Man convicted of 1991 murders loses another attorney
CHARLESTON, W.Va. - A man serving two life sentences without mercy for the 1991 murders of a Cabin Creek mother and daughter is continuing his relentless requests to have his case tried again, but he met another obstacle this week.
Dana December Smith, 48, has always maintained his innocence and at times it has seemed he had some factors in his favor.
He was convicted in the brutal slaying of Margaret McClain, 63, and Pamela Castoneda, 36. The victims were found dead in their home with multiple stab wounds. One was sexually assaulted. A family pet, a Chihuahua, also was found dead and hidden in a laundry room.
An inmate on death row in Texas confessed to the crime years after Smith was convicted. Some believe the DNA evidence in the investigation may have been mishandled.
A circuit judge didn't find that confession credible, however, and denied Smith a new trial on that basis. The state Supreme Court affirmed that decision. His request to have the DNA evidence reviewed, and a new trial granted on those results, is in limbo.
So Smith, an often contentious and unruly presence in court, continues to live out his days at Mount Olive Correctional Complex. Now, another in a long line of court-appointed defense attorneys has left his case, and Smith awaits new representation.
On Wednesday, Kanawha Circuit Judge Paul Zakaib granted the request of Smith's current lawyer, Kevin Postelwaite of Jackson County, to withdraw as counsel. Postelwaite said communications between the two had broken down after Smith filed complaints against him with a judicial disciplinary board.
Smith, appearing by videoconference from prison, told the judge, "I met Mr. Postelwaite one time. He was ill-prepared and did not know anything about my case.
"He told me in the beginning that he did not want my case," Smith said. "That's the bottom line."
Smith's discontent with his attorneys began early on. A month before his trial, he asked the judge to remove Henry Wood and Wendell Turner because he said they weren't knowledgeable about DNA evidence.
The judge refused. But several attorneys have tried to help Smith since then. He has been represented by Kanawha Chief Public Defender George Castelle, Timothy Koontz, Ed Rebrook and others.
Smith is frequently angry at his attorneys - he is also pressing legal complaints against another former public defender, Wendy Elswick. That conflict has prevented any other Kanawha public defenders from being appointed to him for now.
Often, attorneys become frustrated with Smith and overwhelmed by the long history of his complex case. Some have left the case through no fault of Smith's - one was in charge of Smith's appeals for only one week before taking an out-of-state job.
Zakaib didn't name a new attorney immediately this week.
"I will appoint new counsel, but I don't know who will take the case," he said.
Smith has also proven to be disgruntled with judges and the media. He has also been through a parade of prosecutors.
Former Kanawha Prosecutor Bill Forbes took Smith's case to trial in 1992 and won a conviction based on circumstantial evidence. Smith has warned Forbes to beware if he ever leaves prison.
Assistant Prosecutor Don Morris undertook Smith's case for a while, but it currently is in the hands of Jennifer Meadows. She was about 9 years old when the double homicide occurred.
Smith, a former Logan County High School football player, had numerous run-ins with the law at a young age. But he also was well known to police as an informant.
That is what led to his conviction, he contends. People who were mad at him for being a snitch framed him for the murders of McClain and Castoneda.
He admitted he was in the area that day - he said he was driving a borrowed car and crashed it. He knew the victims, he said, and after the wreck he used their vehicle.
His blood, found in that car, was introduced as evidence at his trial. But Smith said that blood came from injuries he sustained in the wreck.
There was some discrepancy in the time of death, and that is another point that Smith has renewed over the years. He maintains he was in Boone County when the women died.
His mother, Pearl Shanklin, has been an unfailing and active advocate in her son's case. When he is emotional or disruptive, she attempts to calm him. She did so on Wednesday when he became agitated.
She asked to speak on his behalf, but Zakaib granted her little leeway.
"You are not a party to this motion," he told her when she objected to the prosecutor's inference that Smith wasn't ever happy with his attorneys. "This hearing is closed, and I'm not going to hear any more."
Contact writer Cheryl Caswell at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-4832.