Judge: ‘No evidence’ Severance is a danger to community

WHEELING W.Va. — A judge here on Wednesday set a $100,000 bond for an eccentric ex-politico authorities said is being investigated in connection with three high-profile Alexandria killings, opening up the possibility the man could be released.

Saying “allegations are not evidence,” Ohio County Circuit Court Judge James P. Mazzone denied a request by prosecutors to continue to hold 53-year-old Charles Severance without bail.

“No evidence of flight risk has been presented,” Mazzone said, “nor has evidence of a danger to the community.”

The judge’s decision puts pressure on D.C. area authorities to produce evidence — if they have it — linking Severance to the slayings. He is not charged in any of the killings and was arrested on a felony gun charge in Loudoun County.

Alexandria’s mayor has called Severance a “person of interest” in 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.

Police in Wheeling, W.Va., arrested Severance at the Ohio County Public Library last Thursday on a fugitive from justice warrant stemming from the Loudoun charge, which they said they were informed of by the FBI. He was held initially on $100,000 bond.

At a hearing on Monday, Ohio County prosecutor Scott Smith said Severance was also being investigated for the killings in Alexandria and successfully urged a judge to hold him without bond until the court could review it Wednesday.

Smith did not have the same success during Wednesday’s hearing before Mazzone, and said later he would “get with Virginia to see if they can get me some evidence.” Mazzone said he would be open to modifying Severance’s bond again, should new evidence emerge.

Shayne Welling, Severance’s defense attorney, argued in court that his client’s arrest was a “sham.”

Urging a judge to consider only Loudoun’s low-level felony weapons charge in setting bond, Welling said authorities were maligning Severance. He alleged that authorities delayed Severance’s first appearance before a court official so that FBI and Alexandria investigators could seek to interrogate him.

“In unfairly demonizing the respondent through careless and poorly crafted speech, the state of West Virginia yields one of two observations,” Welling wrote. “Either: (1) the City of Alexandria, Va is misleading the public; or (2) The Ohio County Prosecutor’s Office is misrepresenting the Respondent’s status in another investigation.”

Smith said no one was being deceptive.

“I’m not pretending about anything, and I wouldn’t be here if I thought the state of Virginia is pretending,” he said in court.

Alexandria police spokeswoman Crystal Nosal on Wednesday declined to comment on Welling’s accusations or the case in West Virginia.

“Our stance is still we don’t have any charges on [Severance], and I can’t make a comment on another jurisdiction’s prosecution,” Nosal said. “That’s just not our place. We will still be investigating any possible links he may have to our cases, the same as we’ve been saying.”

During the court hearing, Welling also took aim at the charge in Loudoun County, saying it came without any supporting materials about probable cause.

“That’s highly unusual,” Welling said in court. “It’s very suspicious.”

Heather Williamson, a spokeswoman for the Loudoun County Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney, declined to comment on the evidence on the gun charge “because it’s an active case that’s under investigation.”

An eccentric Revolutionary War buff, Severance twice ran for mayor of Alexandria but lost both times. Some say though he might be odd, he is not threatening.

“If he was left alone, he left other people alone,” said Steven Katz, a Falls Church resident who knows Severance through the area’s gaming community. “It’s inconceivable that he’s that person. . . . It just seems like he’s being dragged through the mud by a police department that’s desperate.”

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Rachel Weiner covers local politics for The Washington Post.
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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