Attorney seeks release of ‘person of interest’ in Alexandria killings

April 15, 2014

The attorney for a “person of interest” in three high-profile killings in Alexandria wants a West Virginia judge to order that his client be released, arguing that Charles Severance is being held unlawfully on a flimsy charge meant only to allow more investigation of the slayings.

In a filing Monday, defense attorney Shayne M. Welling wrote that authorities in the D.C. area drummed up a Loudoun County weapons charge against Severance, 53, so they could further investigate him in connection with the February slaying of music teacher Ruthanne Lodato, the November shooting of regional transportation planner Ronald Kirby and the 2003 killing of real estate agent Nancy Dunning.

Severance has not been charged in any of the slayings, although Alexandria’s mayor has called him a “person of interest.” He was arrested in Wheeling, W.Va., last month and is being held on a fugitive-from-justice warrant stemming from the Loudoun County charge of being a felon in possession of a firearm.

A hearing to determine whether Severance should be sent back to Loudoun is scheduled for next week.

Welling took aim at D.C.-area authorities’ treatment of the case, arguing that it was beset with technical problems. He released several documents aimed at showing that Severance was being investigated by Alexandria in connection with the killings and argued that the weapons charge was a “sham.”

A warrant for the Loudoun charge says that Severance’s girlfriend told investigators she purchased two .22-caliber guns for her boyfriend, a convicted felon.

Welling also argued that Severance did not flee to West Virginia because when he left Virginia, he was charged with no crime there. He said that Northern Virginia authorities, who apparently had been tracking Severance because of the killings, produced the Loudoun charge as a “pretext” to detain the eccentric history buff.

“This conduct is illegal, unconscionable, unforgivable, and serves as a complete abrogation of the rule of law,” Welling wrote.

Attached to Welling’s filing were two search warrants for properties where Severance was known to have stayed, and they list the offense being investigated as “murder.” The warrants say investigators were looking for a tan or brown jacket, tan or green slacks, guns, various pieces of computer equipment, journals and anything that might contain DNA.

Alexandria police said Tuesday, as they have before, that they do not consider Severance a suspect in the killings.

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Matt Zapotosky covers the federal district courthouse in Alexandria, where he tries to break news from a windowless office in which he is not allowed to bring his cell phone.
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