‘Person of interest’ in Alexandria slayings to remain in jail


Charles Severance talks with his attorney Shayne Welling during a recess in his court proceedings on March 19 in Wheeling, W.Va. (Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)

A man labeled a “person of interest” in three high-profile Alexandria slayings will stay in a Loudoun County jail cell while facing an unrelated gun charge, a judge ruled Friday.

Charles Severance, 53, was arrested in March in Wheeling, W.Va. At the time, Alexandria police said they wanted to question him about the deaths of music teacher Ruthanne Lodato this year, regional transportation planner Ronald Kirby last fall and real estate agent Nancy Dunning in 2003.

Defense attorney Ed Ungvarsky argued Friday that no evidence links his client to those homicides and that the case against him in Loudoun for possession of a firearm by a nonviolent felon is “thin.”

Loudoun detectives have previously said that Severance’s girlfriend, Linda Robra, told them that she purchased two .22-caliber guns for her boyfriend and that he left the house with them March 10, the day police came to her home. According to a bond motion Ungvarsky filed in Loudoun court, prosecutors have acknowledged that Robra said she purchased the guns for herself, did not see Severance leave with them and had not known where they were for months.

Robra asked Severance to leave her home when she was contacted by police because there was marijuana there, and she was worried that police would search the home, according to the motion.

“I will concede that the criminal complaint wasn’t precise,” Commonwealth’s Attorney James Plowman said in court. However, he said that there was “a wide variety of circumstantial evidence” against Severance.

Plowman also referred to Severance’s “mental health issues” in arguing against bond, warning that recent shootings have shown guns and untreated mental illness to be a “deadly combination.”

“We don’t have a good picture of what this individual’s mental state is,” Plowman said. Known in Alexandria as an eccentric political gadfly, Severance has complained publicly about mental health treatment.

Judge J. Frank Buttery Jr. ruled to keep Severance in jail, noting that the charge he faces carries a presumption against bond.

Had Severance been freed, he would have stayed with his parents in Fairfax County, Ungvarsky said in court. Alexandria police have said Severance is not a suspect in the three slayings but is part of the investigation. Alexandria’s mayor called him a “person of interest.”

In 2005, Severance pleaded guilty to a felony gun-possession charge in Rockingham County, Va., and was placed on probation.

Rachel Weiner covers local politics for The Washington Post.

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