Severance’s competency to be tested

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — A man charged with three murders in Alexandria over the last decade must be tested for mental competency, despite his objection to being tested, a judge ruled Thursday.

Judge Jane Marum Roush ordered the competency exam at a pretrial hearing in Alexandria Circuit Court at the request of Charles Severance’s court-appointed lawyers. But Severance himself stood up and objected the moment his lawyers broached the issue, telling the judge, “Your honor he does not represent me no more.”

Roush responded that the lawyers represent Severance unless she says otherwise, and ordered the tests. A hearing on the issue is scheduled for Jan. 22.

When Severance entered the courtroom, he stared down a press pool photographer who had been allowed to cover the hearing despite defense objections. At one point, Severance extended his middle finger at the photographer, though the action went largely unnoticed by others in the courtroom.

Severance is accused in the slayings of three prominent city residents over roughly a 10-year span: the December 2003 shooting of Nancy Dunning, wife of then-Sheriff James Dunning; the shooting of transportation planner Ron Kirby in November 2013, and the February slaying of music teacher Ruthanne Lodato.

Prosecutors said in court papers that the killings, which occurred within a few miles of each other in the victims’ homes, resembled assassinations and were part of Severance’s twisted political views.

Court records show that Severance, a former Alexandria resident and fringe candidate for political office, harbored a hatred of Alexandria civil authorities after he lost a custody dispute in court. In that custody case, Severance acted as his own lawyer and refused to undergo mental-health testing that the judge ordered as a condition of regaining any visitation rights.

The Alexandria slayings rattled city residents after police said last February that ballistics evidence showed possible connections to all three killings. In March, after police sought to interview Severance, he tried to claim asylum at the Russian embassy, claiming he was being persecuted by Alexandria officials.

In court papers, prosecutors wrote that Severance “was exceptionally angry not just at the Alexandria court system, but at what he terms ‘status quo utopian elites.’” Prosecutors say they found writings from Severance justifying murder in furtherance of his political theories.

Severance’s lawyers declined to comment after Thursday’s hearing on their decision to seek an evaluation of Severance’s competency.

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