In gun case of Charles Severance, ‘primary focus’ in Alexandria killings, girlfriend testifies


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

The longtime girlfriend of a man whom Alexandria police are now calling the “primary focus” of their investigation into three high-profile slayings testified Wednesday that she had never known him to be violent or to use a gun.

Linda Robra said she bought two .22-caliber revolvers, which Charles Severance, 53, is charged with possessing, for her own protection.

However, Robra also testified that Severance suggested that she buy the guns, saying they would be a good size for her because of her small hands. He had lived with her since 2011, had access to the weapons and once showed her how to load them, she said. Based largely on her testimony, a Loudoun District Court judge ruled Wednesday that there was probable cause to charge Severance with possession of a firearm by a nonviolent felon.

Severance has not been charged in any killings, but Alexandria police announced Wednesday that he has become the main focus of their investigation into the slayings of Nancy Dunning in 2003, Ronald Kirby in 2013 and Ruthanne Lodato in February. The city’s mayor has previously called Severance a “person of interest” in the killings. Severance is currently jailed on the unrelated weapons count.

Testimony in the gun case showed that police investigating the killings were looking into Severance as early as March.

“You don’t want to be on the wrong side of this,” an Alexandria police officer told Robra when he came to her home in March, she testified. Police showed her a sketch of the bearded suspect in one slaying, she confirmed, and said they believed that her boyfriend had killed several people. She said Wednesday that she told the officer, “Charlie doesn’t seem to me to be anywhere close to the description of the suspect.”

The two guns from Robra’s home have not been found. She testified Wednesday that she kept one in her home office and one in her bedroom closet but cannot recall the last time she saw them. She also owns two .38-caliber guns, both of which are still in her possession, she said.

Robra also testified that when Alexandria police contacted her and told her that they wanted to interview Severance, she told her boyfriend to speak to the police or leave her house permanently, because she did not want law enforcement in her home. “He said he was leaving and going camping,” Robra testified. “I told him to take all of his things and not come back.”

Severance had issues with law enforcement stemming from a bitter child-custody dispute years earlier, she said, and “I thought it was just he didn’t want to be around any police.”

Nothing in his behavior during his departure, she testified, suggested involvement in any crime.

Severance was arrested a few days later in Wheeling, W.Va. A gun-cleaning kit was found in his car, an FBI agent told the court. Robra testified that Severance had purchased such a kit during a trip to Ohio in summer 2012.

An Alexandria police officer also testified that two .22-caliber shells were found in Robra’s garage during a search, but the shells were not linked to Severance in any way.

Defense attorney Ed Ungvarsky questioned Robra’s credibility, noting that half a pound of marijuana was found in her bathroom and that Loudoun Commonwealth’s Attorney James Plowman had promised that he would not pursue drug charges. Robra repeatedly refused to say whom the marijuana belonged to, saying only that “it was there.”

Judge Deborah C. Welsh emphasized in her decision that the burden of proof in a preliminary hearing is only probable cause, a much lower standard than in a trial. A grand jury will decide next month whether to indict Severance on the gun charge.

Court records show that he was convicted of a felony charge of carrying a concealed weapon in Rockingham County, Va., in 2005.

Get updates on your area delivered via e-mail

Rachel Weiner covers local politics for The Washington Post.
Comments
Show Comments
Most Read Local