FAIRFAX, Va. (AP) — Prosecutors are telling a jury that a Virginia man accused of killing three Alexandria residents over the span of a decade wanted revenge against what he perceived as the city's elite after losing a child custody case. Opening statements began Thursday in the trial of 55-year-old Charles Severance of Ashburn.
He is accused of shooting three prominent Alexandria residents in their homes: Nancy Dunning, wife of then-Sheriff James Dunning, in 2003; transportation planner Ron Kirby in 2013; and music teacher Ruthanne Lodato last year.
During a testy arraignment in Fairfax County Circuit Court, Charles Severance of Ashburn answered "not guilty" to each charge in a 10-count indictment. But he resisted answering every other question asked during the arraignment, calling the questions "suggestive" and the environment coercive.
"You think me asking your name is a suggestive question?" Judge Randy Bellows asked of Severance, who instead wanted to argue about the fact that he has been denied bail pending trial.
"Excessive bail shall not be required. That's the eighth amendment of the Constitution," Severance said several times.
efense lawyers say that the government's case lacks strong evidence and that its theory of the killings is illogical.
Jury selection in the trial is scheduled to begin Monday. Severance's formal arraignment was held Thursday so it could be done outside the presence of the jury, at the defense request.
The routine questions asked during the arraignment were designed to confirm whether Severance understood the charges and has been satisfied with the work of his lawyers.
As the questioning went on, Severance objected to the fact that it occurred outside the jury's presence, even though it was his lawyers who requested the arrangement.
"I prefer to have a trial by jury," he said. "I believe this is a trial by ordeal."
Severance has occasionally had outbursts at previous pretrial hearings, including one instance in which he extended a middle finger at a photographer.
His defense is not claiming insanity but is planning to put on evidence of Severance's mental health in an effort to explain some of his actions, including his effort to seek asylum at the Russian Embassy when police first tried to question him about the shootings and journal writings that glorify killings of police and other members of what he sees as "the enforcement class."
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