Chris Dunning testified that he knew something was “very wrong” when he wheeled his car up to his parents’ Alexandria home on the afternoon of Dec. 5, 2003. The garage door was open, and his mother’s Toyota Avalon was inside.
Dunning, 35, told a Fairfax County Circuit Court jury Thursday that he ran inside, working his way past the shopping bags of items his mother had bought for needy children and then to the front foyer.
“When I came around the corner, I saw her feet sticking out,” Dunning said of his mother, Nancy. “I ran over to her. There was blood on her face.”
Dunning’s voice cracked, and he sobbed occasionally as he recalled that wrenching moment and the growing dread that led up to it. The testimony came during the second week of the trial of Charles Severance, 55, the man charged in Nancy Dunning’s slaying and those of music teacher Ruthanne Lodato in February 2014 and regional transportation planner Ronald Kirby in November 2013.
Prosecutors contend that Severance developed a murderous rage and a hatred for those he considered Alexandria’s elites after losing a custody battle for his son. They said they believe that Severance probably chose the victims at random and shot them after going to their front doors. Severance’s attorneys dispute the charges.
Chris Dunning’s testimony and a 911 call played for the jury provided the most detailed account to date of what transpired the day his mother, a well-known real estate agent, was killed. He testified that it began like any other. Dunning, who is also a real estate agent, went to work about 9 a.m. and planned to meet his mother and father, then the sheriff of Alexandria, for lunch at 11:30 a.m.
Dunning testified that he and his father, who died in 2012, arrived at the Atlantis Restaurant in Alexandria but that his usually punctual mother did not show up. As the minutes dragged by, Dunning said, he and his father began calling Nancy Dunning’s cellphone and leaving messages. After 12:10 p.m., they grew anxious and left to find her.
Dunning stopped at his parents’ home on the way to Target, where he knew his mother had been shopping. He testified that he entered through the garage. His mother’s body was in the foyer, mail scattered on the floor nearby.
“Several times, I said, ‘Oh, my God,’ ” Dunning testified. “But she appeared non-responsive.”
He said he then tore into the kitchen and called 911. Jim Dunning arrived soon after and took over the call, which was played for the jury. “What is wrong?” the dispatcher is heard asking Jim Dunning. He replied: “My wife has been killed.”
A short time later, Jim Dunning said that his wife had been murdered and that she was “lying in a pool of blood.”
His son can be heard screaming in the background: “There could still be someone in the [expletive] house!”
Chris Dunning told the jury that he then grabbed knives in the kitchen to defend himself. Eventually, he and his father went outside and waited for authorities, but the killer was gone.
It would be more than a decade before police would connect Severance to the crime and he was arrested after Lodato’s killing. Prosecutors say that ballistic evidence links all three cases.
In pretrial hearings, defense attorneys convinced a judge that they should be able to implicate Jim Dunning in his wife’s murder, arguing that he cheated on her and gained wealth after her death. But the defense did not focus on those arguments Thursday and did not cross-examine Chris Dunning.