The first few days of the trial of Charles Severance were marked by passionate arguments from the defense and prosecution, culminating in the emotional testimony of the sole witness to one of the murders. However, as the trial enters its third week, the long work of piecing together the evidence begins.
The trial was momentarily stopped on Oct. 19 after Joseph King, head of the defense team, suffered a death in the family. It resumed on Tuesday, however, with the prosecution and defense running the jury through the basics of computer and firearms analysis.
Martin Hoffmaster, a civilian computer forensic examiner for the Alexandria Police Department and former detective in the department, was called to the stand to discuss the data found on Severance’s computer. From the five computers the police had analyzed, Hoffmaster said there were 2 terabytes of data to sort through: the equivalent of 2,000 filing cabinets worth if it were all printed. However, there was no sign of any searches for news stories on the murders and no searches for any of the victims or addresses except on one of his parents’ computers after their son’s arrest. However, Hoffmaster did note that one of the computers did have evidence of a scrubbing software, which made it difficult to determine what may or may not have been searched.
The prosecution argued that the same type of ammunition being used in each of the crimes, .22 caliber long rifle plain lead hollow point bullets manufactured by Remington, ties the three murders together. In his writings, the prosecution alleged that Severance showed repeated admiration for the specific type of ammunition used in the murders. Three firearms experts: Julien Mason, Ann Davis, and Gary Arnsten, all testified that the only time they’d seen the ammunition used in each of the three murders was in those cases. However, Mason said that either the firearm had changed dramatically between the murders, or a different gun was used in each of the killings. Mason also added that the bullets could not have been fired from the guns confiscated from Severance upon his arrest.
The prosecution and defense also argued over whether or not writings that were focused on the board games invented by Severance would be admissible. Judge Randy Bellows allowed the writings to be submitted as evidence as the game makes specific writing to J.H. Dunning, a possible reference to James Herbert Dunning, who was connected to the protective order that kept Severance from custody of his son Levite. James Dunning was also the husband of Nancy Dunning, the first victim in the case.
“The distinction between the games and reality is not hard [in this case],” said Bellows. “There is a connection to reality, therefore the writings cannot be discounted because they are game related.”