WHEELING, W.VA. — A judge here on Wednesday ordered the extradition of a man considered a person of interest in three high-profile Alexandria killings but placed a stay on the order to permit the defense to mount an appeal.
Authorities are seeking to have Charles Severance, 53, transferred back to Virginia to face a weapons-possession charge. Police also want to question the eccentric Civil War buff and political gadfly in the killing of music teacher Ruthanne Lodato in February, the shooting of regional transportation planner Ronald Kirby in November and the 2003 killing of real estate agent Nancy Dunning.
Ohio County Judge James P. Mazzone decided that the gun charge in Loudoun County — which is unrelated to the killings — was enough to order that Severance be returned to Virginia. He said the evidence showed that the warrant was valid, that there was reason to believe the crime occurred and that Loudoun intended to prosecute the crime.
But he then granted the defense a seven-day delay to allow attorneys to ask the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals for additional time to prepare an appeal.
The extradition ruling came over strenuous objections from the defense.
Public defender Shayne Welling said the Loudoun charge is a sham police invented in order to question Severance in the Alexandria killings. Welling also argued that Severance was “not a fugitive,” since that requires that the defendant be fleeing prosecution on the charge involved.
“That’s impossible in this case,” Welling said. “Virginia is determined to return him by hook or by crook, by any means necessary, so long as it’s in the company of somebody with a badge and a gun.”
The argument came after Anand Patel, manager of the Wheeling motel where Severance stayed, testified that Severance arrived before a warrant was executed for his arrest in Loudoun. Patel also testified that Severance did not hide his identity: He used his own driver’s license and credit card to secure a room.
During the hearing, Ohio County prosecutor Scott R. Smith countered that all the requirements for extradition have been met, including an extradition warrant from Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D). He argued that Patel’s testimony was irrelevant and that Welling’s argument “would stand the extradition law in this country on its head.”
“They have not come anywhere close to meeting their burden,” Smith argued.
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, with his hands and legs shackled, stared straight ahead throughout the hearing, almost as if he were not aware of his surroundings. But when the judge left the room, Severance became animated, smiling in conversation with his attorneys and his parents, who live in Oakton, Va. His parents declined to comment after the hearing, the first of Severance’s they’d attended.
Severance was arrested in Wheeling last month and is being held on a fugitive-from-justice warrant stemming from the Loudoun charge of being a felon in possession of a firearm. A Loudoun detective said that Severance’s girlfriend told investigators she purchased two .22-caliber guns for her boyfriend, a convicted felon.
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 but garnered only a small number of votes.
In a voters’ guide, he listed his occupation as “expert witness, principal investigator, mentaldisorder.com.” He was often seen around town wearing a tri-corner hat and a black cloak.
In more recent years, Severance lived in Western Maryland and Loudoun. In 2005, he pleaded guilty to a felony gun-possession charge in Rockingham County, Va., and was placed on probation.
In March, Severance again drew the attention of authorities when he showed up at the Russian Embassy in the District wanting asylum. A federal law enforcement official said he attempted to scale a perimeter fence before he was turned away. He eventually traveled to West Virginia.
Earlier this month, authorities searched a pond in Oakton in connection with the Lodato killing but did not disclose if they found anything. The scene is near a home owned by relatives of Severance’s.
Two search warrants for properties where Severance was known to have stayed, published in court filings, say he is also 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.
Police are treating the Lodato, Kirby and Dunning cases as possibly linked because markings on bullet fragments recovered from the scene of each killing appear to be similar.