Judge denies bond to Severance in Va. weapons case

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LEESBURG, Va. (AP) — A judge on Friday denied bond to a Virginia man being held on a weapons charge who has also garnered attention from detectives investigating three unsolved slayings in Alexandria.

Charles Severance, 53, of Ashburn is charged in Loudoun County with illegal possession of firearms as a felon. But his case has drawn widespread attention because Alexandria police say they want to question him regarding three shooting deaths there dating to 2003.

At a bond hearing Friday, defense lawyer Edward Ungvarsky said the weapons charge is weak, and was exaggerated so police could arrest him while they continue to investigate the slayings.

Specifically, Ungvarsky said the two handguns in question were owned by Severance's girlfriend, with whom he lived. He said prosecutors' only evidence that Severance possessed them is that he once cleaned the weapons for her.

Ungvarsky said in court papers that the allegations against his client are "based upon weak and inaccurate circumstantial evidence" and that Severance's girlfriend was pressured by police to describe the weapons possession in a way that could support an arrest warrant.

Ungvarsky also urged the judge to ignore the speculation swirling around the Alexandria cases, noting that police there have explicitly refused to describe Severance as a suspect.

Prosecutor Jim Plowman acknowledged Friday that the criminal complaint was imprecise in describing Severance's alleged crime. But he said Severance could still be guilty of illegally possessing firearms even if his girlfriend technically owned the weapons.

And he warned that releasing Severance could be a risk, citing in part questions about Severance's mental health.

"We've seen so often over the last few years, especially in the media, the deadly combination of weapons and unaddressed mental health issues," Plowman said.

People who knew Severance when he lived in Alexandria more than a decade ago, when he was a fringe political candidate, have said he acted erratically, and civil court records show that he lost custody of his son in part because of a refusal to undergo a mental-health examination.

Ungvarsky said it was unfair to speculate that Severance has any mental health issues that could lead to violence.

"He may be depressed. He was held in West Virginia on a charge that was false," Ungvarsky said, referring to his arrest and detention earlier this year in that state on the Loudoun weapons charge, and has been unfairly linked to the Alexandria shootings. "No one's doing cartwheels in that situation."

District Judge J. Frank Buttery said the law presumes that Severance should be held pending trial on this particular weapons charge, and that Severance was unable to overcome the presumption.

A preliminary hearing on the weapons charge is scheduled for next week.

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