Jury Selection Begins in Charles Severance Trial

20151001 Charles Severance in Court
Washington Post

Jury selection began Monday in the murder trial of a Virginia man accused of killing three prominent Alexandria residents over the course of a decade.

Charles Severance, 54, is charged with the murders of Nancy Dunning, wife of then-Sheriff James Dunning, in 2003; transportation planner Ron Kirby in 2013 and music teacher Ruthanne Lodato last year

All three were shot in their homes, in broad daylight, in a wealthy, residential neighborhood.

Severance's trial was moved from Alexandria to Fairfax because of pretrial publicity in Alexandria and because of widespread fear the killings caused there.

The trial is expected to take six weeks. The prosecutor estimates that it will be Wednesday afternoon at the earliest for opening statements, and maybe not until Thursday.

More than 100 people were called in Monday as potential jurors.

The accused killer, who often interrupted the judge in earlier hearings, was silent as initial juror questioning began. The judge needed to first find out if the trial -- expected to last six weeks -- would pose a hardship for potential jurors.

Of the 100 potential jurors quizzed Monday, just 52 will move on for for more questioning. They've been asked to return Tuesday afternoon.

The first order of business then will be calling jurors, one by one, to ask them about media exposure. Only after that will the rest of voir dire begin, with potential jurors being asked questions like whether they know anyone involved in the case, what their thoughts are on about mental illness, and whether they've ever been a crime victim themselves.

Would-be jurors were told that even though Severance is charged with capital murder, this will not be a death penalty case.

Prosecutors say Severance, a former Alexandria resident with a history of erratic behavior, committed the killings as revenge against what he perceived as the city's ruling class after losing a child custody case.

Defense lawyers for Severance have said that their client suffers from schizophrenia but they will not make an insanity defense.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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