Defense up next in Lunsford trial

The Free Press WV

The trial of Lena Lunsford resumes Monday morning in Lewis County Circuit Court with the defense scheduled to present its case.

The prosecution rested Friday morning after calling one of Lunsford’s daughters, identified as KC, to the stand as its final witness.

KC was 11 when her three-year-old sister Aliayah Lunsford disappeared in September 2011. KC, now 18, testified she didn’t see her mother hit Aliayah with a bed board but she heard it. She told the jury her sister was unresponsive the next morning and she went with her mother and siblings to a remote area. She testified her sister’s body was left there.

Defense attorney Tom Dyer’s cross-examination focused on Aliayah’s vomiting in previous days, raising the possibility she may have succumbed to sickness rather than the blunt force trauma prosecutors allege. Dyer pointed out how KC told police in 2016 about opting to sleep on the couch instead of the bedroom the daughters shared because Aliayah “was sicker than usual” that night.

The defense also highlighted KC clarifying her account of the fateful night after being foggy during previous interviews with police.

“That was a few years ago and memories change,” KC said. “The things that I tried to block out have come back.”

Dyer may only have a few witnesses when the trial resumes Monday morning in Weston. He told MetroNews last week it was doubtful he would put Lunsford on the stand.

If there are only a few witnesses it’s possible the jury, made up of 10 women and 2 men, could get the case late in the day.

~~  Jeff Jenkins, Allan Taylor   ~~

LGBTQ teens start tradition with state’s 1st ‘rainbow’ prom

The Free Press WV

For many teens the prom is the epitome of their high school experience. But for students who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and/or queer, it can be a challenge to feel like they belong. This year, some West Virginia students decided to start a new tradition: The Rainbow Formal, the state’s first dance for LGBTQ youth.

Last weekend’s event drew students from at least 10 counties to the student union at West Virginia State University. One of them, 15-year-old Steve Sartin from Mingo County, managed the jitters while adjusting his rainbow suspenders and rainbow Converse sneakers.

“I’ve never actually been to a dance with others before - like a big dance like this. And I’m kinda nervous that I’m going to embarrass myself,” said Steve, who is gay. “I know deep down inside myself I’m not doing to, but there’s that little anxiety that’s pushing up against me. But it’s gonna go away.”

Steve and the others in a new LGBTQ student group - so new it doesn’t have a name yet - come from at least three southern counties. Some attendees met to get ready at the Charleston office of the West Virginia chapter of the national Quaker humanitarian organization, the American Friends Service Committee, which is supporting their work.

Steve came out to his parents last year - first as bisexual, then as gay. His mother has been loving and supportive, but he and his LGBTQ friends are often teased at Tug Valley High School.

Other schools in West Virginia, such as Hurricane High School, are more accepting of LGBTQ populations, according to students. Sam Green, a junior there who is trans and helped to organize the Rainbow Formal, said while some of his peers in West Virginia might not experience a similarly supportive environment, they can be themselves at the dance.

“The goal is that one day we don’t need to have this, that students won’t have to worry about going to school or going to dances or anything like that and having to worry about it - being with someone - if it it’s a same-sex relationship or being transgender and anybody thinking poorly of that,” he said.

The overall outlook for some in the LGBTQ community includes some grim statistics. Four out of 10 LGBTQ youth say they live in a community that doesn’t accept their sexual orientation, according to Human Rights Campaign. Forty percent of trans adults have attempted suicide — most before the age of 25, according to a study from National Center for Transgender Equality.

Back in Charleston, Steve’s friend, Jazmine, waited patiently as her mom made ringlets in her mostly shaved ice-blue hair and set it with a blast of hairspray. A bright and soft-spoken senior from Boone County, Jazmine came out as bisexual two years ago and and now identifies as pansexual, a term used to describe people who are attracted to others regardless of their gender or gender identity. She didn’t want to use her last name because some members of her extended family don’t know she’s not straight.

Her mom, Tiffany, is the only parent here - although all of the students needed to get signed permission forms to attend the dance. Tiffany said she always helps her daughter get ready for dances. On this day, she helped Jazmine lace up the corset she paired with a bustle skirt, thigh-highs and Mom’s red heels.

“There’s nowhere I would be other than here today, because whether she’s going to Rainbow Formal or a traditional prom - or marrying a man or marrying a woman or whatever - I’m going to be there,” she said.

“I feel very accepted and encouraged to be myself,” her daughter said.

The students packed into a 12-passenger van when they finished getting ready. One reapplied one of her false eyelashes while another serenaded the group with a nearly flawless rendition of Bruno Mars’ “When I Was Your Man” on her ukulele.

Inside the student union, light from a disco ball bounced around the room and students lined up at the photo booth with props: a pink lei, an oversized pair of glasses and Mickey Mouse ears. Some held hands on their way to get snacks and others hung back to chat at tables.

Near the end of the night, a cascade of rainbow balloons fell over the crowd. Here, the teens said, is a place where they feel like they belong.

WV Miners Propose State Black Lung Program to Avoid Issues in Fed System

The Free Press WV

A group of miners has put forward a plan for a state black lung program. It would solve problems in the federal system they say now stop miners from getting benefits.

Eighty percent of the funds in the federal black lung program go to doctors, lawyers, judges and bureaucrats, according to Charles “Hawkeye” Dixon, financial secretary at the UMWA local in Matewan.

Dixon said he helped write the state proposal because it’s difficult to see miners struggle in a federal system dominated by coal companies and their hired professionals.

“It’s somewhere between sickening and just pure frustration,” Dixon said. “We have miners who have died, been autopsies preformed showing that they’re eat up with black lung, have never qualified for a monthly benefit.“

Industry lawyers argue the complex medical and legal hurdles are needed to weed out undeserving applicants.

Dixon said rather than making miners prove total disability, as is now the case, their program would assume a miner has black lung after ten years of exposure. A bill outlining the proposal led the Legislature to call for an interim study.

Miners seeking federal benefits most often represent themselves, and are opposed by doctors and lawyers hired by the company to help the firm avoid paying benefits to former employees.

Danny Whitt of Red Jacket has spent 24 years as an underground miner. He said he’s applied three times under the federal system, getting more or less the same answer.

“’Yes, Mr. Whitt, you have black lung, but you’re not completely disabled.’ Packet of paper about three inches thick with all these results and stuff,” Whitt said; “but the only thing you really understand out of all of this is they’re denying you your black lung benefits.“

According to Dixon, their state system wouldn’t pay as much as the federal system, but with a much simpler application process, more of the funding would go to the miners.

“It would be a far less benefit than the federal, but it would be something for those miners,” Dixon said; “lots - if not most - that have 30, 40, some 50 years exposure that’s not getting anything.“

Dixon said the state plan could be funded by taxing rising forms of energy - wind, solar and gas. Or, he said, West Virginia could recapture some of the money he said the feds waste.

Most West Virginia community colleges to hike fees

The Free Press WV

All but one of West Virginia’s public community and technical colleges are planning to increase tuition and fees for associate’s degrees.

West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission official Matt Turner tells The Charleston Gazette-Mail that the Community and Technical College System presumes the colleges have already approved the average increase of 2.6 percent. CTSC data shows the average yearly cost will increase to $4,040 next academic year.

Eastern West Virginia is the only school that will not raise tuition and fees.

Mountwest is implementing the highest proposed increase, at 7.2 percent, which comes around to $270. That hike brings its annual cost to $4,014, still slightly below the average.

Despite passing the state Senate, a bill to make such colleges tuition-free failed in the House of Delegates this legislative session.

Locations Picked for Hearings on Insurance Funding Solution

The Free Press WV

A task force subcommittee has chosen 22 locations across West Virginia to hold public hearings on an insurance program for West Virginia teachers and other public employees.

A public outreach subcommittee of the Public Employees Insurance Agency task force met Thursday in Charleston. It chose the communities for the meetings later this spring, and the staff of the governor’s office would schedule dates and meeting places.

Task force members say the meetings would be held either on Saturdays or weekday evenings.

Gov. Jim Justice and the Legislature agreed to freeze PEIA premiums, deductibles and co-pays for the coming year and provided $29 million in supplemental funding. Teachers want a more permanent funding fix.

Justice also signed a 5 percent pay raise for teachers last month to end their nine-day strike.

Prison time turns West Virginia man from addict to counselor

The Free Press WV

While a lifetime of bad decisions and mistakes can lead some down a path to self-destruction, Bill Dickey found himself crawling right back up that road late in life.

Dickey’s bad decisions would eventually lead to his own arrest and imprisonment, and maybe it was because his past life was so rough, but he remembers his arrest as the best possible outcome.

“Being in jail was probably the best thing that ever happened to me,” Dickey said. “You’d think being married would be the best day, graduating college two times would be. Mine was going to prison, and forcing me to look at myself for the first time. I had to take responsibility for the decisions I was making.”

Though his past was rife with the results and consequences of all these bad decisions, being imprisoned would overall help Dickey put a stop to this behavior, and the self-hatred it made him feel.

That’s because they don’t give you access to pills, opiates and other drugs in prison, which had been a few of Dickey’s biggest vices since he was in high school.

“Thank God I ended up in jail,” Dickey said. “That was like a long-term rehab for me. I started going to 12-step programs, they made you do that.”

Dickey was in prison from 2005 to 2007. Now at the age of 54, Dickey has been sober for more than 10 years and uses his experience from overcoming his addictions to help others do the same, guiding 12-step recovery programs in Fairmont, including at the Day Report at the Courthouse Annex. He provides desperate individuals with the support that he himself once received to get out of his situation.

“One of the things I teach guys today is that your best thinking got you there, your best thinking can’t get you out of it,” Dickey said. “You have to get help from another source.”

Dickey explained that addictions like these don’t come overnight, and in his case, develop because of personal and mental issues that manifest in childhood.

Speaking of his own experience, Dickey said he was introduced to drugs like alcohol in his childhood. Leading up to this introduction, his home life did not provide him with a healthy developmental environment, to say the least.

“We learn most from the same-sex parent,” Dickey said. “How to be a man, how to treat women, that aspect I never had that. My father never had a job for very long because of his alcoholism. So i grew up in fear — scared to death of people.”

Dickey said he never felt any sign of affection in this household, and his mental state would never be reassured in any kind of loving way.

“I didn’t have anybody to bounce off of, I didn’t have any support whatsoever as far as teaching me things,” Dickey said.

As he grew up and into high school, Dickey’s teen years would see this lack of support grow into self-destructive behavior in the name of mental relief, which would come in the form of drugs.

“I was kind of lost and didn’t have the ability to overcome that,” Dickey said. “When I did drugs or if I drank I felt normal, like I fit in somewhere.”

Dickey explained that he would still get by in high school and even college and grad school while using, and even employed his same methods in the military to continue his lifestyle.

“I would party on the weekends, I would do that for years,” Dickey, who said he served in the military from 1986-1988, said.

Though he was already exhibiting some self-destructive behavior through drugs and alcohol, it wasn’t until he was forcibly introduced to opiates that he began their consumption.

“I was in a car wreck, which messed my back up and shoulders up and for the first time in my life I took pain pills,” Dickey said. “I didn’t even really know what they were. I’d heard of them but I didn’t realize the addictive quality they had. Before too long I was doing a script a week.”

But from just looking at Dickey and the place he was in life at this point, no one would ever think to detect his reliance on these substances, nor the less-than legal methods of obtaining them.

“I had already had my Master’s degree in rehab counseling and teaching degree from Fairmont State,” Dickey said. “I was kind of the odd person out as far as addictions go. Even when I was in prison they would say ‘What are you doing here?’”

Once he was hooked on prescribed opiates, Dickey found no trouble in keeping them supplied for consumption, which he said is one of the biggest problems in the modern drug climate. He cited a loophole which individuals can exploit in cash clinics as one of the biggest problems.

“It was so easy,” Dickey said. “There was a time you could send paperwork down to Florida, and they would send you your pills. I would contact three or four of those different companies and give them the same paperwork… and all three would send me pills.”

Dickey would be arrested in 2005 for the distribution of opiates, as he would use a cut of his own supply to make money to buy more.

The programs Dickey went through in prison would be the ones to help him recognize and reverse some of his biggest personality defects, which he admitted were his cockiness and frustration.

“I had to become the best version of myself,” Dickey said. “That meant I had to learn about what was causing me to make bad decisions.”

The recovery road was difficult for Dickey, especially when it came to opening up and recognizing his own faults. But this would also play into his reintroduction to the working world, and he now runs a private practice and has a contracting job with the state Department of Corrections.

In addition to finding his calling through his rehabilitation, Dickey was also able to care for his father-in-law and mother in his and his wife’s home in recent years, which would not have been possible in his previous state.

“My father-in-law got ill and we moved him in downstairs and we took care of him until he passed,” Dickey said. “My mother had a stroke right after that and we had to move her in. If I was still out there doing the things I did I wouldn’t be able to help them and take care of them.”

Coming back from his life of addiction and abuse has made Dickey concerned for others who are currently or potentially heading for a worse fate than his own. His main goal now is preventing drug and opioid-related deaths, by working with individuals in rehab programs and relaying his story.

Moreover, he wants to be the support for the ones who need it, just as he received support in his time of crisis.

“I’m using my teaching degree, I’m using my counseling degree for good,” Dickey said. “Most people who are addicts have similar faults and similar defects and come out of similar situations, so if I can help people identify those and turn all the negativity into positivity, that’s what my goals are today.”

Group dedicates 50th wooden bridge built for flood survivors

The Free Press WV

A disaster response group says it has completed its 50th private bridge in West Virginia as part of a rebuilding project after severe flooding in recent years.

The West Virginia Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster, or VOAD, and its partners celebrated the milestone Thursday in the Clay County community of Ivydale.

The organization says in a news release the dedication was for a family whose private access bridge was destroyed in June 2016.

The wooden bridges are for families who couldn’t replace the structures outside their homes on their own. The statement says the project started in 2015. The bridges built so far in nine counties have ranged in length from 12 to 90 feet (4 to 30 meters). Funding has come from churches and other groups.

Teachers Use Social Media in US Uprisings, Fight for Funding

The Free Press WV

The public education uprisings that began in West Virginia and spread to Arizona, Oklahoma and Kentucky share similar origin stories.

Teachers, long tired of low wages and a dearth of state funding, begin talking to each other online.

Their Facebook groups draw tens of thousands of members. They share stories of their frustrations and then they demand change.

Kentucky public school employee Nema Brewer co-founded the KY120 United Facebook group that drew more than 40,000 members in a month. Teachers there are calling for more education funding, triggering actions that forced more than 30 schools to close last Friday.

“We had no idea it would light a fire under people,“ Brewer said.

Educators communicating online played a key role in forming grassroots groups that are storming statehouses and holding demonstrations. It started in West Virginia, where two teachers set up a private Facebook page last fall that grew to 24,000 members. The group provided a private forum for educators to plot strategy, bolster resistance and plan demonstrations. After they went on strike and won a pay raise, educators elsewhere took notice.

Jennifer Grygiel, a communications and social media professor at Syracuse University, said people are increasingly realizing they can coordinate online for social causes, such as the #MeToo movement. Engaging online can also be a way for people to form their own identities, she said. “It’s where we congregate now.“

In Arizona, teachers formed a Facebook group called Arizona Educators United that now has more than 40,000 members. Co-founder Noah Karvelis said social media has been “incredibly vital.“ He said the first #RedforEd demonstration day was Twitter-driven.

Most recently, the group used Facebook Live to share news of a planned vote on whether to strike in their quest for a 20-percent raise and more than $1 billion in new education funding. Voting started Tuesday after Gov. Doug Ducey has put forward a proposal to raise salaries 20 percent by 2020 and the voting was scheduled to end Thursday.

The online genesis of the Arizona movement cropped up outside of organized labor. But Arizona Education Association President Joe Thomas said the union stands in solidary with the grassroots group. He spoke at a rally where Arizona Educators United unveiled their demands, joined them in a letter to Ducey asking for a meeting, and appeared in a video on the Facebook page.

He called Arizona Educators United a “breath of fresh air” in the fight for higher education funding.

“It shares the same purpose, and that’s why I think we can stand so easily next to each other,“ he said. “I’ve said multiple times, ‘I don’t care who throws the touchdown, I want to win the game.‘“

Tammy Custis has been acting as a site liaison for Arizona Educators at the school where she teaches in Peoria. In addition to staying tuned into the main Facebook group and a few other discussion pages, she’s using communication apps to stay in touch with teachers at her school about organizing efforts so they don’t have to use district resources. Online platforms have been key to staying connected, she said.

“It’s amazing how engaged these already-so-busy-teachers are in this fight,“ she said. “They are finding a way to get their teaching done, and still finding time to have a voice.“

In Oklahoma, eighth-grade history teacher Alberto Morejon in early March founded the Facebook group supporting a teacher walk-out that’s now being used by about 80,000 teachers. Morejon, who said he doesn’t belong to a union, is continuing to push for new funding for public education.

“We’re going to keep showing up until they do something,“ he said.

Once it started, the group grew quickly; within six hours of adding members to the newly created group, it had 17,000 members.

“I think it shows there’s a problem, and it needs to be fixed,“ Morejon said.

Beth Becker, a social media coach and strategist in progressive politics, said that social media is “the great democratizer” and thus a powerful organizing tool.

“It has given a voice to people who in the past didn’t have a voice, because they didn’t have that $1 million to buy a member of Congress with,“ she said.

But online activism can’t be the sole front, she said. Marches and demonstrations are still necessary to draw attention to a cause, Becker said, citing the Parkland, Florida, students becoming activists to change gun laws and spurring the March for Our Lives.

“You’re not going to win just because of your social media or anything online, but you’re not going to win without it,“ she said.

West Virginia University Seminar Set on Climate Change, Food

The Free Press WV

A Cornell University researcher will be at West Virginia University for a seminar on the effects of climate change on food supplies.

WVU says Michael Hoffmann will lead the discussion Tuesday on topics including the basics of climate change, how changing climate affects the food supply and research that leads to new solutions and practices.

Hoffmann is executive director of the Cornell Institute for Climate Smart Solutions.

The WVU Institute of Water Security and Science, the Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design and the WVU Media Innovation Center are hosting the seminar, which starts at 3 p.m. It is free and open to the public.

Motion Seeks to Erase Ex-Massey CEO Blankenship’s Conviction

The Free Press WV

Attorneys for former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship are seeking to erase his misdemeanor conviction related to the deadliest U.S. mine disaster in four decades. A former lead prosecutor called it a desperate act.

A motion filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Charleston claims federal prosecutors withheld information that would have assisted in Blankenship’s defense at his lengthy 2015 trial. It said the government produced reports and other information after the trial’s completion.

Blankenship, who has long maintained he didn’t get a fair trial, served one year in prison for a misdemeanor conviction related to the 2010 explosion that killed 29 men at the Upper Big Branch mine in southern West Virginia.

Blankenship assembled a new legal team for the latest court filing, which said evidence withheld by prosecutors until after trial “would have tipped the balance in Mr. Blankenship’s favor.“

The motion, which seeks an evidentiary hearing, was announced by Blankenship through his U.S. Senate campaign. He’s running as a Republican in the May 8 primary in West Virginia.

Former assistant U.S. attorney Steve Ruby, who was the lead prosecutor at the trial, said in an email to The Associated Press that the motion is “clearly a political Hail Mary. He’s three weeks from an election, and it sounds like he’s behind in the polls. If there were any merit to this whatsoever, he’d have filed it while he was still in prison instead of waiting almost until Election Day.“

Current U.S. Attorney Mike Stuart, who was nominated by President Donald Trump last year, said his office wants to “ensure justice is the ultimate result and any response (to the filing) will be through our actions with the court at the appropriate time.“

Blankenship was convicted of a misdemeanor charge of conspiring to willfully violate safety standards.

According to the motion, Mark Clemens, who oversaw Massey’s production, sales and budgeting, said in an interview previously undisclosed by prosecutors that “there was pressure at Massey to run coal, but not enough pressure to overlook safety.“

The motion said many of the documents involved interviews with people who testified at the trial. Among them was Christopher Blanchard, who ran the Massey subsidiary that oversaw Upper Big Branch.

Blanchard testified under an immunity agreement with the government but helped the defense during almost five days of cross-examination. He previously told Blankenship’s attorneys that he himself didn’t break any laws and denied being involved in a conspiracy with Blankenship to violate safety regulations.

The motion said most of the previously undisclosed emails were written by former FBI Special Agent James Lafferty, who testified about a variety of investigation topics, from Blankenship’s compensation to his frequent receipt of reports detailing Upper Big Branch’s violations.

The documents also cited former Massey safety expert William Ross, who gave a tough review of the company’s safety shortcomings. While talking about a 2009 meeting with Blankenship, Ross testified he told Blankenship that Massey couldn’t “afford to have a disaster.“

Four investigations found worn and broken cutting equipment created a spark that ignited accumulations of coal dust and methane gas at Upper Big Branch. Broken and clogged water sprayers then allowed what should have been a minor flare-up to become an inferno.

During the trial, prosecutors called Blankenship a bullish micromanager who meddled in the smallest details of Upper Big Branch. They said Massey’s safety programs were just a facade — never backed by more money to hire additional miners or take more time on safety tasks.

Blankenship’s attorneys rested their case without calling a single witness on his behalf.

Hepatitis A Outbreak Reported in Two WV Counties

The Free Press WV

A health department spokesman in West Virginia says more than 20 cases of acute Hepatitis A have been confirmed in Kanawha and Putnam counties since January.

The Kanawha-Charleston Health Department says in a news release that the recent cases are linked to a multistate outbreak.

Prior to January, the department said no confirmed cases had been reported in more than two years.

The Kentucky Department for Public Health says 311 cases had been reported in six counties, including one death. Among other states that have seen recent outbreak are California, Indiana, Michigan and Utah.

Hepatitis A is transmitted by oral contact with fecal matter. It attacks the liver and causes symptoms including abdominal pain, nausea, diarrhea, fever and jaundice.

Attorney General Morrisey Pill Mill Lawsuit Yields $550K Settlement

The Free Press WV

West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey reached a $550,000 settlement with a pharmacy that stood accused of providing nearly 10 million doses of highly addictive prescription painkillers in just 11 years – all for a county with fewer than 25,000 residents.

The settlement resolves allegations that Larry’s Drive-In Pharmacy, of Boone County, helped fuel the state’s opioid crisis. The nearly 10 million doses it allegedly dispensed proved far greater than the county’s 11 other retail pharmacies, including three operated by national chains.

“Every aspect of the pharmaceutical supply chain bears responsibility the senseless death brought upon our state,” Attorney General Morrisey said. “This settlement demonstrates my commitment to go after all parties, regardless of size, to ensure their conduct adhere to best practices so that our state can reach her full potential.”

Larry’s Drive-In Pharmacy was among three sued in less than a month between December 2016 and January 2017. Lawsuits against the others – Crab Orchard Pharmacy Inc. of Raleigh County and Judy’s Drug Store Inc. of Grant County – continue.

The Attorney General alleged Larry’s Drive-In Pharmacy failed to identify suspicious prescriptions or determine whether it was dispensing a suspicious number of pills.

The eight-count civil complaint charged Larry’s Drive-In Pharmacy with violations of the state’s Consumer Protection and Credit Act, as well as unfair methods of competition, negligence, unjust enrichment, creating a public nuisance and intentional acts and omissions.

Larry’s Drive-In Pharmacy denied any allegation of liability or wrongdoing as part of the settlement. It permanently ceased operations during the course of the state’s litigation. 

Lunsford Trial: there are holes in both the statements Lunsford made…

The Free Press WV

Prosecutors believe they found significant holes in the story that Lena Lunsford-Conaway told police about Aliayah Lunsford’s disappearance on Sept. 24, 2011, highlighting discrepancies in the defendant’s claim her 3-year-old daughter was kidnapped.

On Tuesday, the second day of Lunsford’s murder trial, five members of law enforcement from local, state, and federal agencies testified about the early phase of the investigation.

FBI special agent Fred Aldridge told the court it seemed highly unlikely a kidnapper could have removed Aliayah from her bed, considering two of her siblings were sleeping nearby in the same room. Noting that the screen door to their Bendale home made significant noise when it was opened or closed, Aldridge suggested someone would have been heard breaking in — and there were no signs a break-in had occurred.

Weston police chief Josh Thomas also testified, mostly reading Lena Lunsford’s statement about the events of Sept. 23, 2011 and the following day when she called 911 to report her daughter missing.

Christopher Smith of the West Virginia state police testified about the protocol of searching homes in missing children cases.

The prosecution played audio recordings of a drive Lunsford took with an FBI agent following Aliayah’s disappearance. The FBI agent said the point of the ride-along was to establish a timeline and see where the mother to claimed to have looked for Aliayah.

The agent noted that Lunsford’s search consisted of mostly driving, with no searching on foot. She claimed she had “tunnel vision” and just hoped “someone had seen her.”

The defense, led by attorney Tom Dyer, is arguing that without a body, there’s no actual evidence the crime took place other than Monday’s testimony from the witness identified as DC, Aliayah’s sister, who was 9 at the time of the alleged killing and is now age 15.

DC testified that she witnessed their mother strike Aliayah in the head with a wooden bed slat.

State Police Sgt. Shannon Loudin recounted discrepancies, including that Lena Lunsford told police she had been looking for Aliayah around 9:30 Saturday, Sept. 24. Video surveillance shows the Lunsford family van leaving their Bendale home at 9:13 and going directly out of town.

At 11:27 a.m., the Lunsford van returned to their Bendale home. At 11:31 a.m., Lunsford called 911.

DC told the court Monday that the family was in the van with Lena Lunsford, en route to a small community called Vadis. She claims that’s where Lena Lunsford buried the remains of Aliayah.

Loudin recalled interviewing two of Lunsford’s other children during the initial investigation in 2011, sensing that their stories felt rehearsed and emotionless at the time.

Over the ensuing months and years, Loudin followed up on tips provided to law enforcement. Each one was disproved, including a wild claim that Aliayah had been seen at Disney World.

But he believed the information he received from DC in October 2016 might have panned out. Loudin said DC and another sibling, known as KC, were able to separately bring investigators to the same location where they claimed Aliayah’s body had been left in 2011.

It was Loudin who served the warrant for Lunsford-Conaway’s arrest in Florida in November 2016. He recalled her reaction upon seeing him:

“She said, ‘Oh my God. Did you find Aliayah? Am I in trouble?‘”

Under cross-examine of Loudin, the defense suggested that there remains no evidence Lena Lunsford killed her daughter, no evidence that — if dead — Aliayah died from a blow to the head, and that the wooden bed slat never was taken into evidence.

Because Aliayah had been suffering from the flu at the time of her disappearance, Dyer raised the possibility that medication could have proved lethal.

Loudin testified that there is a “slim chance” of police finding Lunsford’s body in the Vadis area, due to the time that had passed since the disappearance. He suggested they might find bones and hair.

Following the conclusion of the second day of the trial, Judge Jacob E. Reger told the jury that the prosecution was “flying through the witness list” and he did not expect the trial to last the projected two weeks.

~~  Alex Wiederspiel, Brittany Murray, and Carrie Hodousek ~~

Citing Opioid Crisis, Feds Seek Rule Change for Drugmakers

The Free Press WV

Drugmakers would be required to identify the legitimate need for controlled substances to justify their production under a proposed rule intended to rein in the diversion of drugs for illicit purposes.

The Drug Enforcement Administration announced the proposed rule change Tuesday.

According to the DEA, current regulations were issued in 1971 but need to be updated to reflect the nation’s opioid abuse crisis and changes in the manufacture of controlled substances.

West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey sought to limit how many opioid pills can be manufactured each year. Morrisey has said evidence of diversion had been ignored for years.

The proposed rule seeks input from states and federal agencies.

West Virginia Suffers Record Number of Fatal Drug Overdoses

The Free Press WV

Cabell County is leading West Virginia in the number of fatal overdoses for the second year in a row.

Citing state data, 909 people died of drug overdoses in West Virginia in 2017, an increase from the previous record of 887, set in 2016. Overdose deaths seemed to slow during late 2017, though the state Health Statistics Center says that could be due to reporting delays.

Last year’s increase was fueled by fentanyl-caused overdose deaths. But the center’s data also show a rise in non-opioid drug overdose deaths from methamphetamine, amphetamine and cocaine. Cabell County reports a 35 percent drop in overdoses so far this year, compared to 2017.

West Virginia has the highest overdose death rate in the country.

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