Severance charged in three murders

Severance charged in three murders

By Erich Wagner (Photo/Erich Wagner)

Police Chief Earl Cook believes his department has finally solved a string of high profile murders, one of which dated back more than a decade.

Police announced Monday that they secured murder indictments against former fringe mayoral candidate Charles Severance in connection to the deaths of Nancy Dunning in 2003, Ronald Kirby in 2013 and Ruthanne Lodato in February of this year.

A grand jury indicted Severance, currently in custody in Loudoun County on an unrelated weapons charge, with two counts of capital murder and one count of first-degree murder along with a slew of related crimes.

Cook called the indictments “extraordinary” at a press conference Monday, noting that investigators never gave up on the decade-old Dunning investigation.

“It took constant hard work and dedication for us to stand here before you today,” Cook said. “These are very emotional crimes, very personal crimes. Alexandria, while it is not the smallest city, its community acts like a small town, and our detectives get very personally involved in these cases.”

Cook said he couldn’t discuss how Severance chose his alleged victims.

“I don’t know if they were targeted or not, because I can’t personally get into the mentality of Mr. Severance,” Cook said. “Most people who live in this community for any length of time tend to know each other in some fashion. I’ll answer it that way.”

Liz Dunning, Nancy Dunning’s daughter, read a statement to reporters following the press conference. She thanked detectives and asked for people to respect her family’s privacy.

“While nothing can bring her back, we’re hopeful that these indictments are the beginning of a process that will offer my family and the families of the other victims a small degree of closure.”

Former City Councilor and longtime resident Lonnie Rich said the indictments end any aspersions cast toward Nancy Dunning’s husband, then-Sheriff Jim Dunning, eyed by some residents as a prime suspect.

“The spouse is always the No. 1 suspect,” said Rich, who was a political ally of Jim Dunning. “[Particularly] in regard to the Dunning case, this takes a huge load off the family … I don’t fault the police at all for doing their jobs, but to have Jim’s name cleared — and I’m gathering that they believe [Severance] operated alone — that’s really good for the family.

“The two kids, Chris and Liz, they sort of lived under this cloud for 10 years with their family and it’s been awful. It was awful for Jim and I think it was awful for the kids.”

Mayor Bill Euille celebrated the indictments as a possible end to a dark chapter in Alexandria. He too lamented the toll that the case took on the Dunning family.

“Jim Dunning was a personal friend of mine, and so was Nancy,” Euille said. “It just took so long to the find the right person. But people reach all sorts of conclusions without having the facts, and it’s most unfortunate.”

Although Severance is charged with multiple capital crimes, Commonwealth’s Attorney Bryan Porter said in a statement he would not seek the death penalty in this case. He will instead ask for a life sentence. Porter refused to discuss any details of the evidence in the case, citing the potential impact it could have on the trial.

Cook declined to release details he considered to be of an “evidentiary nature,” but said investigators had been gathering evidence since ballistic reports linked the three shootings in March, with an eye for the September grand jury. He said detectives never were able to recover any guns that could be tied to the killings.

Cook said he expects Severance to be extradited to Alexandria within a week.

In the Dunning case, Severance is charged with first-degree murder and the use of a firearm in the commission of a felony. In the Kirby death, he is charged with capital murder, use of a firearm in the commission of a felony and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.

Police have charged Severance with capital murder, two counts of use of a firearm in the commission of a felony, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, as well as malicious wounding in connection with Lodato’s death.

Police spokeswoman Crystal Nosal said Severance was only charged with first-degree murder in the Dunning slaying because homicides must occur within a three-year period to qualify for capital charges.