LOVINGSTON — A Nelson County jury declined to find a mentally ill Nelson County man not guilty by reason of insanity for the 2019 killing of a Charlottesville man, but did find him guilty of a lesser charge.
The multi-day trial of Roger Dale Beverly, 36, started Tuesday in Nelson County Circuit Court. Beverly faced charges of first-degree murder, stabbing with intent to maim or kill and concealing a body in the death of Winfred W. Watson, 48, of Charlottesville. Neither man knew each other prior to the incident.
Appearing to be in the same untucked blue button-up as the two prior days, Beverly swiveled in his chair Thursday as the jurors determined his fate.
Throughout the three-day trial, Beverly’s attorney Brady S. Nicks and four expert defense witnesses presented ample evidence of the defendant’s mental illness and difficult family history.
Although earlier testimony seemed to suggest Beverly had not been diagnosed with schizophrenia prior to the May 2, 2019 killing of Watson, Dr. Eugene Simopoulos, a doctor of psychiatry from Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail, said he diagnosed the defendant in February of the same year.
Beverly had been arrested for a failure to appear and was evaluated during his time at ACRJ, Simopoulos said. Beverly was prescribed medicine to treat schizophrenia but, upon release, there was no indication that he took the medication or sought further treatment from Region Ten, a Central Virginia community services board, Simopoulos said.
“Region Ten does excellent work, but they can only do so much if the person does not seek treatment or doesn’t show up,” he said.
Simopoulos said Beverly’s mental health had declined dramatically when he returned to the jail in May following the killing of Watson. Now nearly three years later, Beverly is on three different medications, including anti-psychotics, and has improved, the psychiatrist said.
Nicks attempted to emphasize the psychological evidence to the jury during closing arguments, arguing that all of Beverly’s actions surrounding the death of Watson were expressions of his insanity.
“The only way this case makes sense is if you acknowledge Mr. Beverly was crazy at the time of the incident,” Nicks said.
While two psychologists testified Wednesday that they believed Beverly’s attack on Watson was influenced by his insanity, the two also declined to endorse the view that Beverly was insane when he attempted to light Watson’s body on fire.
Watson, who was stabbed 13 times by Beverly, was found face-down on the side of a trail behind the Food Lion in Lovingston. Surrounding his body were the smoldering signs of a fire and a burned and warped 8-inch knife that police say was used by Beverly to take Watson’s life.
The sheer ineptitude of this apparent attempt to hide Watson’s body was evidence of disorganized thinking, Nicks said, itself a symptom of schizophrenia. The defense attorney argued that if Beverly had been trying to conceal the body while not under the effects of psychosis he would have done a better job and not drawn attention to himself or remained near the scene of the crime.
Erik Laub, assistant commonwealth’s attorney for Nelson County, disagreed with this argument and urged the jury to “see the crime for what it is.” Acknowledging that the attempt to conceal Watson’s body was, at best, poorly thought out, Laub said it was clear that Beverly’s intention was to hide the evidence of his crime.
“I’m not going to stand here and tell you that I don’t think Roger Beverly has schizophrenia; he clearly does, and the evidence has shown that,” Laub said. “But, as the experts testified to, there is no evidence that he was insane at the time of the concealment.”
Laub also urged the jury to find Beverly guilty of first-degree murder, arguing that his actions met the premeditation requirement. To bolster this argument, Laub argued in-part that the use of a folding pocket knife was evidence of malice and premeditation because of the time it would take to unfold the knife.
After about three hours of deliberations, the 12-person jury returned with a verdict. They found Beverly guilty on the concealment and stabbing charges, but found him guilty of the lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter instead of first-degree murder.
Although the jury did not find Beverly not guilty by reason of insanity for any of the three charges, he would not have been a free man if they had. In Virginia, a defendant acquitted of a crime due to insanity still must be evaluated and treated by the Commissioner of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services, a process which can involve being held at a hospital for an indefinite period of time.
Beverly will be sentenced by a judge at 9 a.m. on May 31 in Nelson County Circuit Court. Per sentencing guidelines, for the three charges he faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, although it is unlikely a judge will choose to run his sentences consecutively.