Prosecutors cite Severance’s writings to connect 3 murders

WASHINGTON — Charles Severance’s anti-government views evolved during the past decade or more and he became enamored with death and kidnapping, prosecutors said during a lengthy pretrial hearing Thursday in Alexandria.

The city’s top prosecutor shed more light on evidence that investigators have compiled that they say proves Severance killed Nancy Dunning, Ron Kirby and Ruthanne Lodato over the span of 10 years.

Prosecutors say Severance’s personal writings and ballistic evidence tie the fatal shootings together and that Severance should be tried for all three crimes simultaneously.

Special Judge Jane Roush is considering a defense motion that the 2003 murder of Dunning be tried separately from the later two.

While arguing against conducting two separate trials, Commonwealth’s Attorney Bryan Porter called the crimes assassinations.

Severance’s motive to kill developed after losing custody of his son more than a decade ago. His initial hatred for the courts evolved into hatred for government and then elites, Porter said.

“Death to adversaries. They kidnap and they die,” Porter recited from Severance’s writings and other documents taken into evidence.

Porter also cited another grisly note from Severance.

“Knock. Talk. Enter. Kill. Exit. Murder,” which he said perfectly describes the killings of Dunning, Kirby and Lodato.

Porter also described the bullets used in the three crimes. He called them low-velocity ammunition that wouldn’t create much noise when fired.

Forensics have determined that the shooter likely used three separate guns in the killings but they likely were the same make and model. The shooter also used the same type of ammunition, all made by one manufacturer, in all three shootings, court records say.

In response, the defense says the argument the murders are connected despite a decade between them fails logic.

In response, Severance’s defense team said the prosecution’s argument that the murders are connected despite a decade lapse fails logic.

Severance became the main focus of the police investigation after the death of Lodato in February 2014. Investigators developed a sketch based on the bearded man who knocked on Lodato’s door, spurring a manhunt in Alexandria. Tips led investigators to Severance, whose grizzled beard and hair appeared strikingly similar to the sketch.

A red Ford Escort was seen leaving Lodato’s neighborhood shortly after she was shot. Police recovered a similar car, also a red Ford Escort, when Severance was arrested in Wheeling, West Virginia, Porter said.

Kirby, who was an influential regional transportation planner, was shot at his home a few months earlier. Lodato was a music teacher and the sister of a retired Alexandria judge. Dunning was the wife of then-Sheriff James Dunning.

Megan Cloherty

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

Federal News Network Logo
Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up