by Ron Gregory
CHARLESTON — The long-running murder case involving Dana December Smith is set for motion hearings at 1 p.m., May 6, in Kanawha County Circuit Court.
Smith has obtained the services of two new attorneys, Robert P. Dunlap II and Amy A. Osgood. In addition, Smith, a Mt. Olive Penitentiary inmate, says his case has been taken up by the Innocence Project. That group, founded by Barry Scheck of the famous O.J. Simpson murder trial, has been active in many cases involving prisoners the organization believes are innocent.
Smith has always proclaimed his innocence in the murder of two women at Leewood, Kanawha County. Smith’s mother, who has always supported her son, lives in Logan. Smith was convicted of the crimes in 1992. During his prison time, he has researched laws and studied the handling of his case.
Part of that study resulted in the disbarment of Wendelyn A. Campbell, who was identified four years ago as the wife of Lincoln County Family Court Judge Scott Elswick. Elswick, as a public defender for Smith, allegedly hid notes and letters that proved Smith had met with Texas serial killer Tommy Lynn Sells before the murders. That was a key element in Smith’s conviction, according to defense records.
Sells, a drifter who spent time in West Virginia in the early 1990s, told authorities in 2001 that he committed the murders. The Supreme Court’s disciplinary panel found that Campbell elicited information from Sells although she knew it was false. There were allegations in the 45-page disciplinary report that Campbell carried on an elicit affair with Sells. Smith said that damaged his chances on appeal. In emails, Sells sent disturbing “rape fantasies,” to Elswick, the Supreme Court found.
In 1992, a Kanawha County jury convicted Smith of killing Pamela Castoneda, 36 and her mother, Margaret McClain, 65. Both women were found in a home at Leewood. McClain was stabbed 17 times while her daughter was stabbed 14 times, according to records. One of the women had been raped but rape charges were not pursued. The murder weapon was never located.
Testimony shows that Sells was in the Charleston area in the early 90s. He panhandled, carrying a “will work for food” on a Washington Street bridge when a female offered to take him back to her apartment and feed him.
That woman was later found by a neighbor, who said the woman told her Sells had ambushed her in her apartment and raped her at knifepoint before slashing her throat and tying her hands and feet. Sells eventually pleaded guilty to malicious wounding. Sells later killed a woman in Del Rio, Texas, stabbing her 16 times. He was sentenced to death for that crime.
In prison, Sells claimed responsibility for more than a dozen murders, including two in West Virginia.
Campbell, working for the public defender’s office, was assigned to handle Smith’s appeal in 2004 after Sells told the TV program “48 Hours” that he had committed the crimes.
After at least two visits with Sells in the Texas prison, Campbell finally asked to be removed from the case in the spring of 2005. But the Office of Disciplinary Council, confirmed by the Supreme Court, ruled Campbell had already gone too far in handling Smith’s case. Her suspension is still in effect.
In letters to Campbell, Sells made reference to the lawyer’s breasts and told her he found her “sexy,” according to the ODC. She allegedly told Sells that she only dated older men in high school and some people would say she was looking for an “eternal father figure.”
Against this legally bizarre background, Smith has been constantly petitioning for a new trial. In a recent letter, he told the Corridor Chronicle he becomes “more optimistic” about his chances. Smith, 51, said his new counsel seems “very interested” in the case. He is encouraged, as well, by the Innocence Project’s involvement.
In his most recent communication with the Chronicle, Smith said he another inmate witnessed the beating and stabbing death of another inmate. He said, “In fact, (the other inmate) and I were standing within 50 feet from where the killing happened.” He said he later learned the killing involved one inmate’s committing sex crimes against another inmate’s family.
Smith said the murder at the prison occurred at 8 a.m. The penitentiary went on lock-down for four days after that, he said.
With regard to his own case, Smith said he received the notice of a motion hearing scheduled for 1 p.m., May 6. He said a DNA evidentiary hearings are set for June 23 and 24. He noted that Scheck represented Joseph Buffy, who was freed from Mt. Olive in February.
Smith said his upcoming hearing will be held before Kanawha Circuit Judge Joana Tabit.