The Times West Virginian

West Virginia

May 4, 2013

Lawyer opposes relocating missing W.Va. girl’s mom

CHARLESTON — The attorney for the mother of a missing West Virginia girl is opposing a decision by federal probation officials to move her from Wheeling to the Clarksburg area, saying she is a “social pariah” in that community because of publicity surrounding her daughter’s case.

Lena Lunsford was freed from a federal prison earlier this year after serving eight months for welfare fraud. She was placed on one year of supervised release.

Since then, Lunsford has been under supervised released in Wheeling, where she has lived at a YWCA, attended classes at West Virginia Business College, and worked at a pizza restaurant, federal public defender Brian J. Kornbrath said in a motion filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Elkins.

Kornbrath said he sought Wheeling as the location for Lunsford’s supervised release because of the community reaction in the Clarksburg area to the disappearance of her daughter, Aliayah Lunsford, who was 3 when she disappeared from her family’s home near Bendale in Lewis County on Sept. 24, 2011. Kornbrath said she was regularly threatened and insulted, despite no evidence that she was involved in any way.

“Defendant is a social pariah in the Clarksburg area and will find it impossible to settle without further incident. This is much less likely to occur, and in fact has not occurred, since defendant began supervision in Wheeling,” he wrote in his motion, which was first reported by The Exponent Telegram.

Aliayah has never been found. Authorities have made no arrests and identified no suspects.

Lunsford was indicted weeks after Aliayah’s disappearance on charges that she illegally swapped welfare benefits for cash five times in two months. She pleaded guilty to selling $114 worth of credit on her food-stamp card for $50 cash and reported to prison in June 2012.

Her supervised release includes a condition that she live at the YWCA and participate in a substance-abuse treatment program, which allowed her to reside at the YWCA free of charge.

Kornbrath said the YWCA told Lunsford last week that she is no longer a viable candidate for the program and owes the organization $720 in back rent. He said Lunsford was told that she can no longer participate in the program because her substance abuse is in remission and because she recently became pregnant.

Lunsford’s other six children are in state care, and the state Supreme Court has upheld a Lewis County judge’s order terminating her parental rights.

The U.S. Probation Office ordered Lunsford to relocate to the Clarksburg area to serve the remaining nine months because she can’t afford to pay the rent owed to the YWCA and soon will have to leave, he said.

Moving Lunsford will undercut her chances of succeeding while she is on supervised release, he said. It would be difficult for her to find a job and she has nowhere to live.

She has filed for divorce from her husband, Ralph, and her brother won’t allow her to live with him, Kornbrath said.

“He was seen picketing outside the federal courthouse when his own sister was sentenced,” he said of the brother.

Kornbrath said West Virginia Child Protective Services won’t allow Lunsford to return to her aunt’s residence because the woman’s minor grandchildren, who live with her, would have to be placed somewhere else.

Kornbrath’s motion requests a status hearing to determine whether it is appropriate for Lunsford to serve the remainder of her supervised release in Wheeling. No hearing has been set.

 

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