FAIRFAX, Va. –- Attorneys for charged killer Charles Severance plan to ask jurors about their knowledge of the mass shooting at a community college in Oregon as part of the jury selection process.
Attorneys began sifting through about 150 potential jurors Monday to select the group who will sit through the expected six-week-long murder trial. Severance is charged with killing three prominent Alexandria residents over the course of 10 years, beginning with the shooting of Nancy Dunning in 2003.
He is also charged with killing Ron Kirby in 2013 and Ruthanne Lodato in 2014.
Prospective jurors ranged from a house cleaner and body shop worker to a financial sector businessman and federal workers at the CIA, Senate and FDIC.
On Tuesday, jury selection is expected to continue with questions about pretrial publicity and about the mass shooting in Roseburg that left nine people and the gunman dead.
Defense attorney Megan Thomas said they want to know how much news coverage of Thursday’s shooting the jurors had been exposed to. The defense says both cases involve gun violence.
In his writings, Severance describes his deep reverence for the .22 revolver, and later encouraged his girlfriend to buy two such guns. He’s said to endorse murder and assassination.
Prosecutors have argued that Severance was politically motivated by a deep dislike and mistrust of government and public officials. They are expected to introduce ballistic evidence showing similarities in the ammunition used and evidence that Severance was seen near some of the crime scenes.
Meanwhile, Severance’s defense team is expected to try and create doubt that Severance committed the three daylight shootings by pointing to at least two other individuals who could be responsible.
His defense attorneys said Monday that they plan to question a man who other witnesses may have mistaken as Severance and who was seen in the neighborhood in the days and weeks before Kirby was fatally shot.
The defense team previously said they intend to suggest that Dunning’s husband, the late Sheriff Jim Dunning, may have been responsible for his wife’s death. Jim Dunning was a suspect at one point in the long unsolved case but was never charged.
Dunning’s case lay dormant until similarities between her death and the deaths of Kirby and Lodato shed new light on the investigation.
Pretrial publicity is also expected to factor into the trial. And when jury selection continues Tuesday, jurors will be asked about their exposure to Severance’s case in local media. Jurors will also be asked about whether they posted to social media about the case while sitting through the selection process.
At least two potential jurors said they had read news stories about the trial Monday while they were waiting outside the courtroom. And one told the courtroom that jurors had posted about serving for the case to Facebook.
That prompted Judge Randy Bellows to call full panel of prospective jurors back into court to emphasize that they can’t post on social media about the trial or their involvement in the trial.
The trial was moved to Fairfax County in part because of concerns that Severance would be unable to have a fair trial in Alexandria due to intense interest about the case there.
The three victims were well known and involved community members. Lodato, a music teacher, grew up in Alexandria and one of her siblings served as a judge there.
Kirby was a well-respect regional transportation planner. And Dunning was a real estate agent with long ties to the city.
Severance, 54, once lived in Alexandria and ran for mayor there. His anger against the government and the establishment began after he lost parental custody of his son, according to court filings.
Prosecutors are not seeking the death penalty. And if Severance is convicted of any of the three murder counts, he faces a sentence of life in prison.