Severance appears in Loudoun court on gun charge

Charles Severance appeared in a Virginia courtroom Tuesday for the first time since officials identified him as a person of interest in three Alexandria killings.

The brief hearing in Loudoun County District Court was in connection with a gun charge unrelated to the slayings: Severance, 53, is accused of possessing a firearm despite a felony conviction. A judge set a June 18 preliminary hearing in that case, and Severance is being held without bond.

In a development that underscored the unusual nature of the case, Ed Ungvarsky, of the Virginia Capital Defender Offices — which handles cases in which prosecutors may seek the death penalty — represented Severance in court, over the objections of Loudoun County Commonwealth’s Attorney James E. Plowman.

Although the weapons charge is unremarkable, Severance’s case has gained attention because he is being investigated in connection with the February slaying of music teacher Ruthanne Lodato, the November slaying of regional transportation planner Ronald Kirby and the 2003 killing of real estate agent Nancy Dunning.

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’s mayor has called him a “person of interest,” but it’s unclear what, if any, evidence connects him to the killings.

Severance was arrested in Wheeling, W.Va., on March 13 on a fugitive-from-justice charge stemming from the gun-possession charge. Loudoun authorities have said that Severance’s girlfriend told investigators she had purchased two .22-caliber guns for him.

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

Defense attorneys in West Virginia had argued that the warrant for his arrest in Loudoun, which was issued after Severance arrived in Wheeling, was a pretext to interrogate their client about the Alexandria homicides. But a West Virginia judge ruled in favor of extraditing Severance. He was returned to Loudoun on Monday.

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.

Severance said little during Tuesday’s hearing, answering Judge J. Frank Buttery’s questions with brief responses. Buttery initially planned to set a preliminary hearing for June 4, but Plowman asked for additional time, saying he needed to call witnesses from out of state.

Outside court, Plowman called the case “fairly routine.”

“I’m not sure what the interest is” for the Capital Defender’s Office, he said. “I think it’s odd.”

Two search warrants for properties where Severance was known to have stayed, published in court filings, say he is being investigated for 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 evidence.

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Rachel Weiner covers cops and courts in Arlington and Alexandria.
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