Lawyer for Charles Severance Says He's Being Held on "Sham" Charge

Public defender: "West Virginia does not sanction the abuse of police powers"

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    A public defender for the man linked to the investigation of three high-profile murders in Alexandria, Va., argued Wednesday that Charles Severance is jailed on a "sham" charge in order to buy investigators time.

    "While abusing authority may be appropriate in the commonwealth, West Virginia does not sanction the abuse of police powers," wrote Shayne Welling, the public defender representing Severance.

    Welling said in a motion that a West Virginia prosecutor is keeping Severance behind bars "in order to buy the Commonwealth time to investigate other matters."

    News4 has learned Severance's car, which had been parked in Cumberlance, was towed Tuesday.

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    At a hearing Wednesday, a West Virginia judge denied Welling's request to modify bond for Severance, which stands at $100,000, reported WTOV9's Crissy Clutter. He's being held on a gun charge unrelated to the Alexandria slayings and is fighting his extradition back to Virginia.

    Severance was arrested in Wheeling, W.Va., last week on a fugitive warrant for a charge of owning a firearm as a felon, although his lawyer said authorities did not find a weapon on his person or property at the time of arrest.

    Federal agents are investigating whether Severance may be connected to the shooting deaths of three prominent Alexandria community members over the past decade: music teacher Ruthanne Lodato, transportation official Ron Kirby, and Nancy Dunning, wife of then-Alexandria Sheriff Jim Dunning.

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    Lodato was fatally shot when she opened her door Feb. 6 and a gunman opened fire, striking both her and her mother's caregiver. The caregiver survived and gave a description of the suspect to police, forming the basis for a widely distributed sketch.

    On Wednesday, Severance's lawyer said the prosecutor is relying on "hype" and "conjecture" about those cases to keep Severance behind bars, even though Alexandria authorities have not publicly identified him as a suspect in any of the slayings.

    "It's premature to call Mr. Severance a suspect at this time," Crystal Nosal, public information officer for the Alexandria Police Department, said last week.

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    Welling also argued that Severance is not a flight risk because the fugitive warrant was not issued until Severance had already left Virginia, contradicting a claim made by a West Virginia prosecutor Monday.

    During a hearing Monday, prosecutors showed an image of Severance taken the week before his arrest, visiting the Russian Embassy to ask for asylum. They introduced into evidence a video still of Severance, clad in a poncho and tri-corner hat, leaving the embassy with passport in hand.

    Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe is expected to request a warrant for Severance to be returned to the commonwealth, but that could take up to 60 days.

    Severance's attorney said Severance is indigent and that the bail amount of $100,000 is excessive based on the charge. He is being held at the Northern Regional Jail in West Virginia.

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