LEWIS COUNTY, W.Va. (WDTV) -- UPDATE
During an interview with FBI agents just two days after she reported her three-year-old daughter, Aliayah, missing, Lena Lunsford-Conaway emphatically denied any involvement in her disappearance, going as far as to present this challenge to the agents: "If I lie to you tonight, I want you to put me in jail."
Those chilling words could be heard in the courtroom Monday afternoon, during the first day of the Lunsford-Conaway murder trial, as jurors listened to the recording of a September 26, 2011 interview between Lunsford-Conaway and FBI agents.
Before the interview, authorities read Lunsford-Conaway her Miranda Rights, because they believed she could possibly incriminate herself.
Lunsford-Conaway, defiant at times, insisted to the agents that she didn't know where her daughter was and said she would "do anything to get Aliayah back."
The agents, however, appeared skeptical, and pressed Lunsford-Conaway on inconsistencies in her story detailing the events of September 23-24, 2011.
In the interview, Lunsford-Conaway recounted the night of September 23, when she said Aliayah was suffering from flu-like symptoms. She claimed that she put the child to bed about 9 p.m., and checked on her when she woke up during the middle of the night.
In the morning, her husband at the time, Ralph Lunsford, woke up, showered, and left for work. Lunsford-Conaway said she went to check on Aliayah at about 6:30 a.m., and let her go back to sleep after the child said she was tired.
The next time she checked on Aliayah, she told the agents, was about 9 a.m. At that time, she said, the bed was empty.
Lunsford-Conaway said she imagined "someone helped her leave" but couldn't provide any reasons as to why she believed that.
She also told the agents that she drove around her neighborhood to look for Aliayah. When the agents pushed back and said no one had claimed to see the mother searching that morning, Lunsford-Conaway responded, "No one saw anything that day, for some odd reason."
The first 911 call from Lunsford-Conaway came at 11:31 a.m. on the morning of September 24.
The agents honed in on Lunsford-Conaway's outline of the period between 6-9 a.m. that morning.
At one point, she told the agents that she made calls to a friend during the early hours of the morning, asking for money for gas and cigarettes. But later in the interview, as she walked agents through the story again, she omitted those details. In this version, Lunsford-Conaway recalled rolling cigarettes for her husband at about 6-6:30 a.m., before he left for work at about. Earlier, she didn't remember if she was awake at 6.
When the agents pointed out these inconsistencies and accused her of lying, Lunsford-Conaway became emotional, and again insisted that she had no knowledge of Aliayah's whereabouts.
The recording of the interview concluded at about 5 p.m. Monday. Judge Jacob Reger dismissed jurors until 9 a.m. Tuesday.
The first day of the trial proved to be an emotionally draining one, as jurors heard from an older sister of Aliayah.
D.C., who was nine-years-old at the time and is now a teenager, testified that she and her sister witnessed their mother strike Aliayah with a wooden slab from a bed board, on the night of September 23, 2011.
The next morning, she said, Aliayah was not breathing, and Lunsford-Conaway put her body in a hamper. The three of them got into the family van and drove about 20 miles to Vadis, where Lunsford-Conaway disposed of Aliayah's body, D.C. alleged.
Emotions were running high during the testimony, as the teenage girl broke down under cross-examination from defense attorney Tom Dyer.
Dyer asked D.C., who has since assumed the last name of her adoptive father, to re-enact the events of September 23, 2011.
"To pretend I'm my mother and hit my baby sister with a wood slab on the head?" D.C. said, weeping.
The jury also heard from Craig Cole, who testified that in October 2016, DC revealed to him what she knew about Aliayah's disappearance.
The trial is expected to last two weeks, with nearly 70 witnesses set to testify.
Testimony is underway in the Lena Lunsford Conaway murder trial, which was delayed Monday morning due to flooding.
Part of I-79 near Weston was closed in the morning after heavy rain left standing water on the roadway.
The trial was supposed to begin at 9 a.m., but the jury did not enter the courtroom until about 9:45 a.m.
Judge Jacob Reger said he received a call at around 6 a.m. regarding concerns over the weather.
However, lawyers for both the defense and the state, as well as the jurors, were able to attend.
The trial began with an opening statement from Prosecuting Attorney Christina Flanigan, who argued that on September 23, 2011, Lena Lunsford Conaway, 35, struck her three-year-old 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, known as "DC," was nine years old at the time of the alleged incident. She testified Monday that Aliayah was struggling to get up, but her mother ordered the child to stay in a corner for hours. Later that night, the girls felt Aliayah’s head and said it was “squishy,” according to the daughter’s testimony.
The next morning, she said, Lunsford Conaway asked her two daughters to wake up Aliayah. After Aliayah showed no signs of responding, the girls went to retrieve their mother, who brought Aliayah’s body into the bathroom.
In her testimony, the now 15-year-old daughter said Lunsford-Conaway tried to resuscitate Aliayah. When that failed, she said, Lunsford-Conaway put Aliayah’s body and clothes in a hamper.
The daughter testified that Lunsford Conaway took the hamper, and ordered her and her sister to get into the van. She alleged that they drove to a remote area in Vadis, where her mother got out of the car and took the hamper into the woods. When she returned, her daughter testified, Lunsford-Conaway urged the girls to promise to keep what happened as a secret and to pretend that they didn’t know where the girl was that morning.
That is—until October 2016, when Flanigan said the girls "couldn’t keep their mother’s secret any longer." Lunsford Conaway was arrested in connection to Aliayah’s death the next month.
Lunsford Conaway is charged with four counts, including murder, in the 2011 disappearance and presumed death of three-year-old Aliayah Lunsford.
In his opening statements, defense attorney Tom Dyer implored jurors to keep an open mind. He also said that in his 30 years as a lawyer, this is the “most complicated mess” and “saddest” case in which he’s been involved.
The trial is expected to last two weeks.