A Loudoun County man who has been charged with the murders of three Alexandria, Virginia, residents over a decade is being moved to Alexandria -- and three judges are asking to be removed from the case.
Those are the latest developments in the case of Charles Severance, who has been indicted in the murders of Ruthanne Lodato, Ron Kirby and Nancy Dunning.
Severance is being moved Monday from Loudoun County, Virginia, where he was being held on a weapons charge, to Alexandria. He is expected to appear in court on the murder charges via closed-circuit on Tuesday.
Three Alexandria defense attorneys -- Chris Leibig, Joe King and Megan Thomas -- all of whom have represented high-profile defendants -- have agreed to be Severance's court-appointed lawyers.
Meanwhile, three judges in Alexandria have recused themselves from the case. So the Virginia Supreme Court will appoint a special judge to hear the case, News4's Julie Carey reported.
Severance's arrest was a relief to the Alexandria community, which was frightened by the three murders of prominent residents in their homes. One murder happened almost 11 years ago.
"It's with some pleasure we have ability to say we have this particular killer arrested," said Alexandria Police Chief Earl Cook during a press conference Monday.
Cook said he is confident that Severance is the suspect they've been looking for since the murder of Nancy Dunning in her home.
— Julie Carey (@JulieCareyNBC) September 8, 2014
Severance is facing a total of 10 charges relating to the deaths of the three prominent community members:
- First-degree murder and use of a firearm in the commission of a felony in the Dec. 5, 2003, death of Dunning, the wife of then-Alexandria Sheriff Jim Dunning.
- Capital murder, use of a firearm in the commission of a felony and possession of a firearm by a felon in the Nov. 11, 2013, death of 69-year-old Ronald Kirby, an official with the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments
- 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 in the Feb. 6, 2014, death of music teacher Ruthanne Lodato, 59.
Lodato's mother's caregiver was also shot in the February 2014 incident. She survived the shooting and was able to provide authorities a description of the suspect.
Almost exactly 10 years after Dunning's murder, Ronald Kirby was found fatally shot in his Alexandria home. Residents speculated that the murder seemed similar to Dunning's. Just three months later, a third similar crime rocked the community. Like the others, Lodato was shot in her own home during daylight hours.
A month later, police said all three killings might be linked.
On Monday, Cook was unable to speculate on a motive, saying he would leave that to the court system.
"I don't know if it was targeted or not, because I can't get into the mentality of Mr. Severance," he said. "The evidence in itself, though, may show something different when we get to court."
Severance faces up to life in prison. The commonwealth does not intend to seek the death penalty.
Why charge with capital murder if not seeking death penalty? Chief Cook says that's a question for the prosecutor who declines comment
— Julie Carey (@JulieCareyNBC) September 8, 2014
Severance has been in custody since his arrest at a West Virginia library in March, when he was arrested on an unrelated weapons charge for a warrant out of Loudoun County. He was later extradited to Virginia. He is expected to be transported from Loudoun County to Alexandria within a week.
His lawyer unsuccessfully argued that the weapons charge, being a felon in possession of a firearm, was a "sham" charge intended to be used to allow Alexandria authorities more time for their murder investigation.
Severance was indicted in July on one count of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. His trial date on that charge was set for Oct. 27.
Former neighbors in both Maryland and Virginia remembered Severance for odd behavior.
Neighbors in the Ashburn townhome community where Severance had lived most recently said he would build bonfires on his patio right below his deck and rearrange the rocks in his front yard. They said he rarely drove anywhere, instead riding his bike around the neighborhood.
Severance also ran for mayor of Alexandria twice against former mayor Kerry Donley in 1996 and 2000. Donley recalled some unsettling interactions with him.
"I mean, he was a strange fellow, an odd guy," Donley told News4 earlier this year. "He would come totally dressed in black. He had a black cloak, and a black hat, sunglasses and black gloves. He would come to the campaign events, and whether you asked... a local community question, or a local neighborhood question, he would launch into a diatribe about mental health services to juveniles and the prescription of psychotropic drugs...."
A week before his arrest, Severance visited the Russian Embassy in D.C. to request asylum. The visit came about 24 hours after Cook held a press conference on the possble links between the murders.