Harrah’s Joliet Casino Murder Case Considers Alleged Killer’s Competency

Posted on: August 26, 2020, 11:00h. 

Last updated on: August 27, 2020, 12:11h.

Questions arise over the mental competency of Robert A. Watson — the man accused of a brutal slaying at Harrah’s Joliet casino in 2019 — affecting whether he will stand trial.

Competency Hearing Debate
Robert A. Watson, a transient man, was found competent to stand trial in a hotel-casino murder case. But the decision followed conflicting testimony. (Image: WTMJ)

Previously, Dr. Monica Argumedo, a defense psychiatrist, claimed Watson, 27, suffered from psychotic episodes and was delusional, conditions that prevent him from assisting his defense attorneys, according to reporting from Patch.

But, the forensic psychologist who testified for prosecutors, Dr. Anna Stapleton, claimed that Watson was only pretending to suffer from mental illness.

Ultimately, a six-member Illinois jury concluded Watson was fit to stand trial on the first-degree murder case. Authorities allege Watson stabbed Emanuel Burgarino, 76, of Hales Corners, Wisconsin 26 times in the neck and chest while on the fifth floor of the casino hotel during a robbery.

Law and Order

But the question over Watson’s mental state is a key one.

The Supreme Court of the United States has held that a person may not be tried for a crime unless he or she is reasonably capable of understanding the legal process and of rationally communicating with the attorney about the facts of the case,” Stephen J. Morse, a professor of law at the University of Pennsylvania, where he is associate director of the Center for Neuroscience & Society, told Casino.org.

In other words, a defendant cannot be convicted of a crime if they are not mentally competent to stand trial.

Under the legal definition, a person can be deemed incompetent if they do not understand their role in the crime or the trial proceedings. If a person is declared incompetent, it does not mean they will not be prosecuted for the crime. Instead, they may face alternative treatment or psychiatric care. 
It is rare that cases, especially homicide cases involve a battle between experts, Christopher Slobogin, a professor at Vanderbilt University Law School, where he directs the Criminal Justice Program, told Casino.org

Cruel Treatment or Paranoia?

Watson’s delusion extends to his treatment in prison, according to testimony.

In her recent court testimony, Argumedo claimed Watson said that guards at the Will County Adult Detention Center spit in and placed semen in his food, Patch reported.

But those claims are untrue, Argumedo said.

He was pretty delusional,” Argumedo told Patch. “He thought he was being persecuted by the guards. He believes his food is tainted by looking at it. That’s why he won’t eat it.”

“He only buys Honey Buns,” she further testified. “He has delusions about being poisoned.”

Dr. Argumedu concluded Watson has schizophrenia and is delusional and was, therefore “unfit to stand trial” and “is unable to really understand these charges and work with his attorney.”

The legal issue at hand now is if Watson is “competent to stand trial,” Slobogin told Casino.org. This is different from claiming insanity at the time of the offensive. People can be insane but competent, and vice versa, given the time gap between the alleged crime and trial, and the somewhat different standards involved,” Slobogin explained.

Says Who?

Watson’s hearing was seen as unusual because, in the vast majority of cases, the competence issue is decided by the judge on the basis of reports from mental health professionals. Often, the parties agree that the person is competent or incompetent, Slobogin said.

Slobogin added that a judge or jury “is often skeptical of claims of incompetence, but presumably carefully listens to the evidence and makes a decision based on it.”

Watson has a criminal history for burglary, robbery, and aggravated robbery in several states. Watson currently is being held on $5 million bond, according to Will County sheriff’s records.