Balancing the scales

Some might call Charles Severance’s experience during the past few weeks remarkable. Here in West Virginia we have another word: justice.

Severance, though not even a citizen of our state, received not just the full formality of justice but a spirited, effective defense in our courts.

A few weeks ago, Wheeling police were contacted by their counterparts in Alexandria, Va. The Virginia authorities wanted to talk to Severance about a series of murders. They had reason to believe he was in West Virginia.

Local officers, employing very good police work, quickly found Severance and arrested him. Officially, he was being held on a firearms charge from Virginia.

Virginia officials asked that Severance be extradited. He decided to resist, so court hearings had to be held here.

Because it was found Severance could not afford an attorney, the Ohio County Public Defender’s office was told to represent him.

Chief Public Defender Shayne Welling did more than that. He fought hard for Severance, forcing both Ohio County Prosecutor Scott Smith and Virginia authorities to dot all the i’s and cross all the t’s in their case.

Welling’s argument was that the firearms charge was merely a pretext to get Severance back to Alexandria, where the real reason police wanted him was for questioning in the murders. Severance has not been officially accused in those cases.

But Circuit Judge James Mazzone correctly ruled that, in effect, the firearms charge was ample reason to comply with the Virginia extradition request.

Then Welling brought out the big guns: He appealed to the West Virginia Supreme Court. On Tuesday, the court denied Welling’s request for a stay of extradition. Severance is expected to be returned to Virginia soon.

There, he – and other people who believe justice for all is more than an empty slogan – will have reason to look back on what happened in Wheeling with gratification (if not, for Severance, joy). At substantial expense and trouble, an out-of-state resident accused by some of being mentally unbalanced received a full measure of justice from West Virginians.

That is something about which we should be proud. Here in West Virginia, the scales of justice – for all – remain balanced.