The West Virginia Supreme Court this week unanimously upheld the conviction of a Lewis County woman who was convicted in 2018 of killing her 3-year-old daughter.
The court affirmed the conviction of Lena Marie Conaway, who previously went by Lena Lunsford, after Conaway appealed her convictions for murder and other charges.
Conaway, 37, appealed her conviction on nine points, chief among them being that the body of 3-year-old Aliayah Paige Lunsford has not been recovered.
The court issued a memorandum opinion Thursday with the justices ruling 5-0 on the case. The Supreme Court issues memorandum opinions in cases for which the justices don’t hear oral arguments to provide a brief explanation of their position on the case.
Conaway’s attorneys argued there is no proof a crime occurred because her daughter, alive or dead, has not been recovered since she was reported missing from the family’s home in Weston on the morning of Sept. 24, 2011.
Conaway said in her appeal that the testimony of her two older daughters, Aliayah’s older sisters, was “inherently improbable and incredible.”
The court found that it was within the province of the jury to decide whether the girls’ testimony was credible, and “the jury chose to credit their testimony,” the justices said in the 9-page opinion.
The court also found Conaway’s claims regarding issues with testimony from the West Virginia State Police, jury selection and the location of the trial did not violate her right to due process.
Conaway’s two oldest daughters were preteens when their little sister was reported missing in 2011.
By the time they testified in their mother’s trial in the Lewis County Judicial Annex in April 2018, the older daughters were in high school and living with their adoptive family.
One daughter testified that they saw Conaway hit Aliayah in the head with a bed slat on Sept. 23, 2011, and the other said she heard only a thud inside their home in Bendale, 2 miles south of Weston. Conaway lived in the house with her husband and five children.
The daughters testified that Conaway was more short with Aliayah than the rest of the children, and the punishments for the 3-year-old were more harsh than those of her siblings.
The girls testified that, when they woke up on the morning of Sept. 24, 2011, they found Aliayah unresponsive. They said Conaway attempted to revive Aliayah to no avail.
Both girls said Conaway never called 911 or sought other help for Aliayah.
In a “frenzied” state, they said, Conaway put Aliayah in a hamper with dirty laundry and took them, their infant brother and Aliayah, inside the laundry basket, to Vadis, about 30 minutes west of Weston.
Down an unmarked road, the girls said, Conaway took Aliayah’s body in the laundry basket into the woods but neither saw what their mother did with their sister.
Both girls said Conaway eventually came back with the basket and without Aliayah. They said she had dirt on her shirt and hands.
On the way home, they said, Conaway made them promise not to tell anyone what happened.
Conaway reported Aliayah missing at 11:30 a.m. Sept. 24. She told police that she realized Aliayah was gone at 9:30 a.m.
In October 2016, the younger of Aliayah’s older sisters testified, she told their adoptive father that she knew what had happened to Aliayah. They reported the information to authorities the next day.
Conaway was arrested in Florida shortly thereafter. A Lewis County grand jury indicted her in March 2017.
A jury of 10 women and two men convicted Conaway of first-degree murder, child abuse causing death, child abuse resulting in injury and concealment of a deceased human body, after about two hours and 15 minutes of deliberation on April 24, 2018.
The jury did not recommend mercy for Conaway, meaning she would not become eligible for parole.
On July 2, 2018, Lewis Circuit Judge Jacob Reger sentenced Conaway to life in prison for murder, plus 40 years for the other convictions, with those sentences to be served consecutively.
Conaway is serving her sentence in Lakin Correctional Center, in Mason County.