Judge sentences man to 100 years in prison for ‘predatory’ Joliet casino murder

Robert Watson, 29, listens to closing arguments on Thursday, May 11, 2023, in his trial at the Will County Courthouse. Watson is charged with the murder of Emanuel Burgarino, 76, on March 24, 2019, at the Harrah's casino hotel in Joliet.

Robert Watson sat calmly inside of a Will County courtroom on Monday as he watched a woman explain through tears of how he destroyed her life by brutally stabbing her fiancé to death in 2019 at the Harrah’s casino hotel in Joliet.

“There will never be justice because I can’t bring Sam back,” said Denise Dixon, referring to Emanuel “Sam” Burgarino, 76, her husband-to-be, during a tearful testimony on Monday during Watson’s sentencing hearing.

A jury convicted Watson on May 12 of the first-degree murder of Burgarino on March 24, 2019. Burgarino was a guest at the hotel and Watson, who was homeless, wandered around the casino and took an elevator ride to the fifth floor of the hotel, where he fatally stabbed Burgarino multiple times.

Watson continued to sit calmly as his mother, Anjeanetta Bolden, cried and told Judge Dave Carlson about how she watched her 29-year-old son’s mental health spiral out of control in 2013.

“He was trying to get better but it seems like he couldn’t,” Bolden said.

There was no visible reaction from Watson on Monday as Carlson ultimately decided to hand down a 100-year prison sentence on him, which was the maximum allowed by law.

Carlson said “very rarely” does he see a case involving “pure random acts of violence,” such as the one committed by Watson.

“I still don’t understand why,” he said.

Nevertheless, Carlson deemed Watson’s actions “predatory.”

“You planned, you waited and you picked your prey,” Carlson said.

He called Watson’s fatal stabbing of Burgarino one of the most “senseless criminal acts” he’s ever seen.

Judge Dave Carlson holds a hearing for Byrion Montgomery, 17, of Bolingbrook, at the Will County Courthouse on Thursday, March 30, 2023 in Joliet. Montgomery is accused of the murders of Cartez Daniels, 40, Samiya Shelton-Tillman, 17, and Sanai Daniels, 9, at a residence in the 100 block of Lee Lane in Bolingbrook, as well as attempted first-degree murder of Tania Stewart.

Watson himself did not have much to say at his sentencing hearing on Monday. He wrote a letter to Carlson, which said he denied the can of Mace that was in his possession at the time of his arrest was the same one used on Burgarino during the incident.

Watson’s sentencing concluded a four-year criminal case that has been frequently beset by issues over Watson’s mental health.

Many times, Watson refused to show up to court. He claimed his food was being poisoned at the jail. Before his trial began, he told Carlson that he wanted to represent himself at trial, which would have caused further delays, until he backed way from that request.

At Monday’s sentencing hearing, Dixon said Watson’s “court antics” only caused her more pain and suffering.

Dixon told Watson during the sentencing hearing that when he brutally killed Burgarino, he “destroyed our future, our happiness.” She said Burgarino was a good man who worked hard and lived a “simple, modest life.” She said Burgarino helped many people throughout his life.

She said she was haunted by the “barbaric” manner in which Watson took Burgarino’s life.

Dixon said Watson’s actions not only destroyed her life but the lives her family, his family and their friends. She said there is a “huge void without him here.”

“I will never understand or forgive you for what you’ve done,” Dixon said while crying.

Still, Dixon said that Watson will not take away the love that existed between Burgarino and her. She said she will continue to live the life that Burgarino would have wanted for her.

“Your evil will not win,” she said.

A photo of the late Emanuel “Sam” Burgarino, 76, that was shown to the jury in the trial of Robert Watson, 29, on Wednesday, May 3, 2023. Watson is charged with killing Burgarino at Harrah's casino hotel.