Severance denied gag order in Loudoun case involving ‘person of interest’ in 3 killings

Lawyers involved in an unusually high-profile firearms case in Loudoun County will not be barred from speaking publicly, a judge ruled Thursday.

A defense attorney for Charles Severance, who is charged with felony firearm possession, had asked for a gag order during the case, arguing that a “media tempest” could taint the jury pool.

Alexandria police are investigating Severance, 53, in connection with the deaths of music teacher Ruthanne Lodato, regional transportation planner Ronald Kirby and real estate agent Nancy Dunning. But Severance has not been charged in the Alexandria slayings, which authorities have said may be linked, and police have said that he is not a suspect.

Alexandria Mayor Bill Euille has described Severance as a “person of interest” in the killings. A prosecutor in West Virginia, where Severance was arrested, initially referred to him as a “suspect” in the murders. A police sketch showing a white man with an unruly beard has been compared in many news reports to an image of the Loudoun defendant.

“There is nothing individualizing about being an older white male with facial hair,” wrote attorney Ed Ungvarsky in the motion, adding that in his opinion Severance “looks significantly different” than the suspect in the sketch. “There is no report that Mr. Severance is believed to have had contact with the three Alexandria victims, and there is no report of any physical evidence alleging to connect Mr. Severance with any of the Alexandria crime scenes.”

Moreover, Ungvarsky argued that Loudoun Commonwealth’s attorney, James Plowman, had made “ill-advised” remarks to reporters that would make it more difficult for Severance to receive a fair trial. The prosecutor had mentioned “flight” as an issue a judge would consider in determining bond, defended the charges as valid and said that he has worked with Alexandria on this and other cases.

Ungvarsky works for a state-funded office that represents defendants facing the death penalty.

Plowman protested, saying he “made no implications whatsoever” about “a case that doesn’t exist right now in Alexandria.” Judge Buta Biberaj agreed, ruling that the comments didn’t “rise to that level” of making a gag order necessary.

A separate motion for bond will be heard tomorrow. Severance is being held without bond.

Severance was extradited to Loudoun from West Virginia earlier this year on the gun possession charge. Defense attorneys there argued that the case was a “sham” designed to help Alexandria police investigate Severance in connection with the three murders. Two search warrants for properties where Severance was known to have stayed, published in court filings, say he is being investigated for murder.

Longtime residents of Alexandria remember Severance as an odd character at the fringes of the city’s political life in the 1990s and early 2000s. He ran for mayor and a congressional seat in 1996 and 2000, garnering a small number of votes.

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Rachel Weiner covers cops and courts in Arlington and Alexandria.
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