Man accused of 3 Alexandria slayings opposes separate trials

Associated Press

Charles Severance of Ashburn had his first pretrial hearing in Fairfax since the judge moved his case from Alexandria. Severance's lawyers had sought a change of venue out of concern that extensive pretrial publicity in Alexandria would make it impossible for him to get a fair trial.

Prosecutors say Severance shot and killed three prominent Alexandria residents over the span of a decade: Nancy Dunning, wife of then-Sheriff James Dunning, in December 2003; transportation planner Ron Kirby in November 2013; and music teacher Ruthanne Lodato in February 2014.

Prosecutors say Severance, a former Alexandria resident who was a fringe candidate for political office with a history of erratic behavior, was angry that he lost custody of his son and sought to lash out at what he perceived as the city's ruling class.

Severance, with a history of court outbursts, began Thursday's hearing complaining that he objected to his court-appointed attorneys' request that the murder cases be tried separately. Severance said separating the trials would require him to win multiple acquittals to gain his freedom. He also said it amounted to "unusual punishment" to be represented by lawyers he does not trust.

Judge Jane Marum Roush told Severance that he needed to be quiet and she would give him a chance to speak at the end of the hearing. He did so.

His lawyers had a number of pretrial motions rejected, including various efforts to suppress evidence against him.

At the end of the hearing, when Roush allowed Severance to speak, he complained that his ankle was injured because sheriff's deputies in Alexandria had shackled him. Severance said he blamed Roush, because she did not intervene on his behalf when he had previously complained about the shackles.

"You could have restrained their maliciousness," said Severance, who entered the courtroom in a wheelchair. "That's a conflict we have, and I believe you should recuse yourself."

Roush said she would take Severance's request "under advisement." Roush has also not yet ruled on the defense request for separate murder trials.

Prosecutors have charged Severance with capital murder but have said they won't seek the death penalty.

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