Justice put on hold due to COVID-19 pandemic

RALEIGH COUNTY, WV (WOAY) – A family is still waiting for justice six years after a woman’s murder and a year after the alleged killer’s arrest.

Jessica Lunceford was arrested in February 2019 for allegedly killing Beckley resident Sylvia Washington.

“In [April 2014,] my mother was murdered in her home,” said Sylvia’s son, Carl Washington. “In February of last year, I got a call from a detective when they had actually picked the [suspect] up and charged her with first-degree murder.”

Washington says it was a relief when police made the arrest, but now, it seems like not much has happened since.

“You think they’re doing something, you get your hopes up, and then it seems like you get a big let down,” said Washington. “The pain that we go through every single day, it’s just something else. I mean, there’s not a day that goes by I don’t think about what happened to my mom.”

Prosecuting Attorney Kristen Keller says there’s a simple reason as to why: it’s because of the pandemic.

“After [the trial] was continued, it was set for pretrial in April 2020,” said Keller. “Of course, the trial, like others, was canceled because of COVID-19.”

The pretrial was eventually set for October, but that, too, was canceled when Lunceford’s attorney was exposed to the virus.

“I understand everybody has their own life to live, but it seems like everybody is just passing the book,” said Washington, frustrated with the delay. “It seems like nothing’s been done. It’s been six years and they don’t seem like they really care about it.”

As frustrating as it is for the victim’s family, it’s not uncommon. The justice system has been severely impacted by the pandemic, putting justice on hold for many families. Keller says hopefully they’ll soon find a way to move forward.

“We were able to get through the grand jury by using the big old ceremonial courtroom,” said Keller. “That may be what we have to do to be able to go back to having jury trials.”

Lunceford is set to appear in a pretrial hearing in the January term. An exact date has not been set.

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Kassie Simmons joined the team in January 2019 as a weekend journalist. She graduated from Virginia Tech in just two and a half years with a BA in multimedia journalism. During her short time at Virginia Tech, she served as the editor for the university’s chapter of The Tab. Kassie was named the top reporter for The Tab at Virginia Tech on multiple occasions and made the list for the top 30 reporters for The Tab in the U.S. She also studied theater performance and minored in creative writing. Before coming to WOAY, Kassie interned at WSLS in Roanoke and the Tidewater Review in her hometown of West Point, Va. She has loved following breaking news since her childhood and has a passion for delivering the stories people care most about. Kassie is excited to be working in Southern West Virginia and looks forward to all the adventures ahead of her. You can follow her on Twitter at @KassieLSimmons and like her page on Facebook. If you have a story you think she should check out, send her an email at ksimmons@woay.com.