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Severance case in Leesburg goes to grand jury

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LEESBURG, Va. (AP) — A judge on Wednesday found probable cause for weapons charges to move forward against a man who also is wanted for questioning in the deaths of three Alexandria residents over the past decade.

The ruling by Judge Deborah Welsh means that Charles Severance, 53, of Ashburn will remain in custody while prosecutors pursue a formal grand jury indictment, expected next month.

Severance is charged with illegally possessing firearms despite a felony record. His lawyers, though, say the charge is a sham to hold Severance while Alexandria police continue to investigate the unsolved shootings there, which are unconnected to the weapons charge in Loudoun County.

Alexandria Police have tried to question Severance but have declined to identify him as a suspect. The department issued a news release Wednesday night stating that while no arrests have been made in connection with the homicides, "the department has narrowed the scope of these investigations to Charles Severance as its primary focus." The statement did not elaborate.

Severance's lawyer argued that the firearms in the Loudoun case actually belonged to Severance's live-in girlfriend. The girlfriend, Linda Robra, testified at Wednesday's hearing that she bought two .22-caliber revolvers for her own protection, at Severance's suggestion. She said she only once saw Severance personally handle the weapons, when he showed her how to load the weapons shortly after they were purchased.

Robra testified that the guns went missing, but she did not know when.

Alexandria Police have said that small-caliber weapons were used in the three fatal shootings, though ballistics testing has not been able to prove that the same weapon was used in each one.

Loudoun County Commonwealth's Attorney James Plowman said Severance illegally possessed the weapons, even though Robra technically owned them. He said the single instance of Severance handling the weapons is enough to sustain a charge, but he also said it's a reasonable assumption that the guns went missing because Severance took them, since he and Robra were the only ones who lived in the home.

Severance's lawyer, Ed Ungvarsky, said the state's case is "woefully weak" and that it is exceedingly rare for a person to be charged with illegal weapons possession when nobody even knows where the weapons are.

A little bit of information about the Alexandria investigation into the slayings bled over into Wednesday's hearing. Robra testified that Severance has had a distinctive long, scraggly beard for at least the last three years. After the two most recent slayings in Alexandria last year, police released a composite sketch of a suspect that showed a beard, but nothing like the extensive beard worn by Severance.

Robra also testified that Severance suffered a serious leg injury last June that left him in a cast and later crutches. She said that as of November, Severance still had some difficulty walking.

The two most recent shootings in Alexandria occurred when police said a person walked up to the victims' front door in a residential neighborhood.

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