Severance guilty in three Alexandria slayings

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Severance guilty in three Alexandria slayings
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By Erich Wagner and Chris Teale (File photo)

Article updated November 5, 9 a.m.

A Fairfax County jury found Charles Severance guilty Monday of all 10 charges in connection with the killings of three prominent Alexandrians and the wounding of a fourth person after around 13 hours of deliberation over three days. He will spend the rest of his life in prison.

Severance, 55, was convicted of capital murder in the deaths of Ruthanne Lodato in February 2014 and Ronald Kirby in November 2013, and first-degree murder in the slaying of Nancy Dunning in 2003. He also was convicted of non-fatally shooting Janet Franko, a caretaker at the Lodato residence, and six other related charges.

The jury recommended a sentence of life without parole for each of the three killings. Specially appointed Fairfax County Circuit Court Judge Randy Bellows will formally sentence Severance in January.

Commonwealth’s Attorney Bryan Porter applauded the jury for their service in a statement, and thanked investigators across various jurisdictions for their work to bring Severance to justice.

“The reign of the Alexandria Assassin is over,” he said. “At long last, the defendant has been held accountable and exposed for what he really is — a clever, but cowardly, murderer.

“My first thoughts are with the victims of these senseless crimes. Nancy Dunning, Ronald Kirby and Ruthanne Lodato were wonderful people — three precious human souls who were gunned down in the sanctity of their own homes by a depraved human being. My thoughts are also with the families and friends of Nancy, Ron and Ruthanne. Throughout the pendency of this case, the quiet dignity, resolve and resolution shown by these wonderful people, all
victimized by these senseless acts, has served as a source of inspiration to the trial team.”

Franko was a key witness in the month-long trial, as she was the only eye witness to any of the killings. Although she initially wavered in identifying Severance during testimony with prosecutors, she was unequivocal under scrutiny from the defendant’s defense team.

Prosecutors argued that Severance was motivated by a hatred for “elites” in Alexandria, whom he held responsible for his losing a legal battle over the custody of his son. Former acquaintances reportedly testified that the defendant would become agitated and threatening
when the subject came up.

Despite a lack of physical evidence — detectives never found any of the guns used in the killings — prosecutors focused on a specific brand of subsonic ammunition and two .22-caliber revolvers Severance convinced his then-girlfriend to purchase. Severance reportedly had an affinity for the firearm, and a ballistics expert testified they had never seen such ammunition used in any other crime.

Although Severance was convicted of two counts of capital murder, Porter announced shortly after his indictment in September 2014 that he would not seek the death penalty in this case. Severance faces up to life in prison.

Alexandria Police Chief Earl Cook commended his officers, the work of state and federal agencies and prosecutors for their diligent work in finding Severance and securing a conviction in the case.

“I am extremely proud of the dedicated men and women of the Alexandria Police Department and the time and effort they put in over the course of 11 years to bring these three cases to trial,” Cook said in a statement. “They illustrate the Department’s commitment to bringing suspects to justice. Our detectives and officers never lost focus on these cases despite the number of years involved.

“[Thankfully], this verdict officially gives closure for the families of Nancy Dunning, Ron Kirby and Ruthanne Lodato.”

Stan Severance, the defendant’s father, issued a statement saying his family “respects the verdict.”

“A jury of his peers has rendered a verdict and we respect the verdict,” the family wrote. “We want to express our deepest sympathy to the Dunnings, the Kirbys and the Lodatos for their losses. There are no words to express their loss. Our family is a strong family. We will pursue and continue on.”

Mayor Bill Euille offered condolences to the victims’ families and lauded the verdict.

“Obviously, the judicial system worked in this particular case, and hopefully the jury’s decision was based on not only excellent police work but certainly the professionalism of the commonwealth attorney’s office to prosecute the case on all charges,” he said. “From the citizens’ perspective here in Alexandria, we’re pleased this matter is now being brought to a close and certainly I’m sure, not only for us as residents and citizens, but for the families — the Dunning family, the Lodato family and the Kirby family as well — that despite the decision, this doesn’t change the fact that their loved ones have been taken away from them, but it does indeed bring closure.”

City Councilor Tim Lovain said the case had particular resonance for him. Lovain lives in Rosemont, the neighborhood where Lodato was killed and where residents lived in fear in the weeks following the shooting. He knew both her and Kirby.

“It was a tough case because of so much circumstantial evidence, but they obviously did an outstanding job of compiling it and making the case,” Lovain said. “I knew all three of them, maybe Ron Kirby the best, but I knew Ruthanne. I just remember the anxiety in our community when that happened, and in our neighborhood, and I think this really will hopefully help bring closure and reduce any remaining anxiety.”

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