-old daughter, Aliayah Lunsford, in 2011.

The girl's body has never been found, and court records say witnesses reported seeing Lunsford-Conaway bludeonging the girl to death.

Her trial is scheduled for Feb. 13 in Lewis County Circuit Court.


UPDATE: 10/5/2017

The murder trial of a West Virginia mom accused of fatally bludgeoning her 3-year-old daughter has been postponed a second time.

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 to death.

The child's body hasn't been recovered.


UPDATE: 9/20/2017

A prosecutor wants a delay in the murder trial of a West Virginia woman charged with the murder of her 3-year-old daughter.

A grand jury in Lewis County, West Virginia indicted Lena Lunsford Conaway on a murder charge in March.

She's accused of killing 3-year-old Aliayah Lunsford, whose body has never been found since she disappeared in 2011.

Prosecutors filed a motion yesterday requesting the delay of Lena Lunsford's trial.

A court hearing on the request is scheduled Friday.

This wouldn't be the first time the trial has been pushed back.

Lunsford was initially set to go on trial in June, until it was moved to October after the defense requested more time.

Lunsford was arrested in Florida in November, 2016, and extradited to Lewis County to face a murder charge.


UPDATE: 7/11/2017

A hearing has been scheduled for later this month for Lena Lunsford, the West Virginia woman charged in the death of her daughter Aaliyah.

The hearing in Lewis County Circuit Court for a defense motion is scheduled for July 27.

In June, attorneys for Lunsford filed two motions to seek a jury consultant and a change-of-venue request.

In the filing, Tom Dyer said he thinks Lunsford "cannot obtain a fair and impartial trial in Lewis County."

Lunsford was arrested in Florida in November 2016, and subsequently extradited to Lewis County to face charges related to the 2011 disappearance of her then 3-year-old Aaliyah.

The girl's body has not been found, but Lena Lunsford has been charged with murder.

Her trial is expected to begin in October.


UPDATE 5/18/2017

The Lewis County trial for a West Virginia woman accused of killing her 3-year-old daughter has been postponed.

34-year-old Lena Marie Lunsford Conaway was set to go on trial in a Lewis County, West Virginia, courtroom on June 19th, but a judge Thursday postponed her trial to October 10th, so Lunsford's attorney could have more time to review evidence in the case.

Conaway was indicted in March, and 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.

According to a criminal complaint, witnesses saw Conaway bludgeoning her daughter, Aliayah Lunsford. Witnesses said Aliayah fell to the ground and died hours later.

The complaint says Conaway then withheld medical attention and prevented others from summoning help, then allegedly took steps to conceal the crime.

The child's body hasn't been recovered.

Conaway was extradited from Florida in November, 2016.


UPDATE: 3/10/2017

A trial date has been set for a West Virginia woman accused of killing her three-year old daughter.
Lena Marie Lunsford Conaway will head to trial in a Lewis County Court on June 19th.


UPDATE: 3/6/2017

A woman who reported her 3-year-old daughter missing in West Virginia in 2011 has been indicted in her death.

A Lewis County, W.Va., grand jury on Monday indicted 34-year-old Lena Marie Lunsford Conaway on multiple charges.

She 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.

According to a criminal complaint, witnesses saw Conaway bludgeoning her daughter, Aliayah Lunsford. Witnesses said Aliayah fell to the ground and died hours later.

The complaint says Conaway then withheld medical attention and prevented others from summoning help, then allegedly took steps to conceal the crime.

The child's body hasn't been recovered.

Conaway was extradited from Florida in November, 2016.



 
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