FAYETTE COUNTY, WV (WOAY) – Dana December Smith was convicted of a double murder, even though a serial killer admitted to the crime. He died behind bars Sept. 13.
“It feels like telling the media immediately that Dana December Smith died of COVID-19 allows them to put a really vilified face with the mishandling of COVID-19 in jails and prisons,” said attorney Robert Dunlap who represented the inmate in his final years.
In 1992, Dana December Smith was convicted of the gruesome double homicide of a mother and daughter. Despite spending decades at Mt. Olive Correctional Center, he maintained his innocence.
“I knew that it would take something like DNA to exonerate him,” said Dunlap. “I think the death of Tommy Sells was the death of any opportunity for Dana December Smith’s conviction to be fairly looked at.”
Serial killer Tommy Lynn Sells confessed to the crimes while on death row in 2000. Smith’s attorneys at the time wanted to learn more, but it was too late.
“There were some inconsistencies in his statements, so someone sent someone to depose him to find out exactly what happened and he was executed before they had the chance to to take his story.”
Smith and a number of attorneys spent the next two decades working on clearing his name.
“While smith spent 30 years in there, he became kind of like a law library attorney. He wrote appeals and hapeas briefs for convictees and really made himself indispensable at the jail.”
Still behind bars, Smith died September 13. With insensitive comments surrounding his death, Dunlap reminds the public of the inmate’s humanity and notes the Department of Correction’s responsibility for inmate wellbeing.
“He’s been portrayed as a murderer killed by COVID-19. I just think it’s important to recognize the handling of COVID-19 in regional jails and prisons… Just simply saying that they were convicted of a heinous murder doesn’t alleviate our responsibility for making sure COVID-19 is handled properly while you’re incarcerated.”
According to an obituary, Smith will have a private service with military graveside rites.