WESTON, W.Va. — The children knew what fate had befallen their 3-year-old sister but were too frightened to come forward in the immediate aftermath of Aliayah Lunsford’s death, Lewis County prosecuting attorney Christina Flanagan told jurors Monday.
The defense simply asked jurors to keep an open mind throughout the expected two-week trial of Lena Lunsford, the mother accused of killing Aliayah on Sept. 23, 2011. The subject of a missing person’s search for five years, Aliayah’s whereabouts remain unknown.
DC, an older sister of Aliayah, testified she saw their mother strike the girl with the slab of a wooden bedpost.
“I saw the strike with my own two eyes,” she told the court.
DC, who has since taken the last name of her adoptive father, was 9 at the time of the alleged killing. She’s now 15.
She told the court that when she went to bed, Aliayah was still alive. She checked on her during the night, and said Aliayah was breathing.
By the next morning of Sept. 24, the 3-year-old girl was non-responsive, and DC told the court she saw Lena Lunsford conceal Aliayah’s body in a clothing hamper.
After the entire family drove 20 miles to a rural area called Vadis, DC said Lena Lunsford left the van with the hamper and returned covered in dirt.
“It seemed like forever,” DC testified.
DC recalled her mother asking the children to “promise that they wouldn’t tell anybody the events of what happened that day.”
“After everything was clean, we did the plan and then we called the police,” DC said. “I was afraid of making that promise, and that she would hurt us.”
The teenage witness broke down crying under cross-examination from defense attorney Tom Dyer — specifically when asked to re-enact the events of September 23, 2011.
“To pretend I’m my mother hitting my baby sister with a wood slab on the head?” DC said through tears.
The witness said her mother “very heavily cleaned the house” and “she seemed frenzied and worried” in the immediate aftermath of Aliayah’s disappearance.
Last October, some five years after the disappearance, DC told her adoptive father, Craig Cole, that she could no longer keep the secret.
“I know where Aliayah is,” she recounted telling him.
Cole also testified Monday, becoming tearful when describing how DC was kept the killing secret for years out of fear “Lena would track her down and kill her.”
Former Lewis County Sheriff’s deputy Mike Posey recounted the first days of the investigation, finding no indication of a break-in at the Lunsfords’ home in Bendale.
When officers examined video from nearby businesses, time-stamped footage from Sept. 24 indicate the family van was away from the home for hours before Lunsford called 911 pleading for police to “Please help me find her.”
Posey’s suspicion heightened when neighbors said they hadn’t heard Lena Lunsford out searching for the child or calling her name, directly contradicting her account to police.
After the jury heard the 911 call, they then were shown a two-hour interview between Lunsford and authorities at the State Police Barracks in Weston.
That interview occurred Sept. 26, 2011, two days after Aliayah was first reported missing.
“We were in the mindset that something was afoul,” Posey said.
They read Lunsford her Miranda Rights in the belief she may incriminate herself during the interview.
The interview grew testy, Posey said. An FBI agent accused her of lying, or at least withholding information, when she kept saying she didn’t know anything.
The trial resumes Tuesday morning, with Posey expected to continue testifying.
In earlier testimony, DC claimed her mother typically treated Aliayah more harshly than the other children.
“She was in trouble a lot and was made to drink salt water” as punishment, DC said. “I assumed it was because Lena was jealous of the relationship Aliayah held with her grandma.”
Among other signs that Aliayah was being singled out, DC said the missing child wasn’t allowed to eat with the family
“Whenever we’d eat, she wasn’t allowed to eat at the same time. Sometimes she would get to eat after. Sometimes she would not.”
Alex Wiederspiel and Brittany Murray contributed to this story.