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Nelson County man's mental illness led to murder, attorney says

LOVINGSTON—A man charged with murder in connection with the burned body of a Charlottesville man found alongside a trail in Nelson County is attempting to convince a jury that he is not guilty by reason of insanity.

The four-day trial of Roger Dale Beverly, 36, started Tuesday in Nelson County Circuit Court. Beverly faces charges of first-degree murder, stabbing with intent to maim or kill, concealing a body and petit larceny in the death of Winfred W. Watson, 48, of Charlottesville.

Dressed in an untucked blue dress shirt and sporting long hair and an unkempt beard, Beverly sat next to his counsel Tuesday, occasionally oscillating in his chair as the parties made arguments.

Addressing the jury, Erik Lab, assistant commonwealth’s attorney for Nelson County, argued that there was no doubt of Beverly’s guilt. Laub said that Watson’s body was found with several charred spots alongside a wooded trail connecting the Lovingston Ridge Apartments and the Lovingston Food Lion on May 2, 2019.

Beverly was found nearby that same afternoon and seemingly admitted to killing Watson.

“When asked whether he killed Mr. Watson, Beverly told police I ain’t got no time to play games. If you threaten me, if you act like you want to fight me, that’s it,” Laub said.

According to a timeline of events presented by Laub to the jurors, Beverly stabbed Watson 13 times during the early afternoon of May 2, 2019. He then waited around in the area where he eventually approached Virginia State Police officers and was taken into custody.

Laub told the jurors that he expected the defense to spend much of its time discussing Beverly’s mental health and dark family history.

Though he said he had no reason to doubt this information or Beverly’s post-arrest schizophrenia diagnosis, Laub said he did not believe it met the high legal standard needed to be found not guilty by reason of insanity.

“There are only two people who can tell you for sure what happened that day and one of them is dead,” he said. “But what can speak is evidence, which will show that Beverly actions were violent and criminal.”

Brady S. Nicks, Beverly’s defense attorney, spent most of his opening statement highlighting a history of mental illness plaguing his client.

According to Nicks, both Beverly’s mother and grandmother suffered from symptoms that indicated schizophrenia and the poor living conditions the defendant was raised in may also have contributed to his mental illness.

Beverly’s schizophrenia, as well as his higher risk of injury due to a lifelong issue with hemophilia, may have contributed to his paranoid state of mind, Nicks said.

“You will hear experts testify that the reality Mr. Beverly experiences is not the same as you or I experience,” he said.

Nicks described the attempt by Beverly to light Watson’s body on fire as “woefully inadequate,” but ceded he could not explain why his client attempted to do so, though he said he doubted it was an attempt to cover up evidence.

Since his incarceration, Nicks said Beverly has been both diagnosed and treated for schizophrenia and has been doing better in the highly structured jail environment. Prior to his arrest, Nicks said Beverly had never received a psychological evaluation or any form of treatment despite a long, obvious history of concerning behavior.

The first witness called Tuesday was Candice Simpson, who was the first person to find Watson’s body.

She was walking from her job to her home via the trail when she said she noticed smoke. It wasn’t until she got closer that she noticed the smoke was from a body and not from a brushfire, as she had initially believed.

“I saw a man standing over the body and I asked him ‘is that a dead body?’ and he told me ‘yep,’” she said.

Simpson positively identified the man she talked to that day as Beverly and said she wasn’t afraid to approach him when she discovered Watson’s body.

As soon as Beverly confirmed that Simpson was looking at a dead body, she said she left and soon contacted the police.

Several witnesses from the state police and Nelson County Sheriff’s Office also testified, including Virginia State Police Special Agent Clay Oberholt, who interviewed Beverly at the scene.

A recording on the interview was played in which Beverly repeatedly said he panicked when questioned about why he killed Watson.

Oberholt described Beverly’s appearance as “disheveled” and said he could smell alcohol on Beverly’s breath, although he said Beverly did not appear overly intoxicated.

When pressed by Nicks about Beverly’s claims of hemophilia, Oberholt said the defendant had mentioned his medical issue prior to the start of the recording. However, Oberholt said his interview with Beverly was centered more around trying to determine why the defendant had stabbed Watson.

The jury also viewed crime scene photos, several of which showed Watson’s body lying face down on the side of the trail. Despite evidence of attempts to burn Watson’s body, aside from charred greenery around him and some burnt residue on his back, Watson’s body appeared to largely undamaged.

The trial is scheduled to resume Wednesday morning.


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