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)
WASHINGTON — For a decade, residents of Alexandria lived in fear, not knowing who killed the wife of their sheriff. Then, in November 2013, another prominent resident was killed, reopening old wounds.
Three months later, a music teacher and lifelong Alexandria resident was shot and killed.
They were each gunned down at the front door of their homes in broad daylight in a wealthy section of the city. Prosecutors say there is more that connects these homicides, but details have been few and far between in the 1.5 years since Charles Severance was first arrested in West Virginia.
Take a look back at the key events and the people who will be under the spotlight as Severance’s murder trial begins Monday.
(The Washington Post/Matt McClain)
The Washington Post/Matt McClain
Nancy Dunning, 56, was found dead in her Alexandria home on Dec. 5, 2003. (Alexandria Police Dept.)
Her husband, former Alexandria Sheriff Jim Dunning, was suspected in her killing but was never charged. Charles Severance’s defense team has said they plan to suggest to the jury that the late Jim Dunning was responsible. He died in 2012.
Dunning, who lived in the area for more than 30 years, worked for McEnearney Associates in Old Town Alexandria, and was known for being an active member of the Del Ray Civic Association. She was a columnist for the Alexandria Gazette and a supporter of community arts and education.
Judge allows Severance defense to point finger at former Alexandria sheriff
(Alexandria Police Department)
Alexandria Police Department
A photo from Ron Kirby and Anne Gray Haynes’ wedding album. (WTOP/Megan Cloherty)
Ron Kirby, 69, was shot multiple times in the foyer of his Elm Street home on Nov. 11, 2013. Despite the similarities to Nancy Dunning’s killing — both prominent residents were killed in broad daylight at their home in a wealthy part of Alexandria — police didn’t initially see any connection between the two cases.
Kirby is survived his wife, Anne Gray Haynes, and his two adult children.
A native of Australia, he was an influential regional transportation planner for the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, where he had worked since 1987.
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Ruthanne Lodato, 59, was shot Feb. 6, 2014 when she answered a knock at her door. Lodato died later at a hospital. A caregiver, who was working with Lodato’s mother at the home that day, was shot and injured but survived. (Courtesy family of Ruthanne Lodato)
Lodato was shot in the middle of the day, about three months after transportation planner Ron Kirby.
The caregiver, Dorcas Franco, struggled through an emotional testimony of that day during pretrial hearings. Investigators were able to create a sketch of the shooter based on her description: an older, white, balding man with a gray beard. That sketch eventually led investigators to name Charles Severance as the focus of the investigation.
Lodato’s brother is a retired Alexandria judge. That connection prompted Alexandria’s sitting judges to recuse themselves from hearing Severance’s murder trial.
She grew up in Alexandria along with four siblings. She is survived by three daughters and her husband.
Lodato was a music teacher and a volunteer for Kelley Cares Foundation, which works to create opportunities for children with special needs. An accessible playground was named in her honor.
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Church family mourns loss of Lodato
(Courtesy family of Ruthanne Lodato))
Courtesy family of Ruthanne Lodato)
Alexandria police released this composite sketch of the man who shot and killed Ruthanne Lodato in February 2014. (Courtesy Alexandria Police Department)
The sketch was developed based on caregiver Dorcas Franco’s description of the suspect, who shot and killed Ruthanne Lodato. Franco struggled through an emotional testimony of that day during pretrial hearings. Investigators were able to create a sketch of the shooter based on her description of the man who also shot her: an older, white, balding man with a gray beard.
That sketch eventually led investigators to name Charles Severance as the focus of the investigation. However, investigators wouldn’t say if he was a person of interest, or suspect for months.
((Courtesy Alexandria Police Department))
(Courtesy Alexandria Police Department)
Arrested in West Virginia
Fox affiliate, WTOV in Stuebenville, Ohio, provided this booking photo of Charles Severance. The photo was taken after he was arrested in Wheeling, West Virginia, on a weapons charge out of Loudoun County, in March 2014 — more than a month after Ruthanne Lodato was killed. Investigators wanted to talk to him about her death and the deaths of Ron Kirby and Nancy Dunning at the time but insisted that he wasn’t a suspect. (Courtesy WTOV)
Severance’s grizzled appearance in this photo is similar to the sketch of the suspect in the Lodato shooting provided by Alexandria Police.
Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe signed an extradition order to bring Severance back to Loudoun County. Severance fought the order but was later returned to Virginia in May 2014.
Tips in unsolved Alexandria killings lead police to W.Va.
McAuliffe signs extradition order
Severance plans to fight extradition to Virginia
Severance released into U.S. Marshals’ custody
(Courtesy WTOV )
A quiet summer
In June 2014, law enforcement named Charles Severance as the primary focus of their investigation into the three homicides.
During testimony in Loudoun County court, detectives said they found a gun cleaning kit in Severance’s car found in West Virginia, but no guns. And when police searched the home of Severance’s girlfriend, they found two .38-caliber revolvers, but not the two .22-caliber handguns he had urged her to buy.
Police said previously in March that the bullets used to kill Dunning, Lodato and Kirby all came from a small-caliber gun.
Later, forensic analysis would determine that the shooter likely used three separate guns in the killings, but they appeared to be the same make and model. The shooter also used the same type of ammunition, all made by one manufacturer, in all three shootings.
Indicted in Alexandria
The Alexandria Sheriff’s Office released the following booking photo of Charles Severance. (Courtesy Alexandria Sheriff’s Office)
In September 2014, an Alexandria grand jury indicted Severance on charges that he shot and killed Ruthanne Lodato, Ron Kirby and Nancy Dunning among other charges. He faces 10 counts in all.
Tips led investigators to Severance, whose unkempt beard and hair appeared strikingly similar to the sketch.
Officials also announced that the bullets that killed Lodato were similar to the bullets that killed Kirby and Dunning.
Severance is charged with first-degree murder and use of a firearm in the commission of a felony in connection with Dunning’s death.
He is charged with capital murder, use of a firearm in the commission of a felony and possession of a firearm by a felon in connection with Kirby’s death.
And he is charged with capital murder, two counts of use of a firearm in the commission of a felony, possession of a firearm by a felon and malicious wounding for killing Lodato and for shooting and injuring Dorcas Franco, who was in the home at the time.
His trial begins Monday, Oct. 5.
The Charles Severance murder trial begins Monday. See what happened from inside the courtroom in our