Ex-girlfriend testifies against Severance in Alexandria murder trial

FAIRFAX, Va. (AP) — An ex-girlfriend of the man accused of killing three Alexandria residents over the course of a decade testified Tuesday that he harbored a grudge against the court system after losing custody of his child.

Charles Severance is on trial for three separate slayings: Nancy Dunning, wife of then-Sheriff James Dunning, in 2003; transportation planner Ron Kirby in 2013; and music teacher Ruthanne Lodato last year.

Severance, a former Alexandria resident with a history of erratic behavior who ran fringe candidacies for mayor, has pleaded not guilty. Prosecutors say Severance committed the killings to get revenge against what he perceived as the city's ruling class after losing custody of his son.

The defense says the evidence against their client is weak, and that Severance looks suspicious because his mental illness has led him to express unorthodox, violent sentiments in his writings, and his paranoia caused him to react badly when police tried to question him.

The ex-girlfriend, Linda Robra, told jurors, "He was not fond of the court system in Alexandria. He thought he was treated unfairly because of his custody situation."

She also said that while they lived together, Severance expressed hatred of police and what he called "utopian elites."

"Any time there were police officers shot, he thought it was good thing," Robra told the jury. "One of his phrases was, 'The only good cop is a dead cop.'"

She said he would get angry when he discussed his child custody case, even though he lost the case a decade before they met. She said he would sarcastically use the phrase "the best interest of the child," mocking the legal standard that had been used against him in that case.

And she said Severance convinced her in 2012 to buy two small handguns — .22 caliber, North American Arms mini-revolvers, and boxes of low-velocity, subsonic ammunition to go with them. She said Severance convinced her that the guns would be good for her because she had small hands.

The guns later went missing, and police believe that a similar weapon and ammunition were used in the Alexandria slayings. Severance also makes numerous approving references to the gun and ammunition in his writings.

Later Tuesday, Secret Service agents testified about their encounter in March 2014 with Severance at the Russian embassy. Severance had gone there, wearing a tri-cornered hat, seeking asylum. He went there one day after Alexandria police tried for the first time to contact him in connection with their investigation into the slayings.

"He told me he had been persecuted by the city of Alexandria for the last dozen years," said Secret Service officer Stephen Lillis. "He said they had been trying to get revenge on him for running for mayor."

The agents said Severance was calm, and left without incident after being told he would not be given asylum.

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