Severance’s writings quoted as case goes to jury; he could get life term

29 Oct 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

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

FAIRFAX, Va. Charles Severance hated Alexandria so much after losing custody of his child in its courts, he hatched a campaign to terrorize the city by shooting three of its prominent residents in their own doorways, a prosecutor told a jury Wednesday.

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 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.

Lord and Alexandria Commonwealth’s Attorney Bryan Porter spent their closing arguments carefully fitting together a puzzle of largely circumstantial evidence. 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. 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. 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.

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