Defense Seeks to Create Doubt in Juror’s Minds in Severance Case

Maybe that frightening, bearded man that a neighbor spotted near a murder victim's home wasn't accused serial killer Charles Severance.

Maybe there's a legitimate reason for Severance to develop a card game called "Mental Disorder," a game that a local game shop thought enough of to stock on the shelves.

Monday, defense testimony in the Severance trial was all about creating doubt in juror's minds, as Severance fights charges that he fatally shot Nancy Dunning in 2003, Ron Kirby in 2013 and Ruthanne Lodato in 2014.

Early in the trial, a woman who lives near two of the murder victims testified that she'd noticed a man -- who she now believes is Charles Severance -- in the neighborhood shortly before Lodato was killed.

She called detectives after learning of the murder and described an older, bearded man wearing a tan jacket. The man so unnerved her that she began walking her dog on a different route.

But defense attorneys suggested Monday that she might have seen a different bearded man. They brought a detective to the witness stand who stopped a man in Old Town Alexandria two days after Lodato's murder.

During questioning he turned over his tan jacket, which matched the woman's description.

Defense attorneys also put a different spin on the card game Severance created, called "Mental disorder." Prosecutors had said the game reflects Severance's anger toward the mental health profession and other authorities.

But the defense presented evidence that Severance was a frequent gamer, often visiting Chantilly gaming store Game Parlor. In fact, owner Robert Weigend testified he began selling Severance's game in 2000.

"It was quite innovative," testified Weigend. He says a copy of it sold as recently as 2013.

Prosecutors have said that Severance -- a former Alexandria resident with a history of erratic behavior -- committed the killings as revenge against what he perceived as the city's ruling class after losing custody of his son. All three of the victims were well known in the community or related to people who were.

The defense has brought in a mental health expert, forensic psychologist Dr. William Stejskal, who diagnosed Severance as having a personality disorder with mixed paranoid and schizotypal features.

Stejskal says Severance's paranoia could explain some of his violent writings directed at police and the court.

But prosecutors pressed the doctor during cross-examination about the fact that the diagnosis was made by reading Severance's journals and interviewing family, not by interviewing Severance.

Severance's trial is expected to continue Tuesday.

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