Judge agrees to move venue for Severance trial

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — The man charged with the murder of three Alexandria residents will be tried in Fairfax County, a judge has ruled.

In a pretrial hearing Thursday morning, special Judge Jane Roush heard arguments over several motions made by the attorneys for Charles Severance including whether to try him separately for the murder of Nancy Dunning, who was killed a decade before the other two victims, Ron Kirby and Ruthanne Lodato.

Roush granted the defense’s motion that Severance’s murder trial be moved. But Severance’s attorneys argued that Fairfax County was not far enough away, and Severance said he did not want the proceedings moved.

Fairfax is Roush’s home jurisdiction. She was appointed to hear the case because Alexandria’s judges recused themselves.

“No self-respecting court would accept the bomb out of the mouth of the Alexandria enforcement class,” Severance said in response to Roush’s ruling.

Severance, dressed in a blue jail uniform, was animated and vocal during the morning hearing. At one point, he asked to be referred to as “the accused” instead of as “the defendant,” a term he felt was offensive.

He also made a rude hand gesture, the middle finger, during a debate on whether to continue to allow a still photographer in the courtroom. The discussion included a reference to the gesture, which Severance also made during a prior court appearance and which was documented by the photographer.

His defense team had argued that the publicity of the three cases was too widespread, the three victims were well known in Alexandria and the fear the city felt in the wake of the violent deaths all made finding an impartial jury impossible.

Roush found the fear argument the most compelling reason for a change of venue, she said.

The victims’ families respect the location change, says family representative John Kelly.

“The judge seems determined to have a process that is fair and to have a fair trial with a valid and just outcome. And I think that’s what the families have wanted all along,” Kelly says.

She also heard arguments on whether to try Severance separately for Dunning’s killing. He faces capital murder charges for the deaths of Kirby and Ruthanne Lodato and could face a life sentence or the death penalty if convicted.

Roush has not yet ruled on that motion. But she said she was concerned about the 10-year gap between when Dunning was killed in 2003 and when Kirby was killed in 2013.

Prosecutors however argued that Severance’s own writings, the type of ammunition used in all three crimes and other similarities between the cases link them together and that Severance should be tried for all three simultaneously.

Roush also denied a motion to suppress testimony and evidence from a Loudoun County weapons charge. Severance was extradited from West Virginia to face the gun charge — possession of a handgun by a felon — which kept him in Virginia while investigators in Alexandria built their murder case against him.

Her ruling allows recorded interviews with Severance’s girlfriend Linda Robra to be added to the court record.

Because of the change in venue, Severance was expected to be moved to the Fairfax County detention center Thursday.

His friend Dan Mathias says he isn’t surprised that Severance spoke out multiple times during the almost daylong hearing.

“That’s part of his personality. He doesn’t like a lot of establishment organizations. He’s had bad interactions with them in the past,” Mathias says. “He feels like his rights are being violated and his rights are being ignored.”

Investigators believe that Severance was angry with Alexandria government and those he felt represented the court system after his parental rights were terminated more than a decade ago.

Dunning was the wife of then-Sheriff James Dunning. Kirby, shot and killed in November 2013, was an influential transportation planner for the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. And Lodato, shot in the front door of her home in February 2014, was the sister of a retired Alexandria judge.

Megan Cloherty

WTOP Investigative Reporter Megan Cloherty primarily covers breaking news, crime and courts.

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