CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Convicted killer Dana December Smith told a disciplinary board Friday that his former lawyer had an inappropriate relationship with a witness while she handled his West Virginia Supreme Court appeal seven years ago.
Smith, along with Kanawha County Chief Public Defender George Castelle, filed complaints with the state's lawyer Disciplinary Board in 2009, alleging that Wendolyn Elswick, who worked in the public defender's appellate division at the beginning of the decade, knowingly elicited false statements from Texas death row inmate Tommy Lynn Sells.
In 2000, Sells confessed that he had stabbed two Leewood women to death in 1991 -- the crime for which Smith has now spent nearly two decades in prison.
Sells recanted the confession in 2004. However, he has claimed responsibility for at least a dozen slayings across the country, including the killing of a 9-year-old San Antonio girl in 1999.
Smith's complaint to the disciplinary board alleges that Elswick kept secret letters that detailed a "romantic pen-pal relationship" that she had with Sells.
Castelle discovered the letters in 2009, several years after Elswick had been removed from the case. The correspondence, according to the ethics complaint, indicates that Smith and Sells knew each other before Smith had allegedly committed the grisly double murders in 1991 -- a claim that Smith vehemently denied under oath Friday.
"I was not involved in any communication with Mr. Sells, or his attorney," Smith testified. "No letters were sent from West Virginia by me."
Elswick allegedly kept the letters secret in order to elicit false confessions from Sells during a recorded interview and at least one deposition, the ethics complaint alleges.
Scribblings on a half-page of notes that were taken by Elswick's paralegal, Jane Brumfield, during an initial interview the two had with Sells in a Texas prison in 2004 also indicate that Sells had met Smith in a bar in St. Albans and sold drugs to him before the 1991 murders, the complaint states.
Elswick's lawyer, Mark Kelley, told the Gazette-Mail that neither Elswick nor Brumfield knew the notes had existed. Brumfield took only the half-page of scribblings during the entire interview, which lasted several hours, Kelley said.
Kelley said Elswick had no reason to try to procure false testimony and that she did not intentionally hide the notes or the letters from Castelle, after she had asked to be removed from the case in light of threats Smith had made to her family.
If she was concerned about the notes and letters falling into the wrong hands, Kelley said, she simply could have destroyed them before passing off the case.