Severance attorneys say detectives lied in warrant

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Severance attorneys say detectives lied in warrant
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By Erich Wagner (File photo)

Attorneys for a former fringe Alexandria mayoral candidate accused in three high-profile killings have asked a judge to throw out the charges against him.

Charles Severance, 54, stands accused of fatally shooting Ruthanne Lodato earlier this year, Ronald Kirby in November 2013 and Nancy Dunning more than a decade ago.

The shooting deaths captivated and terrorized residents for months. Dunning was known for her efforts to improve Del Ray; Kirby was a respected expert on local transportation policy and Lodato was a music teacher and loved by many.

All three killings occurred in broad daylight and in the victims’ homes. But the relatively short timeframe between Kirby and Lodato’s deaths, as well as the close proximity of their neighborhoods, had residents worried for their own safety.

But in a series of motions filed last week in Alexandria Circuit Court, the trio of prominent defense attorneys representing Severance — Christopher Leibig, Megan Thomas and Joseph King — argued the case must be thrown out because the Loudoun County detective who filed the original gun charge misrepresented the statements of Severance’s girlfriend, Laura Robra.

The crux of their argument is that in questioning by investigators, led by an Alexandria detective, Robra repeatedly rebuffed suggestions that she had bought two .22-caliber handguns for Severance and denied that she saw him take the weapons when he fled their Ashburn home for West Virginia.

“During more than two hours of interrogation, Ms. Robra stated on several occasions that she did not buy the guns for Mr. Severance, despite increasing pressure to say otherwise,” the attorneys wrote.

Although she eventually acquiesced to detectives’ theory that Severance manipulated her into buying the firearms, the defense team argued the Loudoun County charge was based on “materially false statements and omitted material facts,” because the detective did not mention Robra’s denials. If the detective’s reflection of her statement is untrue, they said, there was no probable cause to arrest Severance.

And the attorneys said detectives, in their attempt to secure a warrant for Severance, claimed Robra said she saw Severance take the guns with him when he left their home on March 10. But she repeatedly denied that in interviews with detectives.

Echoing Severance’s previous attorneys both in West Virginia and Loudoun County, the defense team said the original gun charge was “bogus,” ginned up to take him into custody until local detectives could complete their murder investigations.

“The current prosecution and incarceration are the de facto continuation of the prosecution commenced in March 2014, with the warrant for a felon in possession of a firearm,” they wrote. “The warrant served merely as a placeholder for this case.

“[It] goes without saying that the [prosecution] should not be permitted to manufacture a reason to arrest an individual for purposes of detaining them while it investigates other offenses.”

Also among last week’s slew of requests from the defense team was a motion to separate the charges related to Dunning’s death, because while Lodato and Kirby’s deaths were close enough in time frame to connect, there was nothing distinctive enough about the slayings to fold a decade-old case into the same trial.

“Crimes with a general similarity are not idiosyncratic enough to establish they were committed by the same person,” they wrote. “Indeed, .22-caliber handguns and rifles [are] among the most, if not the most, common firearms owned in America.”

Commonwealth’s Attorney Bryan Porter was not available for comment, but in the past has declined to comment on cases prior to trial, citing state ethics rules for lawyers.

The motions are slated for a hearing before Judge Jane Roush on December 11. Roush was specially appointed, because all Alexandria circuit judges recused themselves due to their relationship to Lodato’s brother, retired district court judge Robert Giammittorio.

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