Alex Wiederspiel/WVMetroNews.com

Lena Marie Lunsford-Conaway

WESTON, W.Va. — Lena Lunsford-Conaway will at least have to sit through a jury selection, a Lewis County judge determined Monday.

Circuit Court Judge Jacob Reger refused to grant the defense’s motion for a venue change in the case of Lunsford’s missing daughter, Aliayah, who is presumed dead.

Lunsford-Conaway is accused of hitting her then-three-year-old daughter in the head with a blunt object in the early morning hours of September 24, 2011. Investigators claim the former Lewis County woman, arrested in Florida November 2016, also refused to provide medical treatment to her ailing daughter. Aliayah Lunsford is presumed dead, but no remains have ever been discovered.

MetroNews file photo

Aliayah Lunsford, 3, was last seen at her family’s home in Bendale on September 24, 2011.

The venue change was requested by defense attorneys Tom and Zach Dyer, claiming Lunsford-Conaway would not be met with an impartial jury. Their request to use a taxpayer-funded jury consultant to provide evidence of their claim was denied last year.

“Judge Reger feels strongly that we need to make an effort in the court to pick a jury from Lewis County,” Tom Dyer said. “He had been discouraging any direct surveys all along, and we respected that. We understood his reasoning behind that.”

Local media outlets are reporting that the defense used comments from social media and local media websites to suggest that Lunsford wouldn’t receive a fair trial.

“We presented a significant amount of social media from cyber space, so to speak, for him to consider, which we believed demonstrated a pervasive negative sentiment about the defendant throughout the area,” Dyer said.

Dyer said jury selection will begin in February.

“(Reger) will reconsider the motion to change venue at that time after we begin the efforts to pick a jury in Lewis County,” he said. “In a case of this magnitude, it could take a couple days to seat a jury, and this trial may take three, four or five weeks. That would be typical. We’re going to need to be very careful in selecting this jury to make sure we get an impartial group, so it could take some time.”

Lunsford is charged with murder of a child by a parent, guardian, or custodian, or other person, by refusal or failure to provide necessities; one count of death of a child by parent, guardian, or custodian, or other person, by child abuse; one count of child abuse resulting in injury; and one count of concealment of a deceased human body.

Lunsford-Conaway will return to court Jan. 31 for a pre-trial motions hearing. The trial is scheduled to begin Feb. 13.

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