Custody battle highlights testimony in Charles Severance trial

- Jurors in the capital murder trial of Charles Severance heard from the mother of his child and the custody battle that put both of them in court 15 years ago.

The bitter dispute left Severance with no visitations rights and it is what prosecutors believe is the motive behind the killings of Nancy Dunning, Ronald Kirby and Ruthanne Lodato over a 10-year period.

Tamela Nichols took the stand on Wednesday and told the jury she had never married Severance and within a year of the birth of their son, she took him to court where she won sole full custody of their child.

At the request of prosecutors, she identified Severance by pointing him out as the man she had a relationship with from 1998 to 2000.

She never said what went wrong, but before her son, Levi, turned one year old, she took Severance to court. It was an experience she described as unpleasant.

After several hearings, Nichols said she won custody of her child who is now 16.

She said Severance had one last visit with his son in a room at the courthouse with a deputy present and then she said he never saw him again.

Instead, Nichols told the court Severance wrote her threatening and frightening letters until they stopped in 2009. The jury was not told why Nichols sought sole custody or why she won.

Prosecutors believe that is what ultimately led Severance to kill what he described as the law enforcement class and the nefarious utopian elite.

In earlier testimony, an FBI agent told the court he found a gun cleaning kit under a seat inside Severance's Ford Escort during a search after his arrest. Severance was not permitted to own or possess guns because of an earlier felony conviction.

Another witness, a plumber, told the court he was 80 percent certain he saw Severance in the Rosemont neighborhood of Alexandria on the day Kirby was killed.

The man went to Kirby's home for a job the day of the murder, but no one answered the door.

On cross examination by the defense, the plumber admitted he didn’t tell police and prosecutors that he was 80 percent sure he saw Severance until last month.

He was asked if he had several meetings with the prosecutors and the police since the murder of Kirby and he admitted that he did.

The prosecution told the judge they are ahead the schedule and they expect to rest their case on Monday.

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