WOODSTOCK – On Jan. 18, 2009, Robin Burton Jr. was a drifter who likely took an offer for a dry and warm shelter, his family says, in good faith, not knowing it’s where he would die in a gruesome murder.
Earlier that day, Kyle W. Morgan, 29, met Burton at a train station, and the pair unsuccessfully tried to buy drugs in Chicago and Crystal Lake.
Later at Morgan’s Woodstock apartment, the two were drinking beer and playing video games when Morgan struck Burton in the head with a hammer.
Authorities found Burton’s mutilated body in Morgan’s apartment. Witnesses described the grisly crime scene, saying Burton was stabbed 20 to 30 times. Pieces of flesh were cut away from his body. Uno playing cards with the numbers 666 were placed on top of his chest. A skull and crossbones die rested on his temple. “Natural Born Killers” was in the DVD player.
The phrase, “It is better to reign in hell than serve in heaven,” was written in blood on the walls.
On Thursday, McHenry County Judge Michael Feetterer sentenced Morgan to 30 years in prison. He previously pleaded guilty but mentally ill to first-degree murder for the death of Burton, 28.
Morgan could have been sentenced between 20 to 36 years under a sentencing agreement between attorneys.
Shortly after Burton’s death, the Northwest Herald uncovered a social media page in which Morgan called himself “Thrill Kill Kyle.” The Myspace profile displayed his fascination with macabre, true crimes and drinking blood.
At Morgan’s apartment, authorities collected bizarre and disturbing poetry, writing and photographs. They found fan letters Morgan wrote to Dennis Rader and Richard Ramirez, both noted serial killers.
Morgan had a history or drug and alcohol abuse that dated back to his early adolescence, but a change in medication was chiefly to blame for his actions that day, his defense attorney Steven Greenberg said.
“[The defense] can make all the excuses they want,” said Michael Combs, assistant state’s attorney and chief of the Criminal Division. “He killed a man in a brutally horrific way.”
Morgan’s family admitted him in numerous treatment facilities all over the country. He briefly would appear rehabilitated before relapsing, said his father, Dean Morgan.
There were attempts to have Morgan involuntarily committed, but a Lake County Judge rejected it because he hadn’t harmed anyone, his father said.
A doctor later prescribed Vyvanse, an amphetamine that increases the dopamine level in the brain, said Dr. Jonathan Howard, a forensic psychiatrist. Morgan was taking Vyvanse when Burton was murdered.
Howard called the drug “poison” and particularly dangerous for those with a bipolar diagnosis. By increasing the dopamine level in the brain, Vyvanse can exacerbate psychosis and cause those with bipolar disorder to become increasingly irritable or prone to violent outbursts.
“In an individual with bipolar disorder … this is an extremely poor choice,” Howard said. Morgan’s first violent episode was in 2008, a few weeks after starting the medication. He cut his then girlfriend in the butt before jumping from a second-story balcony, believing he could fly.
A second forensic psychiatrist, Dr. James Cavanaugh, described Morgan’s mental illness and substance abuse, dark thoughts and morbid obsessions as lighter fluid; Vyvanse was the match.
“[What] resulted is a state of mind simply out of control,” Cavanaugh said. “There was no impulse control and it made no sense. It wasn’t premeditated.”
He called the crime “an impulse” and not likely to reoccur.
As the courtroom cleared, the Burton and Morgan families hugged, declaring there were no winners.
“I just hope the sentence he was given will get him some help,” Burton’s uncle, Rick Johnson said. “I feel bad for the Morgan family as well.”