A Loudoun County General District judge has ruled there is probable cause for weapons charges against an Ashburn man suspected to be involved in the deaths of three people in Alexandria over the past decade.
Charles Severance, 53, will now face the grand jury July 14 as the Commonwealth's Attorney's Office pursues a formal indictment of possession of a firearm while a convicted felon.
Severance pleaded guilty of felony gun possession in 2005 in Rockingham County.
Severance's case has garnered state-wide attention due to his possible involvement in three shootings. Alexandria police have wanted to question Severance regarding the deaths of Nancy Dunning, Ron Kirby and Ruthanne Lodato, killed in 2003, 2013 and 2014 respectively, though Severance has not formally been named as a suspect.
The more than two-hour June 18 preliminary hearing, however, focused solely on the charges Severance faces in Loudoun stemming from incidents believed to have occurred between May 2012 and March 2013, in which Severance handled and possessed .a 22-caliber revolver, purchased by Linda Robra. Severance lived with Robra for three years in her Ashburn home.
Robra, who already owned to .38-caliber revolvers, testified that she purchased the .22-caliber weapons for self-defense. Severance, she said, showed her the guns online and encouraged her to purchase them, since they were smaller and easier to handle.
The two guns were kept in her bedroom closet and office desk, though Robra said that Severance largely had free access of the home during the nearly three years the pair lived together, from 2011 to 2014. Additionally, Robra said that during the summer of 2012, Severance demonstrated how to handle and load the weapon.
Defense attorney Edward Ungvarsky argued that Robra had to cooperate with authorities because they did not pursue a marijuana charge; when police executed a search warrant on Robra's Gala Circle home, they found a half-pound of marijuana in her bedroom.
Robra testified that in March, when Severance went to go camping, she asked him not to return. After he left, she realized the .22-caliber guns were missing, though she admitted she hadn't gone to retrieve them for a year or so.
The guns still have not been recovered.
Also testifying were Alexandria detective Sean Casey and FBI Special Agent Erin Sheridan. Casey was present when the Gala Circle home was searched and .22-caliber shells were recovered in the garage. Robra said she had not fired the weapon. Sheridan was present in Wheeling, W.Va., when Severance's car was search after he was apprehended March 13 at the Wheeling library. Though the search of his car didn't yield any firearms, the FBI did recover a gun cleaning kit.
Ungvarsky called the case “woefully weak” and an “extraordinary stretch.”
But Commonwealth's Attorney Jim Plowman argued even if Robra owned the guns, Severance still at some point possessed them.
“I would simply point out that ownership and possession are not the same legal animal,” Plowman told the court. “I can buy a car and loan it to Mr. Ungvarsky and he can drive it to Richmond or Winchester one afternoon. He's possessing it, but I still own it.”
Judge Deborah Welsh ultimately agreed with Plowman that because of Severance's free access of the home, he had some “dominion and control” over the weapons.