Witness identifies Virginia man accused of three murders as killer of final victim

Reuters News
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Posted: Oct 08, 2015 8:28 PM

By John Clarke

FAIRFAX, Va. (Reuters) - A witness in the trial of an eccentric former Virginia political candidate charged with murdering three people over an 11-year span identified him on Thursday as the gunman who shot the last of the victims.

On the opening day of testimony, witness Janet Franko named the suspect, Charles Severance, 55, as the man who shot music teacher Ruthanne Lodato last year. The three seemingly random killings in the Washington suburb of Alexandria fed fears that a serial killer was loose in the U.S. capital area.

"He looks like the man," said Franko, who had been a caregiver to Lodato and was shot in the arm during the attack.

Franko broke down during cross-examination in Fairfax County Circuit Court. "I've never seen anything like that in my life," she said, crying. "It's so sad."

Severance is also charged in the 2013 shooting of regional transportation planner Ronald Kirby and the 2003 killing of real estate agent Nancy Dunning.

Prosecutors contend Severance killed his victims as revenge against what he perceived as Alexandria's ruling class after losing a child custody case.

Lawyers for Severance attacked ballistic and photographic evidence and questioned Franko's recollection, as well as that of two other witnesses who said they had seen Severance.

The murders were all committed in an upscale Alexandria neighborhood at the victims' homes. Severance used the same .22 caliber revolver in each shooting, prosecutors said.

Severance lived in Alexandria in the 1990s and the early 2000s and ran for mayor and Congress. He sometimes wore a tricorn hat, was known for ranting in public and once threw a punch at the organizer of a mayoral debate.

Severance, sporting a bushy white beard, sat in a wheelchair wearing a brown checkered shirt. He said nothing during the day's trial.

The trial is expected to take six weeks. Severance faces murder, wounding and firearms charges.

(Reporting by John Clarke; Editing by Ian Simpson and Cynthia Osterman)