UPDATE: Lunsford defense attorney: 'We have no evidence of a cause of death'
The defense attorney for Lena Lunsford Conaway cast doubt Tuesday on the prosecution's argument that the defendant hit her three-year-old daughter Aliayah with a wooden bed slab and then disposed of her body the next day.
Defense attorney Tom Dyer has yet to call any witnesses, but his strategy began to take shape Tuesday, during his cross-examination of State Police Sergeant Shannon Loudin.
Loudin, who was in charge of his agency's investigation into Aliayah's 2011 disappearance and called by the state Tuesday, testified that he interviewed two of Lunsford's children a day after Aliayah was reported missing.
He said he grew suspicious during the course of the interview, noticing that the answers the two girls gave "seemed scripted," and that they lacked emotion and seemed "numb."
Loudin interviewed the girls again in October 2016, when they alleged Lunsford had hit Aliayah with the slab on September 23, 2011. They told police that Aliayah was unresponsive the next morning. After failing to revive the toddler, Lunsford ordered the girls into the family van and drove to Vadis, where they allege she disposed of Aliayah's body.
Dyer, however, pointed out that because Aliayah's body has never been found, there is no evidence of a cause of death. He also noted that the wooden slab in question was never entered into evidence.
"What evidence do we have that this strike to the crown to the head was a cause of death?" Dyer asked.
Without a body or remains, Dyer argued, it is difficult to prove a crime was committed.
In November 2016, Loudin traveled to Florida to execute an arrest warrant on Lunsford. He recalled the moment she laid eyes on him.
"Oh my God, did you find Aliayah?" Lunsford asked. "Am I in trouble?"
Loudin was one of several law enforcement officials who testified Tuesday about the early days of the investigation.
FBI Special Agent Fred Aldridge said police never found evidence that anyone broke into the Lunsford home. He also brought up the loud noise the front screen door makes when it closes, suggesting that if someone did get into the home, a family member would have noticed.
Several of the state's witnesses, including Aldridge and Loudin, have testified about "inconsistencies" in Lunsford's account of the events of September 24, 2011, as well as her "cold" demeanor in the wake of Aliayah's disappearance.
Loudin testified that at some point during the initial days of the investigation, he noticed a camera on a pole owned by the Division of Highways. That pole was near the Lunsford home on Dennison Street.
Lunsford had told police she was looking for Aliyah at about 9:30 a.m. on September 24. According to Loudin, video surveillance showed Lunsford leaving her home in her van at 9:13 a.m. The footage showed the van returning at 11:27 a.m. The first 911 call from Lunsford came at 11:31 a.m. that morning.
Loudin also testified that the cameras did not capture Aliayah leaving the home.
Testimony will continue Wednesday. Before dismissing the jury for the night Tuesday, Judge Jacob Reger told the court that he expected the trial to conclude earlier than he initially anticipated.
Testimony in the Lena Lunsford Conaway trial continued Tuesday, as State Police Sergeant Shannon Loudin took the witness stand to testify about the exhaustive search for Aliayah and subsequent investigation into Lena Lunsford’s possible role in the three-year-old’s disappearance.
Sgt. Loudin, who was assigned as the case agent in charge of State Police’s investigation, recalled interviewing Aliayah’s two older siblings, ages 9 and 11 at the time, the day after Aliayah was reported missing.
He testified that their answers appeared to be “very scripted” and believed that the girls had been coached prior to their interview with authorities.
On the first day of the trial, D.C., one of Aliayah’s sisters, testified that she and her older sister witnessed Lena Lunsford strike Aliayah in the head, and the next morning traveled with their mother to conceal Aliayah’s body. D.C. alleges that Lunsford ordered them to keep what happened a secret.
Sgt. Loudin also testified that in the days and weeks after Aliayah was first reported missing, Police grew more skeptical about Lunsford’s account of the events on the morning of September 24, 2011.
Police had obtained surveillance footage from a camera on a DOH pole near Lunsford’s home on Dennison Street in Bendale. Sgt. Loudin said on September 24, the camera showed the Lunsford van leave the street on 9:13 a.m. The van isn’t seen again until 11:27 a.m. The first 911 call from Lunsford came a few minutes later.
During cross-examination, defense attorney Tom Dyer tried to cast doubt on the state’s theory that Lunsford killed Aliayah and disposed of her body.
He asserted that since a body has never been found, there is no evidence of a cause of death.
“What evidence do we have that this strike to the crown of the head was a cause of death?” Dyer asked, rhetorically.
Judge Jacob Reger indicated to the jury Tuesday that he doesn’t expect the trial to last as long as originally anticipated. He said lawyers on both sides advised him that while they expect to go into next week, they don’t believe it will last as long as 2-3 weeks. The judge said he could not reveal the reasons behind that.”
For a recap of the trial's first day, you can visit the Related Story.