Trial begins for mother accused of killing missing 3-year-old Lewis County girl

Lena Lunsford, 35, is accused of the alleged homicide of her 3-year-old daughter, Aliayah, who went missing in 2011. The trial began 9 a.m. Monday in Lewis County. (WCHS/WVAH)

A witness on the first day of the trial of a mother accused of killing her missing 3-year-old daughter in Lewis County said she saw her strike the girl in the head with an object, and the prosecutor said the mother disposed of the body in the woods.

The trial officially began Monday in Lewis County for Lena Lunsford, 35, who is accused of the alleged homicide of her 3-year-old daughter, Aliayah. The toddler was last seen on Sept. 24, 2011, and vanished from her home in the Bendale area, just outside of Weston in Lewis County.

Lunsford was arrested November 2016 in Florida, where she was living and was indicted March 2017. Lunsford now faces charges of murder of a child by parent by failure to provide necessities; death of a child by child abuse; child abuse resulting in injury; and concealment of a dead body. She is pleading not guilty to all charges.

Lewis County sheriff’s deputies allege Lunsford killed Aliayah by striking her in the head with a “hand held object” on Sept. 24, 2011. Deputies say it happened at her home in Bendale. Lunsford is also accused of instructing others to lie about what happened to her daughter and not get help for her.

Aliayah is presumed dead, but her body has never been found.

During testimony Monday, a witness, D.C. then 9 and still a juvenile, said she saw Lena Lunsford hit Aliayah in the head. Christina Flanigan, the prosecuting attorney, said Kiara, then 11 and D.C. are not sure what the object was but believe it may have been a wooden slat off of a bed, or a piece of it.

"Lena at some point in time picked up an object," Flanigan told the jury. "She was mad, upset at whatever was going on and she picked up an object and struck Aliayah in the back of the head."

Flanigan told the jury the girl's said Aliayah's head felt "squishy" when they touched it. When the girls tried to wake Aliayah up the next morning, they said she was not breathing and was not responsive. The girls suggested Lena call 911 or get help, but Lena refused, Flanigan said.

Flanigan said Lena Lunsford put the toddler in a clothes hamper and took her to their family van and eventually drove to a wooded area and disposed the body. Kiara and D.C. kept what happened a secret for five years, the prosecutor said.

D.C. testified Monday, saying her mother treated Aliayah differently from her other siblings. D.C. suspected this was due to Aliayah having a closer relationship to her grandmother. She said Lena would make Aliayah drink saltwater as a form of punishment sometimes.

D.C. said she struggled for years about telling someone the truth about what she saw. She told the jury God put it in her heart to tell the truth, and in 2016, she looked at her now adopted father and said, "I know where Aliayah is."

Lena Lunsford's husband at the time, Ralph Keith Lunsford, was not at the home at the time she hit Aliayah in the head, D.C. said. D.C. told the jury Ralph Lunsford did not know what happened to Aliayah.

On Monday, the jury listened to a very lengthy recorded interrogation between the FBI and Lunsford shortly after Aliayah disappeared. Lunsford remained adamant she didn’t know what happened to her daughter.

“I guarantee we will find out it’s you! We find out everything. We are the FBI!” an agent screamed at her during the interrogation.

Before her arrest for Aliayah, Lena Lunsford was in an out of prison on unrelated welfare fraud charges.

The trial that began Monday was initially set to be heard in the summer of 2017, but has been pushed back numerous times. This trial could last two weeks.

The jury consists of 10 women and two men, with two female alternates. The jury was selected last week. Defense attorneys Tom Dyer and Zach Dyer tried to get the trial moved out of Lewis County due to re-trial publicity, but Judge Jake Reger denied those motions.

Flanigan said Monday several plea deals were offered in the case, but Lunsford has refused all plea offers. If she is convicted, Lunsford faces life in prison for the murder charge, 10 to 40 years for death of a child by child abuse, two to 10 years for child abuse resulting in injury and one to five years for concealment of a dead body.

Deputies have only said the “big break” in the case happened when a witness came forward with information in 2016, but they have never said who that witness was.

The state and defense have revealed a total of 68 potential witnesses, with many law enforcement officers from the FBI, Lewis County Sheriff’s Department, West Virginia State Police and Weston Police Department included.

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