Judge: Prosecutors can show jurors Severance's writings

By MATTHEW BARAKAT
Associated Press

FAIRFAX, Va. (AP) — Strange, hate-filled writings advocating murder and class warfare by the man accused of killing three Alexandria residents over roughly a 10-year span can be shown to jurors at his upcoming murder trial, a judge ruled Thursday.

Defense lawyers for Charles Severance, 54, of Ashburn, had asked the judge to bar prosecutors from using the writing as evidence out of concern that his inflammatory message would unfairly rile up a jury against him.

Prosecutors, though, say the writings demonstrate Severance's motive for killing; they argue that the former Alexandria resident was angry that he lost custody of his son and sought to lash out at what he perceived as the city's ruling class.

He is charged with capital murder, but prosecutors have said they will not seek a death sentence. He is accused with three separate killings of prominent Alexandria residents, each of whom was shot in their home: the 2003 slaying of Nancy Dunning, wife of then-Sheriff James Dunning; the November 2013 shooting of transportation planner Ronald Kirby; and the February 2014 shooting of music teacher Ruthanne Lodato.

Authorities possess thousands of pages of Severance's writing, and say it bolsters their theory that Severance wanted to kill to cause distress to those he saw as part of Alexandria's "enforcement class." In one passage, he writes, "Introduce murder into a safe and secure neighborhood. It shudders with horror. Do it again and again and again."

In another passage he writes, "I've been nudging and trolling for over a decade and nobody has noticed. Violence wins. Assassinate because it is in the best interest of the child."

There's even a poem entitled "Parable of the Knocker" that, according to Commonwealth's Attorney Bryan Porter, encapsulates the manner in which Severance committed the killings.

"Knock Talk Enter Kill Exit ... Murder Wisdom ... Patience is an excuse for cowardice," the poem says.

Defense attorney Megan Thomas said the writings, which also advocate violence against police, make no reference to any of the three people killed, and that it doesn't make any sense to theorize that Severance lashed out and killed those three people, who were unrelated to his court case, as revenge for losing custody. Broadly, she said, the writings simply outline a radical political philosophy.

"He's not on trial for whether he has political or philosophical views that are outside the mainstream," Thomas said.

Porter, though, said it is "very plausible" that the three were targeted simply because they lived in a nice neighborhood of Alexandria, given Severance's writings lashing out at "status quo utopian oppressive elites."

"I'm not sure he cared who he killed," Porter said.

Also on Thursday, defense lawyers withdrew a motion asking for a mental-health evaluation of their client, though they said they may renew it at some point.

Severance, who ran fringe candidacies for political office when he lived in Alexandria, has a history of court outbursts and other erratic behavior, including seeking asylum at the Russian Embassy after police sought to question him in the case last year.

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