THE CIRCUIT COURT OF FAIRFAX COUNTY Randy I. Bellows, Judge
W. Hundley (Erin L. Blanch; Briglia Hundley, P.C., on
briefs), for appellant.
H. Anderson, III, Senior Assistant Attorney General (Mark R.
Herring, Attorney General, on brief), for appellee.
Present: Judges Alston, O'Brien and Senior Judge Clements
Argued at Alexandria, Virginia
GRACE O'BRIEN JUDGE
a jury trial, Charles Stanard Severance
("appellant") was convicted of two counts of
capital murder for the deaths of Ronald Kirby and Ruthanne
Lodato, one count of first-degree murder for the death of
Nancy Dunning, and other related charges. Prior to trial,
appellant moved to sever the charges relating to the Dunning
murder from the other offenses. Following a hearing, the
court denied the motion. Trial was held October 8 through
November 2, 2015. The court imposed the jury's verdict of
three life sentences for the murder convictions, and
forty-eight years of incarceration for the other related
charges. This appeal followed.
asserts three assignments of error:
I. The trial court erred in denying [appellant's] motion
to sever the Dunning case from the Lodato and Kirby cases.
II. The trial court erred in denying [appellant's] motion
to strike the evidence.
III. The trial court erred in sentencing [appellant] for both
capital murder convictions.
consider the evidence in the light most favorable to the
prevailing party, the Commonwealth. Beasley v.
Commonwealth, 60 Va.App. 381, 391, 728 S.E.2d 499, 504
(2012). So viewed, the evidence established that appellant
graduated from college in 1986 with a degree in mechanical
engineering. Following graduation, he was employed
sporadically due to difficulties with employers.
Appellant's family began to notice that he was acting
erratically in 1988, but he never received significant mental
began a relationship with Tamela Nichols in 1998. The parties
resided together in Alexandria and had a child, Levi, who was
born in April 1999. Issues arose between appellant and
Nichols in March 2000, and Nichols moved out with Levi. A
number of contentious custody and visitation hearings in the
Alexandria Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court
ensued. Ultimately, Nichols was granted sole legal and
physical custody and no visitation was awarded to appellant.
The custody orders were served on appellant and were signed
by various deputies "for Sheriff Dunning."
Following the proceedings, Nichols received threatening
letters from appellant.
testified that for years after the custody proceedings,
appellant became upset and irrational when the subject arose.
He would quickly become argumentative and denounce the police
and the "enforcement class." Appellant was
illogical when discussing the issue; he used repetitive
phrases such as "tomahawking the
homestead." Appellant's family was concerned about
his mental health, but appellant was distrustful of the
mental health system. He became irate when he learned that
his parents had attended meetings of an organization that
assisted parents with children suffering from mental health
disorders. Appellant ran for mayor of Alexandria in 1996, and
his platform included a condemnation of mental health
of Nancy Dunning: December 5, 2003
Dunning was a well-known real estate agent who lived in
Alexandria. She was married to James Dunning, the sheriff of
Alexandria who had held that position since 1985. Mrs.
Dunning made plans to meet her husband and son for lunch on
December 5, and they became concerned when she did not
arrive. She had told her son that she was going to stop at
Target before meeting them. Her son drove to the Dunning
residence and noticed that the garage door was open and his
mother's car, which displayed a sheriff's license
plate, was in the garage. He went inside the residence, saw
the bags from Target in the family room, and found his mother
lying in the front hallway, unresponsive, with blood on her
face. The front door was closed but unlocked, and nothing was
out of place or missing from the residence. Crime scene
investigators found no evidence of forced entry. A small
caliber bullet was discovered in a pool of blood near the
victim and a blood smear was located on the front door.
trial, the Commonwealth presented surveillance footage that
depicted a man who appeared to be following Dunning at the
Target store where she shopped before her death. However, a
number of appellant's witnesses testified that the man in
the video was not appellant.
Carolyn Revercomb, a medical examiner, performed the autopsy
on Dunning. She found three gunshot wounds, and a fourth
abrasion on the victim's chest that she characterized as
a "bullet slap wound." Dr. Revercomb opined that
the "bullet slap wound" could have resulted from a
gunshot through the victim's arm that did not penetrate
her chest. She noted that the bullet found at the scene may
have caused that injury. Dr. Revercomb testified that the gun
barrel was "quite close" to the victim when she was
of Ronald Kirby: November 11, 2013
Kirby, the Director of Transportation Planning for suburban
Maryland, the District of Columbia, and Virginia, lived with
his wife in Alexandria, Virginia. He was at home on November
11 waiting for a plumber to arrive. Daniel Petrillo, the
plumber, testified that he spoke to Kirby by telephone at
11:32 a.m. and advised him that he was on his way to
Kirby's residence. When Petrillo arrived at 11:42 a.m.,
no one answered the door. He unsuccessfully attempted to
reach Kirby by telephone and left shortly after noon.
testified that on his way to the Kirby residence he noticed a
construction crew working on curbs and concrete. The crew was
composed of Hispanic men, but Petrillo noticed one white man
who "stuck out" walking down the street. The man
was wearing a faded flannel shirt, and resembled appellant.
Petrillo stated that he was "eighty percent sure"
the person he saw was appellant.
son testified that he went to his father's residence that
day and found the front door closed but unlocked. He called
911 when he discovered his father lying on his back near the
door. Emergency personnel arrived at approximately 12:30 p.m.
and found gunshot wounds to Kirby's chest. Bullets and
bullet fragments were recovered from the scene. The crime
scene investigator testified that there were no signs of
forced entry, nothing was disturbed at the scene, and
Kirby's wallet, watch, and wedding ring, which were on
his body, were not taken.
Jocelyn Posthumus, the medical examiner who performed the
autopsy, testified that Kirby died as a result of gunshot
wounds to his chest. She recovered three bullets from his
body, two from his chest and one from his left hip. Dr.
Posthumus also identified two gunshot wounds to Kirby's
right hand. Because two other bullets were found at the
scene, Dr. Posthumus opined that five bullets had been fired,
from a distance of more than two or three feet. She testified
that she has performed more than three hundred autopsies of
shooting victims but this is the only case in which a .22
caliber long-rifle round was used in the shooting.
of Ruthanne Lodato and Malicious Wounding of Janet Franko
Lodato, the sister of an Alexandria General District Court
judge and the daughter of an Alexandria Circuit Court judge,
lived with her husband and mother in Alexandria. Janet Franko
worked at the residence as a caretaker for Lodato's
mother. At 11:30 a.m. on February 6, 2014, Franko heard the
doorbell ring and "a boom" followed by a scream.
Franko testified that she ran to the door and encountered a
bearded white man, who was fifty to sixty years of age. She
saw the man holding something round from his sleeve, heard
another "boom, " and felt a hard pain as she was
shot in the arm. Franko ran out of the back door and told a
neighbor to call 911.
was taken to the emergency room and the following day, she
helped a police officer prepare a sketch of the man who shot
her. She subsequently identified appellant from a photo array
as "look[ing] like" her assailant, except for the
amount of hair on his face. At trial, she testified that she
was certain appellant was the man who shot her.
Jonattan Lopez, who responded to the scene, testified that he
found Lodato lying on the floor. She told the officer that
she didn't know the person who shot her, but he was an
older white male with a gray beard. Crime scene investigation
revealed no sign of forced entry and nothing stolen from the
house. Two intact bullets were recovered from the scene.
Nikki Mourtzinos, a medical examiner, testified that she
performed the autopsy on Lodato, who died as a result of the
gunshot wounds. Mourtzinos stated that one entrance wound was
"quite small, " which indicated that it was made by
a small caliber weapon, typically a .22 caliber. She
testified that she had performed a "few hundred"
autopsies and only a "handful of cases" involved
.22 caliber weapons.
Wahowiak, a neighbor of the Lodatos, contacted the police the
day after the shooting. She told them that during the weeks
preceding the murder, she had seen a man in the area on
multiple occasions with a "full gray beard [and] messy
hair" who "looked out of place, " because he
wasn't dressed appropriately for the weather. When the
police released the composite sketch made from Franko's
description, Wahowiak immediately advised them that the
sketch depicted the man she had seen in the neighborhood. She
also identified appellant in court as the man she observed
near the Lodato residence.
Marquez testified that she was driving in Alexandria a few
blocks from the Lodato residence on February 6, 2014, when
she noticed an approaching car that was driving very quickly
and ignored a stop sign. She stated that the car was
"red/orange" and identified appellant as the
driver. At the time of the murder, appellant drove a 1999 red
Ford Escort station wagon with a bumper sticker that said
"Assassination City Derby." When ...