Man convicted in 1991 double-homicide dies of COVID-19

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.

Kassie Simmons
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.