Change of Venue Granted for Charles Severance Trial in Alexandria Killings

Severance trial to be held in Fairfaix

The trial of Charles Severance -- the Virginia man accused of killing three Alexandria residents over a 10-year span -- will be held in Fairfax after a judge granted a change of venue request Thursday.

Severance's attorneys had sought to move the trial out of Alexandria, which has been stunned by the deaths of the three high-profile residents, although Severance himself argued against the change.

At one point during Thursday's hearing, Severance shouted, "Your honor, I do not want a change of venue. May I sit behind that microphone?" The judge hushed him.

Severance, 54, also reacted as his attorney recounted some of the bad publicity about his behavior before arrest. "These are statements against my interest," Severance said.

Prosecutors had argued that if Boston was able to seat a jury in the marathon bombing case, Alexandria should be able to do the same in the Severance case.

In granting the change of venue, the judge said Thursday that she was most influenced by the "fear factor" in Alexandria. "The fear factor is more compelling," she said.

The high-profile killings had made some members of the community afraid to answer their own doors. Music teacher Ruthanne Lodato was shot to death as she answered a knock at her door Feb. 6, 2014. Ron Kirby, director of the department of transportation planning for the Council of Governments, was shot and killed Nov. 10, 2013. Nancy Dunning, the wife of a former Alexandria sheriff, was killed in 2003.

At Thursday's hearing, a prosecutor said that part of a poem by Severance ended, "Knock, talk, enter, kill, exit, murder."

The judge will also take under advisement a motion to sever the much earlier slaying of Nancy Dunning from the other two murders.

"I'll tell you what I'm concerned about is the 10-year gap," the judge said, referring to the time between Dunning's death and the others.

Prosecutors argued against splitting the cases, saying that evidence from the bullets and type of gun link the three crimes, although the same gun was not used in all three murders. The prosecution said the only time the forensics lab has seen this type of ammunition used in murders is with the three in Alexandria. 

They also said that bullets found in Severance's parents' house with his belongings were the same used in the murders, and 10 of 50 rounds were missing. "These offenses are all signature crimes" because of the method and ammunition used, a prosecutor said.

During Thursday's hearing, the judge also ordered the shackles removed from Severance when he's being transported. His lawyers said he has an injured ankle.

Severance is charged with capital murder, although prosecutors have said they will not seek the death penalty. He had undergone several mental evaluations, and objected to them in outbursts during court hearings in December and January.

At one point during a previous hearing, he made a rude gesture to a court photographer; at another, he complained about his lawyers and said he wanted "the defense to competently argue I've been denied a right to a speedy trial."

Severance was found competent to stand trial earlier this month.

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