Ex-Girlfriend of Charles Severance Testifies at Triple Murder Trial

An ex-girlfriend of Charles Severance -- the man accused of killing three Alexandria residents over the course of a decade -- says he harbored a grudge against the court system for losing custody of his child.

On Tuesday, his former girlfriend Linda Robra spent hours on the witness stand and many of the questions focused on her guns.

Severance is on trial for three separate slayings spanning more than a decade: Nancy Dunning, wife of then-Sheriff Jim Dunning, in 2003; transportation planner Ron Kirby in 2013; and music teacher Ruthanne Lodato last year.

Severance, a former Alexandria resident with a history of erratic behavior, has pleaded not guilty. Prosecutors say he committed the killings to get revenge against what he perceived as the city's ruling class after losing custody of his son.

Robra said that while they lived together, Severance -- whom she called "Charlie" -- expressed hatred of what he called "utopian elites" and of police.

"Any time there were police officers shot, he thought it was good thing," Robra told the jury. "One of his phrases was, 'The only good cop is a dead cop.'"

Robra testified that Severance told her that his son was taken away from him when the boy was about 14 months old. He said someone from the Alexandria Police Department came into his house through a window and removed his son from the home.

She said she never knew Severance to have any contact with his son.

When asked whether Severance ever mentioned having a protective order served on him by Alexandria detectives, she said maybe, but it had been a long time.

Robra said he would get angry when he discussed his child custody case, even though he'd lost the case a decade before they met. She said he would sarcastically use the phrase "the best interest of the child," mocking the legal standard that had been used against him in that case.

"He was not fond of the court system in Alexandria," Robra testified. "He thought he was treated unfairly because of his custody situation.''

Robra, a realtor and Loudoun County substitute teacher, said the couple met while swing-dancing, and he moved into her Ashburn townhouse in March 2011. The relationship was romantic, but after Severance broke his ankle in June 2013, his demeanor changed. He became depressed and withdrawn. At that point, the couple began sleeping in separate bedrooms.

Robra was well-aware that her boyfriend had a felony conviction on his record and couldn't buy his own guns. But in 2012, he showed her a photo of a small, hand-sized .22-caliber revolver and urged her to buy two. She got the guns and the type of ammunition Severance suggested.

All three victims were shot to death with that type of gun and bullet.

The guns later went missing, and police believe that a similar weapon and ammunition were used in the Alexandria slayings. Severance also made numerous approving references to the gun and ammunition in his writings.

Robra says Severance also made comments about the legal system, complaining, "They didn't know what they were doing," and that "some of those people should be shot."

That testimony is crucial to the prosecution's case -- two of the victims had ties to law enforcement or the courts.

But defense attorneys later countered by asking Robra whether she took Severance seriously when he talked about shooting people.

Robra said no.

She testified under immunity for knowing Severance, a felon, had a gun and because of marijuana found in her home. She said she doesn't know where the guns are.

She said she once saw Severance cleaning a gun in the house and asked him why he was cleaning a gun before it had been fired. However, defense attorneys underscored an inconsistency in her testimony, saying Robra has never mentioned seeing him cleaning a gun before.

When the prosecutor asked if she knew why two spent shell cartridge cases would have been in her garage, Robra said no and that she never fired either gun.

Then, in March 2014, Severance became a suspect in the Alexandria murders. A detective left his card at the Ashburn townhouse, asking Severance to call. Severance refused and told Robra he was going camping. She told him to move out. When detectives searched her home two days later, the two small handguns were gone. Neither has been found.

Severance's defense attorney made a point with Robra that the guns could have been missing well before Severance moved out because she hadn't checked.

Robra also confirmed to the defense that she'd told detectives that Severance was sweet and helped around the house, and that she wasn't scared of him.

The prosecution showed records in court Tuesday stating Robra was working as substitute teacher the days that Lodato and Kirby were killed.

Robra told detectives she didn't think Severance left the house Feb. 6, 2014, the day Lodato was killed. She said she remembers nothing unusual. She also told detectives she didn't remember Severance being upset or angry that day Kirby was killed.

She also testified that his beard at the time of the murders was bushy, not like the more closely cropped beard in a police sketch made of the gunman who shot Lodato and Lodato's mother's caregiver.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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