Mother of Charles Severance’s Son Testifies in Triple-Murder Trial

A woman who had a child with triple murder suspect Charles Severance took the stand Wednesday, as well as family members of one victim and a plumber who testified to having seen Severance close to the scene of one of the the murders. 

Prosecutors said that after Severance lost custody of the son he had with Tamela Nichols, he developed a deep hatred of police and the courts -- a hatred they say later led him to kill three well-known Alexandria residents between 2003 and 2014. 

Nichols, the woman who had a child with him in 1999, had remained out of public view. But in court Wednesday, she testified for the prosecution. Nichols became pregnant shortly after meeting Severance in 1999. For a brief time, they lived together in Alexandria, but troubles surfaced quickly, and before their son was a year old, she had moved out, taking the baby with her.

Nichols testified that she soon won sole custody of the child. Severance wasn't allowed to see his son, but Nichols testified he sent "a lot of letters" from 2000 until 2009.

The prosecutor asked her, "Were the letters pleasant?"

Nichols replied, "No."

When asked how she would characterize them, she said, "They were frightening and they were threatening."

After opening the trial last week with a focus on the Feb. 2014 murder of music teacher Ruthanne Lodato, prosecutors turned attention Wednesday to the shooting death of transportation planner Ron Kirby just months earlier, in November 2013. He had lived little more than a mile from Lodato.

His tearful widow, Anne Haynes, briefly testified to say she'd left the home for a doctor's appointment the morning of his death -- her last call to her husband -- to get driving directions.

Kirby's son Josef discovered his body when he drove to the home on that day.

"I walked through the front door and found my father dead," Josef Kirby said. He called 911. Medics first thought it as a heart attack; then they discovered bullet wounds. 

Plumber Daniel Petrillo was scheduled to do work at the Kirby home the day Ron Kirby was killed. Cellphone records show he called Kirby at 11:32 a.m. to say he was en route. By the time he knocked on the door and got no answer at 11:42 a.m., Kirby had been shot.

Petrillo testified that as he drove to the home, he saw a man who looked like a hobo, with a shaggy beard. Under cross-examination, the defense challenged him and asked why he did not mention seeing the man in a long interview the day after the murder, or in an FBI interview that December. Petrillo didn't mention having seen the man until last month, defense attorneys said, suggesting it only came to him after he saw a photo of Severance.

Jurors also saw on Wednesday what was in Severance's car when he was arrested in West Virginia: a gun-cleaning kit but no guns, cash, many clothes, tourist brochures and books, including the Bible.

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