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Accused Alexandria killer in court for last time before start of trial

Charles Severance, center, talks to defense attorney, Joe King, right center, as he appears in Fairfax County Circuit Court on Thursday October 01, 2015 in Fairfax, Va. Severance is accused of three murders over the course of a decade in Alexandria, Va. (Pool Photo by Matt McClain/ The Washington Post)

FAIRFAX, Va. — Roughly 100 witnesses will be called to testify during the six-week murder trial for a former Alexandria man accused of killing three prominent city residents over the course of a decade.

Charles Severance’s trial is set to begin Monday morning, depending on the weather forecast, and prosecutors and defense attorneys are expected to sort through 150 perspective jurors before any testimony or evidence will be presented.

Severance, 54, of Ashburn, is charged with the fatal shootings of Nancy Dunning, Ron Kirby and Ruthanne Lodato and with shooting and injuring Dorcas Franco.

Judge Randy Bellows issued a final round of rulings on evidence, witness testimony and jury instructions during a pretrial hearing Thursday morning in Fairfax County Circuit Court. The case was moved out of Alexandria because of pretrial publicity and because Alexandria’s judges recused themselves from hearing Severance’s case.

Meanwhile, police continue to interview witnesses and to re-interview witnesses, according to Severance’s attorneys. His defense team asked for more funding for a fact-finder, saying the mitigating circumstances required similar levels of intensive research as a death penalty case. Evidence shared between the prosecutors and the defense fill 40 binders, with about 400 pages each.

Severance has made outbursts and animated expressions during past hearings, but remained quiet through most of the morning until he was formally arraigned. He answered in a loud, clear voice “Not guilty” as each of the 10 counts against him were read aloud in court.

But as Bellows proceeded to question him, asking standard questions such as his name, date of birth and whether he understood the charges, Severance declined to answer, instead demanding that Bellows address his bail, which he described as excessive. Severance is being held for trial without bond, which Bellows said was appropriate.

Severance called the questions coercive and said he wanted to be questioned in front of a jury. His attorneys had requested that he be arraigned before the jury could be seated.

He faces a sentence of life in prison if convicted of capital murder – the most serious charge against him.

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