Jury Hears Closing Argument in Alexandria Triple Murder Case

30 Oct 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

A serial killer out to terrorize a community, or a wrongly accused man?.

FAIRFAX, Va. FAIRFAX, Va. (AP) — A jury has concluded its first day of deliberations in the murder trial of a man accused of shooting and killing three prominent Alexandria residents in their homes over the course of a decade. The killings, carried out over roughly a decade, were nothing short of “political assassinations.” “Introduce murder into a safe and secure neighborhood,” Alexandria Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney David Lord quoted from Severance’s writings. “It shudders with horror.

Do it again and again and again.” Lord laid out that central argument of the state’s case against Severance on Wednesday, as both the prosecutors and the defense offered closing arguments in the triple murder trial in Fairfax County. He is charged in the shooting deaths of Nancy Dunning, wife of then-Sheriff James Dunning, in 2003; transportation planner Ron Kirby in 2013; and music teacher Ruthanne Lodato last year. The statements capped more than three weeks of testimony that featured more than 100 witnesses, hundreds of exhibits and more than 2,000 pages of Severance’s writings. The prosecution presented a mostly circumstantial case about Severance proposing that a similar pattern in the three murders could suggest a signature crime. Lord and Alexandria Commonwealth’s Attorney Bryan Porter spent their closing arguments carefully fitting together a puzzle of largely circumstantial evidence.

The defense attacked the credibility of witnesses who testified for the prosecution that they had seen Severance in and around the neighborhoods where the murders occurred. They highlighted witnesses who placed Severance near the scenes of two killings, ballistics evidence, surveillance video that showed a car that might have been Severance’s near the scene of Lodato’s killing, and Severance’s own bizarre and sometimes chilling writings. An Alexandria police detective testified in response to defense questioning that he interviewed a man who looked similar to Severance but was not Severance. Defense attorney Megan Thomas meticulously tried to cast doubt on that case, saying that prosecutors and police had “jumped to conclusions” and that there were innocent explanations for much that prosecutors cast in a sinister light. Lord began the proceedings by flashing photos of the three victims on TV monitors in the courtroom and then discussed how they epitomized Alexandria’s prominent residents, whom Severance blamed after losing the custody battle for his son in 2000.

A computer forensic expert testified about information obtained from computers taken from Severance’s girlfriend’s house, his parents’ home and the Wheeling library where Severance was ultimately apprehended. Stejskal said, “the writings don’t reflect homicidal ideation that Severance would be the agent in the taking of the life.” At the conclusion of the evidence presented, Judge Bellows excused the jurors and gave Severance the chance to testify.

He pointed out that ballistics experts said it was exceedingly rare for a killing to be carried out with the type of .22-caliber ammunition used in each case and added that Severance displayed guilty behavior by fleeing to the Russian Embassy in the District after police initially contacted him about Lodato’s killing. Severance discussed taking revenge for his son’s case, writing at one point: “Can you murder someone for kidnapping your son?” Thomas began her own closing by also quoting Severance. The line came from a postcard Severance sent to a friend: “Everyone is suspicious of the middle aged man with no place to call home.” The theme pervaded Thomas’s statements to the jury as she attempted to show that authorities had settled on Severance as the killer and then shaded the facts to bolster their case. Thomas told the jury that the timeline of a video that prosecutors purported showed Severance’s car near Lodato’s home did not match the timeline of the killing.

And if Severance had a “burning hatred” of Alexandria, as prosecutors contend, Thomas questioned why there was a roughly 10-year gap between Dunning’s killing and the other two crimes. Defense claimed Severance was on a trip to see historical areas of interest and not fleeing when he was arrested in Wheeling, West Virginia, after the Lodato murder. Thomas argued that the prosecution did not present proof beyond a reasonable doubt. “A mere suspicion or probability of guilt is not enough,” Thomas said. The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” Porter asked, “At what point do all of these facts stop becoming a coincidence?” The judge gave jurors instructions before they began deliberations late on Wednesday afternoon; they recessed about 45 minutes later.

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