1980s Kanawha County murder case has striking similarities to Lunsford killing

In a case much like the Lena Lunsford investigation, Diana Welker was convicted of first-degree murder for killing her 4-year-old daughter, whose body was never found. Her conviction was later overturned ,but she pleaded guilty to second degree murder. (WCHS/WVAH)

On Tuesday, Lewis County jurors said they believed Lena Lunsford should never be allowed out of prison.

The no mercy decision on the murder charge came down after only 20 minutes of deliberation following testimony from several witnesses. Only one person testified for Lunsford, saying she should be given the chance at parole after 15 years.

She will sentenced in June on the four charges related to the murder of her daughter, Aliayah Lunsford, that she was convicted of this week after a six-day trial in Weston.

It's not the first time a jury has convicted someone of murder without a body in West Virginia. A case in Kanawha County in the 1980s bears remarkable similarities to the Lunsford case.

It was a cold February day in 1984 when Diana Welker reported her daughter Patricia, 4, missing.

Welker claimed to not know where her daughter was but offered several explanations that all turned out to be false. After a search for the girl, she confessed to West Virginia State Police that she and her boyfriend, David Adkins, put her daughter's dead body in the Kanawha River.

At that time, Welker reportedly said the girl died of natural causes, and she and Adkins disposed of the body and reported her missing because they feared the appearance of murder.

Patricia Welker's body was never found.

The Welker case mirrors the Lunsford case with remarkable similarities. Aliayah Lunsford's body also has never been recovered.

A jury found Welker guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced her to life, just as the Lunsford jury did. Testimony in the 1985 trial indicated that Welker beat the 4-year-old to death the day before dumping her body in the river.

"Diana Welker had spanked or disciplined Patricia Welker rather severely prior to the child's death," a state trooper testified during the trial that had to be moved to Cabell County because of pre-trial publicity.

"How severely did he tell you?" the prosecutor asked the trooper. "As I recall, he stated that white foam or some kind of matter had come out of the child's mouth and nose and the child had been bruised up and gone to bed not feeling well," he answered on the witness stand.

Prosecutors in the Lunsford case also said Aliayah was beaten by her mother the day before she was reported missing. Lunsford's daughter, who was 9 at the time, told the jury she saw her mother hit Aliayah in the head with a broken piece of a wooden bed slat. There also was testimony that foam had come from Aliayah's mouth when she was found dead the following morning.

It was also said during the Lunsford trial that Aliayah had been sick and was also not feeling well.

Welker appealed her murder conviction and won. The West Virginia Supreme Court ruled that the most serious error during her trial was the court's refusal to admit testimony that could have found her not guilty.

Rather than face another trial, Welker pleaded guilty to second-degree murder. She was released from prison in 1989.

Adkins was acquitted of murder.

Lunsford's attorney, Tom Dyer, has said he plans to appeal the conviction.

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