The man accused of fatally shooting three prominent Alexandria residents over the past decade in brazen daylight attacks at their homes wrote in a document, “Knock. Talk. Enter. Kill. Exit. Murder” — an apparently perverted version of a biblical parable that prosecutors argued Thursday seems to describe his crimes to a T.
Urging a judge to make Charles Severance, 54, face just one trial for all the killings, Alexandria Commonwealth’s Attorney Bryan Porter argued that the eccentric onetime politico’s writings outlined an undeniable connection between the crimes. Porter argued that Severance was upset at a child-custody decision that went against him in the early 2000s and that his anger drove him to kill.
In one document, Porter said, Severance wrote: “The last scream of a victim echoes to eternity.” In another, he wrote: “Murder on my mind, and my mind on murder.”
Severance’s court appearance in Alexandria Circuit Court was perhaps his most significant to date, though it will also be his last. Judge Jane Marum Roush granted his attorneys’ motion to move proceedings to Fairfax County, saying the fear the killings generated gave her concern about seating an impartial jury.
For his part, Severance interrupted the proceedings frequently, arguing that he did not want the venue changed, quizzing Roush on “irrevocable power of attorney” and asking to be called “accused” rather than “defendant.” Roush twice chastised him as “out of line,” but Severance seemed determined to press his case.
At one point, as attorneys discussed his holding up his middle finger at a previous hearing, Severance held it up again and said: “That’s West Virginia. That’s not an obscene gesture.”
Severance is accused of murder in the February 2014 slaying of music teacher Ruthanne Lodato, 59; the November 2013 shooting of regional transportation planner Ronald Kirby, 69; and the December 2003 killing of real estate agent Nancy Dunning, 56. The hearing on Thursday was to discuss a variety of motions in the case, including Severance’s attorneys’ bid to separate the proceedings related to Dunning and to move the trial out of Alexandria.
Defense attorneys dropped their motion, at least for now, to have the case dismissed. And while Roush agreed to change the venue over the prosecutors’ objection, defense attorney Chris Leibig said he would have preferred the trial be moved even farther away.
Severance said he wanted to be tried in the place where he was accused, and after Roush issued her ruling, he said aloud, “No self-respecting court would accept a bomb out of the mouth of the Alexandria enforcement class.”
John Kelly, a Lodato neighbor who has conferred with the families of the victims, said they “respect the judge’s decision” on moving the proceedings.
Porter declined to comment after the hearing.
Roush did not immediately rule on defense attorneys’ request to separate the Dunning slaying from the other two cases. Severance defense attorney Megan Thomas had argued that that killing was unconnected to the other two and was “thrown onto” Kirby’s and Lodato’s slayings “because it makes the commonwealth’s case stronger.”
Porter countered that the cases were uncommon crimes, as evidenced by the type of gun and ammunition used and Severance’s writings about his motivations. Perhaps the most notable among those was one he titled “Parable of the Knocker,” which prosecutors say he based on the biblical “Parable of the Midnight Knocker.”
Porter also laid out in greater detail than before some of the ballistics evidence investigators have gathered against Severance and why they say he might have gone many years without killing anyone in Alexandria. Porter said while three different guns were used, they were all the same type, and prosecutors had evidence that Severance possessed three guns of such a variety around the time of all three killings. Porter said the ammunition, too, was distinctive and seemed to link Severance to the crimes.
Gun experts, Porter said, would testify that the killings were the only ones in which they had seen the type of ammunition used, and Severance wrote of his fascination with that ammunition specifically.
Porter said Severance lost his right to own a gun after he was charged — and later convicted — of a weapons violation in 2004. After that, Porter said, Severance traveled around the country for several years, staying on couches, camping and thinking about getting a gun.
Porter said Severance once wrote, apparently of that time period, “I have been nudging and trolling for over a decade and nobody has noticed.”
Defense attorneys argued Thursday that they dispute prosecutors’ characterization of Severance’s motivations; Leibig said the case was, in some ways, “strained.” They also argued that the ammunition used in the killings was common and could be purchased online.
Severance’s family declined to comment after the hearing, but Dan Mathias, a friend, said Severance was interested in fantasy and role-playing games and that “most of his writings are associated with that.”
Severance is scheduled to go on trial in October.