FALLS CHURCH, Va. (AP) — A judge ordered a Virginia man held without bond Monday in West Virginia after a prosecutor said he is a suspect in three unsolved slayings in the city of Alexandria over the past decade.
Charles Severance, 53, is charged in Loudoun County on an unrelated firearms charge and was arrested in Wheeling, W.Va., last week.
At a bond hearing Monday, Ohio County Prosecuting Attorney Scott Smith told a judge that Severance "is being investigated by authorities" in the Alexandria killings and should be kept in jail because he represents a danger to the community. In a subsequent phone interview with The Associated Press, Smith described Severance as a "suspect" in the slayings.
Smith also told the judge that when Severance first learned that authorities wanted to speak to him about the unsolved killings, he tried to seek asylum in the Russian embassy in Washington, which he cited as evidence that Severance could be a flight risk if he were granted bail.
According to a police report filed by D.C. police, officers responded at the embassy the afternoon of March 7 — the day after Alexandria Police announced that they had evidence potentially linking all three unsolved slayings — to deal with an "unwanted guest." Severance told police he was trying to enter the embassy to seek asylum, but was sent on his way.
Alexandria Police have said that while they are nowhere near close to charging anyone with the killings, they want to talk to Severance, a longtime city resident and twice a fringe candidate for mayor, whose name came to them in a tip.
Severance's attorney, public defender Shayne Welling, advised his client not to answer any questions at Monday's hearing, including whether his name is Charles S. Severance, and that his client expects to fight extradition. Another hearing is scheduled for Wednesday.
In a phone interview, Welling said he is simply "leaving open all possibilities in terms of challenging extradition."
He declined to discuss any details about his client but emphasized that the charges for which Virginia is seeking extradition are not murder charges, but a charge alleging he was a felon illegally possessing a firearm.
Smith told The Associated Press that it may take a month or two to obtain extradition when a defendant challenges the process.
The random nature of the killings has left Alexandria residents on edge, especially after police last month said that ballistics evidence showed possible connections to all three killings — the Feb. 6 killing of music teacher Ruthanne Lodato, the November 2013 killing of transportation planner Ronald Kirby and the 2003 slaying of Nancy Dunning, a real estate agent and wife of then-Sheriff James Dunning.
Police have said they are investigating the killings as a series of crimes, but cautioned that the ballistics evidence is not conclusive and that they do not yet have proof that all three killings were committed by one person.
In addition to the ballistics evidence, all three killings occurred in residential neighborhoods in the middle of the day, and occurred after the victim either answered a knock on the front door or at least presented themselves at the front door, police said.
All three were prominent in the local community. Police put out a sketch depicting an older white male suspect, balding and with a full gray beard.
Alexandria Police spokeswoman Crystal Nosal said Monday that police will not name anyone as a suspect until an arrest is made, and that investigators want to be sure that they don't develop tunnel vision and focus on one suspect. Police still want the public to come forward with any information that might be pertinent to the cases.
Severance ran for mayor in Alexandria in 1996 and 2000. Police records currently list him as an Ashburn, Va., resident, but he was a longtime resident of Alexandria.
Current Mayor Bill Euille, then on the city council, recalled candidate forums where Severance answered every question with a speech about legalizing drugs.
A civil case in Alexandria Circuit Court shows that he lost custody and visitation of his son, Levite, in 2000 when the boy's mother sought a protective order. She said Severance behaved in a threatening manner when she tried to leave him, setting out a rifle on a pillow in their home and leaving ammunition carefully arranged on a sock.
The judge in 2000 ordered Severance be denied visitation until, at the very least, he undergo a mental health examination, saying the case "is a most unusual one presenting real issues of safety for the Plaintiff and her son."
A transcript of that court hearing shows that Severance reluctantly admitted under cross-examination that he had been diagnosed with schizophrenia, but he believed it was the doctors who were at fault.
"I have diagnosed the psychiatrists with mental disorders," he said. "I qualify myself as mentally competent."
He said he tried once to take a medication, Risperdal, prescribed for him by a psychiatrist. He said the medication twisted his stomach and made him sick, leading him to conclude it was part of a plot against him.
He tried unsuccessfully in 2009 to gain custody of the boy, saying that he is "guided by a Holy Ghost" and listing his qualifications for custody, including the fact he "does not have any strange body piercings ... is not a whining victim of post traumatic stress disorder ... and has never encouraged a child, adolescent or adult male to be a homosexual."
Severance operates a website, mentaldisorder.com, in which he said his son "was legally isolated and separated from his father by the notorious City of Alexandria Juvenile Court. Although vilified by the inferior opinions of some judges, Charles Severance remains a God-fearing, highly respected, and solid citizen of Virginia."
Associated Press Writer Jessica Gresko contributed to this report from Washington.