FAIRFAX, Va. – Chris Dunning was supposed to meet his mother, Nancy, for lunch the day she was gunned down in the family’s Alexandria home in December 2003.
When she never arrived and didn’t answer her phone, he headed toward Target, where she had planned to stop before lunch. On his way, the then 23-year-old passed by his parent’s Mt. Ida Avenue home, spotting his mom’s car parked in the open garage.
“At that point, I knew something was very wrong,” Chris Dunning told the jury Thursday.
He walked through the kitchen, saw mail scattered on the floor and his mother’s feet sticking out around the corner.
Chris Dunning found his mother, with whom he worked as a realtor, laying in a pool of blood at the bottom of the stairs and called 911.
Doubled over, he sobbed into his hands as that frantic 911 call was played in court.
“Dad!” he screams on the recording as his father, Jim Dunning enters the house and crumbles upon seeing his prone wife.
In shock, Chris Dunning handed the phone to his father. The son’s screams could be heard in the background as his father talks to dispatchers.
“My wife has been killed,” he says and begins crying.
He tells dispatchers that there is blood everywhere and repeats “my wife has been murdered.”
Jim Dunning was Alexandria’s sheriff at the time. He died in 2012 and was once considered a person of interest in his wife’s death but never charged.
During his testimony, Chris Dunning never looked at the man charged with killing his mother, Charles Severance.
Severance is also charged with killing Ron Kirby in 2013 and Ruthanne Lodato in 2014. Severance faces life in prison if convicted of at least one of the murder charges.
Investigators found blood splatter on the family’s front door, indicating that Nancy Dunning was shot there. But they found no forensic evidence that ties Severance to the scene, no hair or fibers, DNA or fingerprints, experts testified.
Dunning’s death stumped investigators for years until Ron Kirby was killed in a similar fashion at his front door, close to lunchtime. Ruthanne Lodato was similarly killed a few months later.
Each of the three Alexandria residents lived about 1 mile from each other and investigators say the same type of bullets and revolver were used in all three cases. They were all involved in and known by the community.
A sketch of Lodato’s killer and tips led police to Severance, who ran for city mayor twice and later moved to Loudoun County. Prosecutors say he was motivated to kill by his hatred for law enforcement, court officials and the city’s ruling class, anger which manifested after his parental rights were terminated in 2001.
During opening statements, prosecutors focused heavily on Severance’s voluminous writings, saying that Severance glorified violence and justified revenge killings. His writings have yet to arise as prosecutors have presented their case against him.
So far, prosecutors have worked their way through each of the three fatal shootings, presenting testimony and the evidence connected to each death investigation. They are expected to continue Friday.
The defense will have its chance to convince the jury Severance was not responsible for their deaths beginning next week.
WTOP’s Megan Cloherty contributed to this report from Fairfax and Amanda Iacone contributed from Washington.