News - Joliet and Will County

Jury finds Joliet casino murder defendant fit for trial

Attorneys gave closing arguments at the end of fitness hearing

Robert Watson

A jury found a man fit to stand trial over charges alleging he fatally stabbed a man to death at the Joliet Harrah’s casino hotel last year.

The jury’s verdict followed two days of court hearings that included testimony from two psychological experts who conducted evaluations of Robert Watson, 26, who faces a first-degree murder charge in connection with the death of Emanuel Burgarino, 75, on March 24, 2019, court records show.

Psychological experts Anna Stapleton and Monica Argumedo performed fitness evaluations of Watson’s ability to stand trial. Stapleton determined Watson was fit for trial while Argumedo concluded he was unfit.

Will County Assistant State’s Attorney Elizabeth Domagalla told the jury during her closing argument that the doctors agreed that Watson malingers, which means exaggerating or feigning an illness, but it was an issue of “what degree he’s malingering.”

Domagalla argued Watson exaggerates symptoms of mental illness, he’s inconsistent and inaccurate over details on his personal history and he’s told both Stapleton and Argumedo different stories about his symptoms.

“It’s being done to avoid prosecution for the crime he’s being charged with,” Domagalla said.

Stapleton did her evaluation first while Argumedo did her own six months later. Domagalla argued Watson didn’t tell Stapleton about hearing demonic voices, as he did with Argumedo.

Watson’s attorney Shenonda Tisdale said in her closing argument that the difference over his reported symptoms in the fitness evaluations was because of his declining mental health.

“His condition is worsening,” Tisdale said.

Tisdale took issue with Stapleton saying a person can have the delusion of believing they are the U.S. president and still be fit for trial, arguing “the bar must be really low to be fit.”

Tisdale argued that while Watson can understand the court proceedings, he cannot assist in his own defense.

She told the jury the U.S. Constitution requires defendants receive a fair trial and if Watson were to proceed to a trial in his current state, it would “go against everything that the constitution stands for.”

Stapleton testified she reviewed hospital records, accounts from Watson’s mother, jail records and police reports and she found “no indications in those records that he was diagnosed with a psychotic disorder.”

Argumedo testified Watson appeared to suffer from a psychotic mental illness because he gave a “thousand-yard stare,” he heard demons telling him to kill himself and he had the paranoid delusion of believing the guards were poisoning and spitting in his food.

Felix Sarver

Felix Sarver

Felix Sarver covers crime and courts for The Herald-News