UPDATED: May 6, 2014 3:56 p.m.
LEESBURG, Va. (WNEW/AP) — A public defender who usually handles death-penalty cases is representing a man wanted for questioning in three unsolved Alexandria slayings, over the objections of prosecutors.
Charles Severance, 53, of Ashburn, was arraigned Tuesday in Loudoun County General District Court on a felony charge alleging that he illegally possessed firearms despite a criminal record. The charge is unrelated to the slayings.
Severance was extradited from West Virginia Monday to face the weapons charge. His lawyers there argued that the charge was a pretext to hold Severance while Alexandria investigates whether he had a role in the shooting deaths.
Ed Ungvarsky, who is part of the capital defender’s office, entered an appearance Tuesday on Severance’s behalf over prosecutors’ objection.
Commonwealth’s Attorney Jim Plowman said it is a waste of taxpayer money for a public capital defender to work on behalf of a defendant charged with a routine felony related to illegal firearms possession.
“I think taxpayers would be upset that we’re paying him to do one job, and he’s doing something else,” Plowman said after the hearing. But Plowman said he was not sure if he would file a motion seeking Ungvarsky’s dismissal from the case.
Ungvarsky declined comment at Tuesday’s hearing.
Severance, in a red jail jumpsuit, confirmed his identity but otherwise said little during Tuesday’s brief hearing, in which he appeared through a video link. A preliminary hearing on the weapons charge was scheduled for June 18.
Police in Alexandria have not named Severance as a suspect, but have said they would like to talk to him in connection with their investigation into the killings.
Severance is a former Alexandria resident who ran several fringe candidacies for public office there, and several public figures in the city recall him acting bizarrely at candidate forums and other events. Severance expressed anger in court papers when he lost custody of his then-infant son in 2000 and a judge ordered him to undergo a mental-health assessment before he could seek any kind of visitation.
Severance also bears at least a resemblance to an artists’ sketch that police circulated after the most recent slaying — the February shooting of music teacher Ruthanne Lodato. Police have said there are similarities between her killing and two others — the November shooting of transportation planner Ronald Kirby and the 2003 slaying of Nancy Dunning, wife of then-Sheriff James Dunning. Police have said they are investigating the killings as though they may be related but are not ruling out the possibility that the shootings are unconnected.
Thus far, Severance’s lawyer has not requested that he be released on bond. Plowman said he believes it is appropriate that Severance be held without bond, noting that it was difficult to get Severance extradited to Virginia. Severance appealed his extradition all the way to that state’s Supreme Court.
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