By Allan Taylor, For the Dominion Post
WESTON — Lewis County jurors declined giving mercy after convicting Lena Lunsford for the 2011 murder of her 3-year-old daughter Aliayah.
That means Lunsford, 35, is subject to life in prison without parole when she’s sentenced June 28.
“Lena didn’t show her own daughter, a toddler, a 3-year-old baby any mercy,” said Aliayah’s great-aunt Vickie Bowen, who spoke on behalf of prosecutors Tuesday.
“She made Aliayah stand in the corner when she was sick, hit her — she killed her. And then disposed of her body like a wild animal. I won’t even say like a dog, because I lost my dog and I gave him a proper burial. My niece don’t get that.”
“I put over 80,000 miles on my vehicle looking for her daughter, while Lena was out there getting pregnant, drinking, drugging and doing whatever she was doing. She showed Aliayah no mercy, none, in life or death. I just pray that we show her as much mercy as she showed her daughter,” Bowen said.
With mercy, Lunsford would have been parole-eligible after 15 years. Defense attorney Tom Dyer contends flexible sentencing would allow a window of forgiveness for Lunsford’s teenage daughters, both of whom testified against their mother last week.
The girls, 9 and 11 at the time of Aliayah’s disappearance, formed the crux of the state’s case, claiming their mother’s plea for a community-wide search was a hoax. For five years the girls say they kept secret the fact that Lunsford struck the toddler in the head with a wooden bed slat and subsequently dumped her body in a rural area.
“What type of mother swears her daughters to secrecy with the implied threat that they could be next?” FBI agent Fred Aldrich said Tuesday.
Lewis County Sheriff’s Department investigator Eli Carpenter said Lunsford preyed on a child who was “as defenseless a defenseless can be.” He was among the lawmen who sifted through hundreds of leads, including rumors that the child had been trafficked to the Pagan’s motorcycle gang in exchange for heroin.
Ultimately, the case pointed back to Lena Lunsford and the daughters she turned into unwitting accomplices.
“For the rest of their life, Sept. 24, 2011, is going to be burned in their head,” Carpenter said. “They’ll never forget it. Please don’t give Lena another chance to ever hurt anybody.”
Jurors also heard an emotional plea from Shannon Loudin of the West Virginia state police, who chided Lunsford for withholding details of the killing and the potential whereabouts of Aliayah’s remains.
“Instead of that happening, she’s coming in to beg you for mercy,” Loudin said. “She’s not here to do the right thing today. She’s just here for Lena. It’s always been about Lena.”
Dyer said he hasn’t identified the issues they’ll take up on appeal, “but certainly there is one planned.”
Lunsford also faces prison time for convictions on child abuse and concealing a deceased body, sentences Judge Jacob Reger can impose concurrently or consecutively.
Barbara Harmon-Schamberger, an attorney who represented Lunsford in previous child custody cases — and briefly on this same murder charge — testified that Lunsford was raped at age 6 by her father and left “damaged” by a string of abusive relationships. Issuing a parole-eligible sentence, Schamberger told jurors, “may give her the only genuine, meaningful kindness any one has ever shown her.”
“She’s not a monster,” Schamberger said. “She is a victim and a statistic, just like her children.”
To which prosecutor Christina Flanagan responded: “I think Aliayah would disagree. I think she would believe her mother is a monster.”