Severance ordered to undergo further evaluation

Severance ordered to undergo further evaluation

By Erich Wagner (File photo)

The man accused in the slayings of three prominent Alexandria residents was ordered last week to undergo a more in-depth mental health evaluation after he refused to speak with a court-appointed psychologist.

Charles Severance, 54, is charged with multiple counts of murder in connection with the deaths of local music teacher Ruthanne Lodato last February, transit guru Ronald Kirby in November 2013 and prominent realtor Nancy Dunning in 2003.

Circuit Court Judge Jane Roush had ordered Severance to undergo a mental competency evaluation last month, after Severance tried to fire his court-appointed defense team.

At a hearing last Thursday to review the results of that evaluation, attorneys announced that Severance refused to participate in the evaluation, declining to be interviewed by court psychologist Anita Boss.

Roush granted prosecutors’ request to send the defendant to a state mental hospital for a more in-depth evaluation of whether he is competent to stand trial.

But her ruling did not come until Severance twice interrupted the proceedings.

At the start of the hearing, he objected to the discussion of his case.

“I am effectively being denied my right to a speedy trial,” he said at the beginning of the hearing.

And as defense attorney Christopher Leibig first addressed the court, Severance again interjected, repeating his attempts to fire his defense team.

“He does not represent me,” Severance said.

Roush admonished the defendant, but said she would allow him to speak at the end of the hearing.

As prosecutors pushed for a more extensive evaluation of Severance’s mental health, the defense team argued that further review would unduly delay the proceedings.

“He elected not to speak with her,” Leibig said. “[But] there’s a substantial basis to believe he suffers from substantial impairment.”

But Roush said she requires more information to be able to make a determination about a person’s mental competency, and noted that an incompetency ruling would actually represent a longer delay — at least six months, rather than 45 days.

“Not to be glib, but a lot of people have a ‘substantial impairment’ but are competent to stand trial,” she said.

After the judge ordered a new mental health evaluation, she gave Severance an opportunity to speak.

“I would like to recant my waiver of the right to a speedy trial,” he said, referring to what is a common procedure in major criminal cases. “I want a defense team that is competent and able to argue that I am being denied my right to a speedy trial.”

“Well this is probably the most competent defense team I could possibly imagine,” Roush replied, but said she would allow him to file a motion in the case.

A hearing on the results of the latest competency evaluation is slated for March 19.