Interview: Bryan Porter Writes Book About Charles Severance Case

Charles Severance is serving three life sentences plus 48 years. Getting his conviction wasn't easy.

Bryan Porter, Commonwealth’s Attorney for Alexandria. (Photo: James Cullum)

Alexandria, VA – It was important for Bryan Porter that he didn’t screw this one up. It is one of the most important cases of his career and it left a lasting impression on Alexandria. Three city residents were the victims of a serial killer, and it was Porter’s job to deliver justice and determine that the man they had in custody – Charles Severance – was guilty of killing Nancy Dunning, Ronald Kirby, and Ruthanne Lodato. In Jan. 2016, Porter and his team got their decision – three life sentences plus 48 years for Severance. 

Porter has since written a book about his experience trying the case.

“The Parable of the Knocker” was released in August. The lifelong Alexandrian felt duty bound to deliver for his city, for the distraught families of the victims, and needed to keep Severance off the streets. 

“I had some real concerns about whether I could put the case together,” Porter told The Zebra. “Of course, the media was going crazy. I mean, I’d only been in office for one month and I’ve got CNN calling. Every time I would go outside of the courthouse there would be a gaggle of reporters wanting me to make some comment. So, I was unprepared for the media attention and the idea that everyone expected me to have the answers.”

At his darkest period, Porter was having trouble eating and sleeping as he weighed charging Severance with all three murders, which occurred in 2003, 2013, and 2014. And then, as if in a story, after waking up one morning he heard a woman’s voice speaking inside of him.

“And I actually heard a voice,” Porter said. “It was a woman’s voice, and maybe I was losing my mind a little bit, but the voice said, ‘You’ve got to trust your gut. It got you this far.'”

Charles Severance (File Photo)

The Interview 

Zebra: You’re a busy guy. You’re managing the Commonwealth Attorney’s Office, you’ve got a family, and now you’re a published author. How did you make that last part work?  

Porter: The genesis of it was after I completed the trial of the Charles Severance case there was interest from authors. I’ve met with two different authors who were interested in writing that story, and both of them were published, were professionals. And so I met with one guy who’s a very good guy, I liked him personally. And he seemed interested in it. He definitely knew what he was doing, and I think he would have done a good job. But he had not lived through it, the way that I had lived through it. I just felt like the only way the truly accurate story would be out there was if I did it myself. 

That case had been a huge personal journey for me as well. It started right about the time I got elected. It had a huge impact on the community, and the third offense occurred just one month into my first term. So, I basically was presented with a career-changing case one month into my first term, and honestly was not prepared for it. I was not sure that I had it in me to professionally put that investigation and case together and bring it to a successful conclusion.

So, there was a personal journey. Obviously, it was a matter of much public import and people were very upset about it. But the main reason I really wanted to write the book is in addition to being the story of what the investigation was about, I think there are some real lessons for society with regard to the intersection of mental health and gun violence. Because obviously, both were playing in this case. And so while it is a narrative in that I do talk about the investigation and the trial, for instance, there’s also an afterword of the book in which I really discuss concrete proposals relating to mental health and also to guns, and an effort to address what I see to be, obviously one of the most pressing problems that we currently have. So I kind of am trying to use a story that is, you know, a very human story. I’m trying to do it in a thoughtful way. I’m trying to protect the sensitivity of people who were involved in the case, to all of the families. I try not to dwell on the details of the actual offenses. 

Zebra: You don’t focus on the grim details. 

Porter: I mean, they’re grim just by the nature of what occurred. But it’s a very quick recital of what occurred in the actual offenses. And then we turn to the investigation and how we put the case and the trial together.  

Zebra: Is it told in first person? 

Porter: Yes it is. I wasn’t involved in the case back in 2003 when Nancy Dunning was murdered. I was a young prosecutor here doing misdemeanor crimes. So, there’s actually a subtle shift in viewpoint. I kind of relate that offense in more third person, and it flips immediately to first person when I got elected. 

Ron Kirby was murdered a couple of days after I was elected, and I was out of the country on a sailing excursion to celebrate my first election, and then, of course, Ruthanne Lodato was murdered a month into my first term. It’s very detailed about how law enforcement officers and detectives involved investigated the case, and then once he was arrested and indicted, and I switch to the trial. 

Zebra: Can you tell me about the title? 

Porter: “The Parable of the Knocker” is the title of a poem that Severance wrote, and in which he gives a lot of cryptic clues as to what he was doing and why he was doing it. So, he had two composition notebooks that he kept with him, and when he was arrested in Wheeling, West Virginia, the police executed a search warrant on his car, and found these notebooks and there’s a lot of very disturbing writings. 

At trial I refer to the corpus of his work as a manifesto of hate, because he was just very filled with hate for all sorts of groups. But one of the most damning of those documents was “The Parable of the Knocker,” which is a very interesting poem, if you want to call it that. And basically what he did is he twisted a parable from the Bible from the New Testament and he wrote it out in a slightly different way than it’s actually cited in the Bible. And then it finishes with a line that says, “Knock, talk, enter, kill, exit.” So, you kind of finish with this very chilling line about what he was doing.

Zebra: What parable did he lift from the Bible? 

Porter: It’s called “The Parable of the Midnight Knocker.” I think it’s in the Gospel of Luke, and it says, “Keep seeking, and you will find. Keep knocking, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives. He who seeks finds. To him who knocks it will be opened.” 

That’s the actual parable. Well, he took that and put it into the “Parable of the Knocker,” but then he just goes off on a tangent about violence, which obviously is not the purpose of the original parable, which is about the persistence of prayer. In the parable, the midnight knocker needs food and offer needs food and sustenance. And so he’s knocking on the doors of his neighbors and asking for them to help him. And the neighbors are like, “I’m too busy go away,” and they close the door. But he keeps knocking and finally he finds someone who provides for him. And, of course, he’s praying in-between. So, the theory is that God will provide for you as long as you’re persistent. 

Zebra: Looks like you’ve done your homework. 

Porter: I’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure out Severance’s thought process, which is difficult, but I think a lot of his thinking revolved around the neighborhood in which these offenses occurred. He used to live in the neighborhood, kind of like on the outskirts on Gunston Road, which is in ParkFairfax – very close to the Lodato home, pretty close to the Dunning home. 

I think think that he considered these people in some way his neighbors, because they used to live there, and there’s no doubt the neighborhood was one of the primary focuses of his rage. Now, this is going to sound a little wacky, but I’m convinced of this. You have to bear with me to explain this. I think part of the lure for him for that neighborhood was General Braddock, the British general in the 1750s. If you look at Severance’s writings, it’s kind of like an anti-technology, anti- government manifesto – very similar to what the Unabomber wrote. They had a lot in common, and Severance was absolutely fascinated with the time frame in the 1750s and 1760s, in which white settlers were moving into the Ohio River Valley and coming into conflict with the native Americans. 

Zebra: Is he smart? 

Porter: Oh, he’s very smart. Graduated with a degree in engineering from the University of Virginia. He’s very well read. There’s a lot of a lot of citations to (Irish politician and philosopher] Sir Edmund Burke, to [Genevan philosopher] Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and [British philosopher] Thomas Hobbes. Now, it doesn’t it doesn’t really fit together into a coherent political theory, but he kind of tried to make it do that. One of his favorite phrases was, “Tomahawking a homestead in the backwoods of America,” and he wrote that all the time. He would say it. We had testimony about it at the trial. What he was doing with that phrase was giving his approval to the way that the Native Americans had to resort to guerrilla warfare because they didn’t have the numbers and the technology to fight back against the settlers. 

And so the native Americans would basically descend on somebody’s homestead in the middle of the afternoon one day and just kill everybody with tomahawks. General Braddock was sent out there in 1755 and responded. He started here in Alexandria at the Carlyle House, and Braddock Road purportedly is at least a portion of the path that he followed. 

There’s clues all over the place. Severance lived on Gunston Road for a while and he called it his “Gunston manor.” Well, Gunston Hall was owned by George Mason, who was a shareholder in the Ohio River Company, which was paying people to go out and settle on the frontier. When Severance left Alexandria he moved out to Cumberland, Maryland, which is the site of Fort Cumberland, where Braddock’s westward march halted for a couple of weeks and his forces were resupplied. Severance spent a lot of time visiting these historic sites in the Ohio River Valley. In fact, he was arrested in Wheeling, West Virginia, which is on the Ohio River. 

Zebra: What did he do for work? 

Porter: He had a couple of jobs where he was an engineer. I think he worked for the Wastewater Treatment Plant here in Alexandria, but he always had problems with his bosses. He was very antisocial, would get in trouble. I remember there’s one anecdote in which he was fired because he kept arguing with his boss, and he would drape himself in a Soviet flag. And so finally, they had enough with them. 

Zebra: He had a family, though, right? 

Porter: He had been married once in the early 90’s. That only lasted a short period of time. Then he had a brief fling with a woman and that produced a son, and the son was really the spark that lit the kindling in Severance’s murderous rampage.

Zebra: What happened? 

Porter: In the early 2000’s, there was a very difficult custody battle for Severance here in the city courthouse. Severance represented himself and filed sarcastic and really disturbing documents against the mother of his child. The judge, among other things, at one point ordered Severance to undergo a mental health exam and he refused to do it. Finally, the judge ruled that the kid would go with the mother and gave her full custody. Severance was very angry about that, and if you look at his writings it just comes up over and over again. Even 15 years after the event he was still very angry about the child custody dispute.  

Zebra: Was Severance abused as a child? 

Porter: I don’t think he was abused. He’s got siblings who are very well adjusted. They testified at trial. He always had issues. Like, you know, he joined a cult when he was like, 17, or 18. His dad was a military officer, but he hates the military. There are significant mental health issues going on. 

But this is something important that I try to make a point of in the book. I think society says that it’s binary, like, you’re either crazy or you’re not. And so therefore, the mental health system ought to be able to identify these people before they go on murderous rampages. But Severance was not schizophrenic. He wasn’t hallucinating or hearing voices. He suffered from multiple personality disorders, and that meant that he was very quick to perceive personal slights and never could forget them. He was very paranoid, felt like people were out to get him. 

Zebra: Sounds like he’s schizophrenic. 

Porter: He’s not. The best the doctor would do a trial was say that he had schizoaffective disorder, meaning that there were some tendencies, but he never hallucinated, there was no thought insertion or thought deletion. I think the schizoid tendencies were ideas of reference and that he thought things that had nothing to do with him were personally related to him. And he had some eccentric writing related to religion. 

Zebra: Is this the result of a lifetime of being excluded for long periods of time? 

Porter: He had some acquaintances in Cumberland who testified on his behalf at trial. He had  a girlfriend here in Ashburn, but it was a very unusual relationship. I think maybe they were both lonely. He had his loneliness going on and she had hers and they kind of meshed in some way. It was in some ways quasi-romantic. He lived with her, but I think he had his own bedroom, and he slept in his own bed. 

Zebra: How was Severance caught? 

Porter: On the morning of March 6, 2014, then-Police Chief Earl Cook gave a press conference in which he said we’ve linked all three of these offenses through firearms and ammunition evidence. And then, by coincidence, a detective knocked on Severance’s girlfriend’s door that afternoon to try to interview him, because his name had come up in the investigation. He was one of 1,000 tips. It was all over the news, that there is a serial killer on the loose and the firearms evidence has linked these three murders over the course of a decade. And then the police are knocking on the door saying they want to talk to you. They didn’t say why. They just left a business card that said they needed to talk to Charles Severance. That’s all it said. 

In his mind, he must have felt like, “My arrest is imminent. They’re on me.” 

What he did is the next morning was that he emailed the detective and it said he received the business card, period, and didn’t say he would talk to the police. Then he went in his car, drove to DC, parked in a parking lot, and walked out to the Russian Embassy. He had on several layers of clothing and a poncho, and on top he had on a tricorn hat, like from the Revolutionary War because he saw himself as a revolutionary patriot. And he goes to the Russian embassy. You can’t make this stuff up. 

I think that he was trying to change his appearance, because we released a composite sketch out there detailing a very thin white guy. I think he was trying to make himself look much more bulky. It’s in the book from the Russian embassy. He goes there dressed in his very odd attire and he sneaks in the compound. He tries to sneak in and the Russian guards grab him and ask him what he’s doing, and he says, “I’m been requesting asylum. The City of Alexandria is persecuting me. They took my son away from me, and they’re persecuting me and I want asylum.” 

In his mind, he thought that at least in the last two murders he was doing acts of revolution against a corrupt government. That’s how he convinced himself to kind of cobble together his political theory. The Russians called the Secret Service and they showed up and interviewed him, and he looked like the composite. So, they followed him back to his car and then they stopped him and asked if they could search his car, and he refused. They did not search the car, which is unfortunate because I think the guns were in the car that afternoon. What they did do is they took pictures of him and they took pictures of his car, the red 1999 Ford Escort station wagon. That evening, they forwarded their report and the pictures to the Alexandria police department. The next morning a detective saw the car and remembered the video from the scene. 

Zebra: Where were you when they found Severance? 

Porter: I think I got a phone call from Dave Cutting and he said, “Hey, look, this isn’t for public consumption, but we think we’ve got a suspect.” Of course, at that point he was a ghost. We had no idea how we’re going to find this guy. We went back out to his girlfriend’s house that Monday, and she said he packed up all his stuff into his car and left to go camping. 

Then we got a search warrant for her house and we brought her in for an interview. I watched the interview through a computer screen, and she says, “There’s something I forgot to tell you guys. At [Severance’s] request I bought two guns off the internet, and then a box of ammunition and they’re missing.” 

The guns are .22 caliber five shot mini revolvers, and the ammunition is called Remington Subsonic ammunition 22 Long Rifle, which is the same as all of the rounds from all of the crime scenes. All of the bullets at all the crime scenes that we recovered were the same ammunition. 

Zebra: So, how did you approach this case? You can’t screw up on this one. 

Porter: He’s not the kind of person to back down and change his ways. It was a serious test, and I think there were all sorts of pressures. It’s true that the police are the primary investigators, but I’m the one that has to have the final answers to questions like: Are we charging him with a crime? If so, is it murder? If so, is it one murder, or two murders or three murders? And then once the murders are charged, do we seek the death penalty? That’s a big question. And that’s all on my shoulders. 

At the time I was filled with a lot of self doubt. I had some real concerns about whether I could put the case together. Of course the media was going crazy. I mean, I’d only been in office for one month and I’ve got CNN calling. Every time I would go outside of the courthouse there would be a gaggle of reporters wanting me to make some comment. So, I was unprepared for the media attention and the idea that everyone expected me to have the answers. Maybe for a little bit I even felt sorry for myself. 

But what happened was that my brother, Scott, who was a prosecutor gave me a book by Vincent Bugliosi, who was the Helter Skelter Charles Manson prosecutor, and became an author who wrote a book about all sorts of crimes. The book he gave me was about the OJ Simpson case called “Outrage”. Basically, the prosecution got caught up in the media part of it. They didn’t focus on the victims. 

If there is such a thing as natural law, the one thing most people would agree on is that murder is wrong, right? Any murder is a crime against the very foundations of civil society, and basically what I got out of that book is that I should stop feeling sorry for myself. I was very stressed out, I wasn’t sleeping, I wasn’t eating. But this is a crime against the victims, and you’ve got almost a sacred obligation to remember the people that were hurt as a result of this, you’ve got a duty to your hometown to put an end to the killing hold this man accountable for it, and to make sure that he can’t hurt anybody else. And you’ve also got a duty to society in general, and I think that that was a turning point for me, because I started seeing things differently. 

Zebra: First you have to be able to wrap your mind around it. 

Porter: Exactly, and if I deserve credit for anything it’s that I got a really good team of people to assist. 

Senior Assistant Commonwealth Attorney David Lord giving opening arguments during Charles Severance trial. (Courtesy photo>)

Zebra: How long did it take to write the book? 

Porter: A long time. It took about three years – [I started it] not long after Severance was sentenced by the judge. 

Zebra: Have you ever personally spoken with Severance? 

Porter: The answer to that question is interesting. I mean, maybe in passing, but he never really talked to anybody in law enforcement. He invoked his right to remain silent and never really said anything. 

Zebra: What was the vibe from Severance? What did you feel in his presence?  

Porter: He’s a very angry person. That’s the best way to explain it. The anger is palpable with him. It kind of exudes off of him, like an aura, if you will. And he’s very convinced, I think, of his own superiority. And I think that’s one of the things that bothered him the most, that he thought that he was superior to everybody in intellect and capabilities, but society wasn’t seeing him for that, and so he felt slighted. 

I’ll give an example. He ran for the mayor of Alexandria in 1996 and 2000. He ran for Congress. Now, they were very odd campaigns. I mean, one of his platform pieces was to introduce country square dancing to the school system, and to eliminate the entire city budget for mental health treatment. There’s an interview of him online where he was dressed in all black, like Keanu Reeves in “The Matrix” with his hair slicked back. And it’s a political interview.

Zebra: Does he have a messiah complex? 

Porter: Yes, there’s definitely a messianic thing going on there. Of course on election day he got no votes. He was very angry that he wasn’t being taken seriously as a candidate. Mostly his hatred was focused on what he called “law enforcement elites.” He hated the military and he hated law enforcement and he mentioned them over and over again in his manifesto. 

I think he liked being coy about what he was doing. One of the big pieces of evidence in the case that helped us break the case is in the Lodato crime. When he left he got into his car, which was a very distinctive red 1997 Ford Escort station wagon. And he drove west on Braddock Road and he went up by Blessed Sacrament. And it just so happened that there were video cameras, a citizen just had video cameras outside of his house that were recorded to a DVR. 

The police they looked at the camera and the footage for a couple of minutes after the homicide. They just saw a car driving away from the scene and I remember the time that we were like, “That’s kind of weird.” 

I don’t know why it struck us. I mean, is it intuition that you’ve gained over the years as an investigator, you’ve honed your craft and you just somehow have an instinct for things that are out of place? There was nothing specific about the car. I mean, it might have been driving a little bit quicker; it was coming away from the scene. If you freeze framed it and looked very closely you can kind of make out that maybe the driver was a white guy with a beard. And that’s about it. But as the car went past, you could see a couple of idiosyncratic things about it, one of which was there was clearly a bumper sticker on the bumper.

Now you couldn’t see what the bumper sticker was. You couldn’t read the license plate, all you could see was a circle on the bumper. Fast forward to when Severance was actually arrested, which was about a month after Ruthanne Lodato’s homicide. They find his car in Wheeling, West Virginia, they get a search warrant of his car, and I’m up there at Wheeling with them to see it. Dave Cutting, who was one of the detectives was like, “You’ve got to see this.”

Hold on , I’ve got the sticker. That’s it. 

The sticker that was found on Charles Severance’s car bumper.

Zebra: It’s a sticker for the Assassination City Roller Derby league. 

Porter: With a revolver with five rounds in it. He put that on his bumper sticker, and it’s a sly, sarcastic way of hiding in plain sight. I think that he enjoyed the fact that no one would know what this meant. I mean, he doesn’t like roller derby. 

It proved to be his downfall because then once we got the car, we took it back to Alexandria, and we were able to drive it through the same cameras, because they were still there functioning a month later. The footage looked absolutely the same. 

There’s other things. There’s a dent in the left rear quarter panel; the wheels are the same; We had an expert from Ford fly out from Michigan for trial and say there weren’t that many made in this color, with this trim and with these wheels. It was pretty obvious by the end of the trial that his car at least was two blocks away from the Lodato house three minutes after the murder. He was angry and sarcastic and mocking and superior.

Zebra: How did you change throughout this experience? 

Porter: The first thing is that by going through this crucible it really changed my opinion about what my job is and what I’m really supposed to be doing. And it helped me grow, I think, as a person, both as a lawyer, obviously, but just as a person to have a better understanding of how all of these senseless acts of violence can impact not just the people directly involved in it, but the community at large. 

Collectively, we were able to make a lot of really tough decisions that, in the end, worked out because we brought the case to a successful conclusion. I’ve learned lessons that I’ve tried to impart to other prosecutors, but also to other people. 

I’ll give you an example: Back when we were figuring out whether we were going to charge him or not with more, he was charged on a different offense, like there was a firearms charge that we brought against him from Loudoun County to get him off the street while we were kind of putting the case together. As the summer progressed somebody had to make a decision. Were we going indicted for murder, and if so how many? So, I went to a bunch of people that I respected who had a lot more experienced than me, prosecutors from different jurisdictions. And I would go over the facts with them and talk to them and get their opinion. What I wanted everybody to say was that I should indict him all three murders, but instead I got a lot of varying opinions. 

So, true story. This was keeping me up at night, and I woke up one morning, and I had to make a decision. We couldn’t keep putting this decision off. And I actually heard a voice. It was a woman’s voice, and maybe I was losing my mind a little bit, but the voice said, “You’ve got to trust your gut. It got you this far.” 

Now obviously, probably what that is was me waking up from a twilight sleep where I was worried about it, even in my dreams. It’s not like I really think I had an angel speaking to me or anything like that, but I do remember the voice and I remember it specifically. And so I came to work and felt like I knew this case, and my gut was telling me The case only made send if I charged all three of these murder charges together. I talked it over with my team and they all agreed with me. And we did.

Zebra: What was holding you back from doing that? 

Porter: I kept hoping that some really incredible overwhelming evidence would pop up, making it an open-and-shut case, which in retrospect, it was a very, very strong case, but was very complicated. We didn’t have the guns, we didn’t have a confession. He wrote a bunch of scary stuff about murdering people, but he never named the victims by name in his writings. We had a couple of people that observed him, but we weren’t sure whether they were going to be able to identify him. There was a surviving victim in the Lodato case, who in the end at trial did identify him as the person who had shot her, but we weren’t sure that was going to happen going into it.

If you see most of these really big cases, it’s no question who did it, right? The defense was saying that we got the wrong guy and that we rushed to judgement, because we had to make an arrest… 

Obviously I gained confidence. I can’t imagine that I would have a more stressful or career-type case than this. There’s all sorts of tough cases, but I definitely grew exponentially as a leader, definitely as a lawyer, and also as a person. So, I felt I should be able to deal with the pressure of another big case. I also want to make it clear that most people who are mentally ill would never commit a crime. They’re much more likely to be a victim of a crime than commit an offense. But there is a scary, small group of people like Charles Severance right now considering doing horrible things to people and we have to do a better job of as society of kind of recognizing that and trying to address it.

Zebra: Even though your book ends, the city still needs to heal from this trauma. How important was it for Alexandria to have some kind of resolution to these murders? 

Porter: If you remember back when this was occurring, the panic in the city was at a fever pitch. Now, it wasn’t as regional as like the DC sniper case, but in the city, once it was obvious that these offenses were linked. 

Zebra: Folks must’ve stopped answering their doors. 

Porter: Clearly. My parents live in a house that I grew up in. And it’s pretty close to the Kirby house. They’re definitely within the same neighborhood as the crow flies. It’s probably a couple hundred yards. When this was going down, my parents would leave the front door open. They have a dog who would like to sit at the front door and just kind of look out as the world went by, and I had to call my parents and say, “Hey, look, there is a random killer. We don’t know who it is, we don’t know what’s going on. You guys should close that door, lock it and don’t open a knock at the door. And that freaked them out… 

But I think people wanted it to be, you know, a wacky family member or an ex-business partner. People wanted it to be an affair gone wrong, or a business partner who was jilted and unhappy, because then it’s less likely that just a random killer is knocking on doors and killing people, which, of course, is what Severance was trying to do. 

Zebra: It just sounds like Charles Manson. It’s crazy.

Porter: There were some similarities. But we formed a very good close bond with most family members of the victims. You’re dealing with these wonderful people at the very worst part of their lives, so you’ve got an obligation to them. I realized that’s why I signed up for this, right? 

People asked me that after the case, “Did you get justice?” It’s impossible for a human being to provide justice in this case, because the only justice would be if this had never happened, and the best I can do is try to kind of bring a modicum of solace to the families. Obviously we got a just result, in my opinion, but there’s no such thing as closure.

Zebra: How much time did he spend profiling his victims?

Porter: This is something that’s going to always be debated. My theory is Nancy Dunning was selected because she was the wife of the sheriff, and he blamed the law, he hated law enforcement for losing his son in court. Then you’ve got a 10 year gap. What happened during that 10 years as he moved away? He got arrested in Rockingham County, convicted of a felony and could no longer buy guns lawfully. A decade later he found a new woman who was willing to buy him the exact guns and ammo he wanted. 

I don’t think the last two victims were picked for who they were. He was looking for people during daylight hours that are home alone in this particular neighborhood… I think in the intervening 10 years, his writings suggest that it was more he saw it less as personal and more as a political revolution against the corrupt government against the law enforcement elites. And I think he picked them because they were home, alone, during weekday hours. 

Zebra: Why didn’t you go for the death penalty? 

Porter: He was eligible for it. There were a couple of things. One was the obvious mental health issues that were a driving force. He wasn’t schizophrenic, so he would never have been able to avail himself of the insanity defense. But all you’ve got to do is look at the guy and realize that there’s something something off. The other real issue for me was that it takes a long time for death penalty cases to start. To be honest, if the death penalty was on the table, and I had witnesses that I needed to keep on board, Severence’s girlfriend, and the surviving victim was talking about moving back to her home country. I was very concerned about our ability to keep the trial together and put it on if it took six years to get the case to start. 

My goal in the end was stopping this man from being able to do this, again. I don’t care if he serves his time in a mental hospital, a prison. So, we accomplished that.

Zebra: What’s the moral of the story?

Porter: Well, I think the moral of the story is like the end of my closing argument. I started discussing the problem of evil, the fact that evil is allowed to exist in the world. I do in some ways believe that there’s something more to existence than just we are a random collection of atoms. But the world I live in, it really seems more like it’s two opposing forces – good battling evil. A more cogent explanation would be, if you want to believe in deities – you’ve got a good deity and a bad deity and they fight it out. It seems many times like the bad one’s kind of winning, right? But then I realized that if the evil outweighs the good of humanity, then we wouldn’t be here.

It may be just by a hair’s breadth, but the good outweighs the evil, because otherwise we would have been dispatched millions of years ago. We would never have evolved. So, I strongly believe that the good outweighs evil, love outweighs hate, and light outweighs the darkness just by a little bit. And that gives me some optimism for where humanity is going.

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