Harrah’s Casino Killing: Rare Mental Fitness Trial Underway

JOLIET, IL — A six-person Will County jury began hearing evidence Tuesday afternoon on whether Robert Watson, a Joliet transient accused of robbing and killing a Wisconsin senior citizen inside the downtown Harrah’s Casino & Hotel on March 24, 2019, is mentally competent to stand trial.

During Tuesday’s testimony, the prosecution’s main witness testified that Watson has received at least 26 disciplinary infractions in the Will County Jail. The jury heard that Watson was masturbating inside his cell while standing at his jail cell window and staring at the jail guards. Other times, Watson has defecated on a day room table inside the jail, and he smeared his feces all over the table. Watson was also responsible for constantly flushing his jail cell toilet, causing the toilet water to flood the floors of the jail, jurors learned Tuesday.

After the incident involving the flooding of his toilet, members of the jail’s Emergency Services Unit responded and the guards sprayed Watson in the face with pepper spray. During the incident involving the pepper spray, Watson “made statements that the Emergency Services Team should just kill him,” Dr. Anna Stapleton testified Tuesday afternoon in Courtroom 405.

The rare mental fitness trial is taking place on the fourth floor of the Will County Courthouse in the courtroom of Judge Dave Carlson.

Prosecutors Tom Slazyk and Elizabeth Domagalla have asked the jury to find Watson mentally competent to stand trial on his first-degree murder charges. Watson is being represented by Shenonda Tisdale and Todd Lenzie of the Will County Public Defender’s Office. They are asking the jury to determine that Watson is not mentally competent for his murder trial.

In March 2019, prosecutors revealed at Watson’s bail hearing that 76-year-old Wisconsin resident Emanuel Burgarino died after suffering 26 stab wounds in the fifth floor hallway of the Harrah’s Casino hotel. Watson, who was a transient, managed to sneak inside the Harrah’s Casino & Hotel property without drawing the attention and scrutiny of Harrah’s security team, according to authorities.

Prosecutors say that Watson fatally stabbed the older man from Wisconsin during a robbery. Burgarino was staying at the Harrah’s hotel in Joliet at the time of his slaying.

Watson was 25 when the Joliet Police Department arrested him the next day. Joliet police found him hanging around the downtown Joliet Public Library.

Watson will turn 27 next week.

On Tuesday afternoon, River Valley clinical forensic psychologist Anna Stapleton testified on behalf of the prosecution. She told the jury that based on her interactions and assessment of Watson, he appears to be faking that he has a mental illness.

On Wednesday, the Public Defender’s Office is expected to call its own psychologist who will offer a differing opinion, suggesting Watson is mentally ill and therefore not competent to stand trial. The six-person Will County jury, after hearing all the evidence, will have to reach a verdict.

This six-person jury is not deciding whether Watson is guilty of first-degree murder, court officials reminded the panel on Tuesday afternoon in Courtroom 405.

During Watson’s March 25, 2019, interview with Joliet police detectives, Watson acted polite and respectful, but once Watson was left alone in the room, he saw a video camera in the wall and began acting strange, Stapleton testified.

While no one else was in Joliet Police Department interview room, Watson began staring into the video camera. He continued to keep his eyes wide open without blinking, mumbling and talking to himself, according to Tuesday’s witness.

At one point in the police interview room, Watson blurted out, “You all are going to suck my (expletive) before you get the truth,” Stapleton testified.

Dr. Stapleton testified that Watson has also lived in Wisconsin, Arizona, Florida and Minnesota. In recent years, he lived with his mother and also with his grandmother but both women threw him out of their place. During one incident, Watson yelled at his mother, “asking her if she was worshiping the devil,” Stapleton told the jurors.

At that time, Watson was under the influence of alcohol and a combination of marijuana and Codeine pills that were mixed with candy, the jurors heard.

Around 2013, Watson was involved in an incident in Florida where police were called. According to Slazyk, Watson was standing naked on the roof of a building “wanting to kill himself.”

According to Stapleton, Watson claimed at the time of that incident “that he had some bad marijuana that day … (and) was experiencing auditory hallucinations.”

At the time of his March 25, 2019, arrest by Joliet police, “he indicated that he did not want to speak with police and asked for a lawyer,” the clinical psychologist testified Tuesday. “It informed me, obviously, it indicated he knew the situation was serious enough to be asking for a lawyer.”

When Stapleton came to the Will County Courthouse in the summer of 2019 to conduct her mental capacity exam of Watson, the first-degree murder defendant claimed he did not even know that he was inside a courthouse building, Stapleton told the jurors Tuesday.

The deadly stabbing was captured on surveillance video cameras operated by Harrah’s Casino and other guests at the hotel saw the crime unfold. A man, identified as Watson, approached one of the hotel guests as the man was coming out of his hotel room, prosecutors revealed Tuesday.

According to prosecutors, the witnesses heard Watson confront the 76-year-old Wisconsin man with a knife and demand, “Give me your money.” The victim responded, “Be cool, it’s OK. I’ll give you my money.”

Slazyk and Domagalla aim to convince the jurors that Watson’s conduct inside the casino hotel are proof he is mentally competent to stand trial for the gruesome homicide.

The prosecutors asked Stapleton about the significance of Watson telling his victim “give me your money.”

“It indicates there may have been a motive,” the witness testified.

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