Friends of Charles Severance Deny He's Shown Following Victim in Surveillance Video | NBC4 Washington

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Friends of Charles Severance Deny He's Shown Following Victim in Surveillance Video

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    A suspected serial killer's family and friends went to his defense in court Thursday. Charles Severance is accused of killing three prominent Alexandria residents over 10 years. As Northern Virginia Bureau Chief Julie Carey reports, Severance's brother gave a road map of sorts to what was described as the accused killer's growing mental illness. (Published Thursday, Oct. 22, 2015)

    In court Thursday, friends of accused killer Charles Severance came to the witness stand to paint a very different picture of the man they call "Charlie" -- the man accused of fatally shooting three prominent Alexandria citizens over the course of more than a decade.

    They're also helping the defense attack the Target security video that prosecutors suggest shows Severance following one of the victims.

    Severance is on trial for the deaths of Nancy Dunning, wife of then-Alexandria Sheriff Jim Dunning in 2003; transportation planner Ron Kirby in 2013, and music teacher Ruthanne Lodato in 2014. All three were shot in their homes in broad daylight.

    George McKinley was among Severance's friends who testified Thursday. He was also Severance's lawyer when Severance lived in Cumberland, Maryland, from 2003 to 2005.

    Defense attorneys asked McKinley to watch the video from Target that prosecutors introduced in court last week. The video shows a man resembling Severance, following Nancy Dunning on Dec. 5, 2003. An hour later, she was shot to death at her front door.

    But McKinley, three other friends and Severance's brother all testified that the man in the video is not Severance, sharing a photo of what he looked like at that time.

    "It's not Charlie Severance," McKinley said outside the courthouse. "It's absolutely not Charlie Severance. That man is way more stocky than Charlie was. His facial features are completely different."

    Prosecutors pressed the friends about whether Severance would get angry and upset when he talked about losing custody of his young son. Prosecutors say bitterness over the custody battle later led Severance to kill.

    "Did he seem sad about it?" the prosecutor asked friend Morgan Bogard.

    "Yes," Bogard said.

    "Did you personally observe him be angry about it?" the prosecutor asked.

    "No, I've never seen Charles angry," Bogard replied.

    McKinley said he doesn't believe Severance is the man who killed the three victims, saying charges are absurd and unfair.

    Defense attorneys are also spotlighting Severance's growing mental health issues. Severance's ex-wife, Jayantee Ganguly, testified that she asked for a divorce less than a year after their 1991 marriage, due to several incidents of bizarre behavior.

    Ganguly described an incident while traveling in India, when Severance became very upset when he thought there were bedbugs in hotel. She sought a divorce when they returned.

    Severance's brother, Ben, also described years of erratic outbursts that left the two men estranged since 2001. Ben Severance said that until Thursday, he hadn't seen his brother in 14 years, although they exchanged some emails.

    Before their estrangement, Ben Severance said they had "a mixture of good memories" and strained situations. He testified that his brother joined a "cult" and wanted to live in apostolic style. Ben Severance said his brother began mocking affluent lifestyles, including his family's.

    He also said he thought it was a bad idea when Charles Severance ran for mayor of Alexandria, but that he helped his brother anyway.

    Ben Severance said his brother dressed all in black for a debate, and that at a mall on the way, his brother got onto a chair and howled. His campaign platform was to require country dancing in schools, hike a tax on cigarettes and slam psychotropic drugs, Ben Severance said.

    Charles Severance ran for Congress next. At a Republican convention, he did a country dance shuffle onto the stage.

    "This one was even more absurd," Ben Severance said.

    In the late 1990s, Charles Severance showed his brother a semi-automatic pistol that he said he got on the black market for protection. However, Ben Severance said he never heard Charles talk about killing anyone.

    "I don't recall a particular obsession or fixation with firearms," Ben Severance said.

    A forensic psychologist also offered a diagnosis of Severance, even though the defendant refused to meet with him. William Stejskal studied Severance's writings and interviewed his family.
    Stejskal said Severance suffers from a personality disorder with mixed paranoid and schizotypal features.

    He testified people with this disorder move through life with a suspicious and distrusting attitude. The diagnosis helps explain his rambling, disjointed speech and writings, Stejskal said.

    Defense attorneys spotlighted one of the 2,400 pages of Severance's writings in evidence. His "Parable of the Knocker" ends with: "Knock Talk Enter Kill Exit Murder Wisdom." But at the start of the page, Severance writes. "The starting torque is 2.5 times the running torque." Stejskal said that is a an example of how the disorder impacts Severance, causing him to put concepts together that don't fit.