On Jan. 18, 2009, Kyle Morgan stabbed and killed a homeless man he had just met, writing on the wall of his Woodstock apartment in a mix if his own blood and that of the victim's: "It is better to reign in hell than serve in heaven."
Morgan also placed three Uno cards reading "666" on the chest of 28-year-old Robin Burton before driving to Nashville, Tenn., where he was eventually caught.
McHenry County prosecutors argued the grisly murder by Morgan was premeditated, given his penchant for writing to serial killers, penning morbid poetry and dubbing himself "Thrill Kill Kyle" on his Myspace page.
But defense attorneys and mental health experts contended Thursday that Morgan, who was diagnosed as bipolar, was hospitalized numerous times and had at least eight suicide attempts, was wrongly prescribed a medication that when combined with Morgan's drinking and illegal drug use, put him on a path to violence.
In the end, McHenry County Judge Michael Feetterer issued Morgan a 30-year sentence for Burton's death.
"The Vyvanse is a medication that should not have been prescribed to Mr. Morgan in the first place. It was prescribed, the violence ensued and now Burton is dead," the judge said. "(But) at the end of the day, Kyle Morgan must pay for his crime."
Morgan, 29, pleaded guilty, but mentally ill, this summer in exchange for a sentencing cap of 36 years. First-degree murder normally carries a prison term of 20 to 60 years with no possibility of early release.
Morgan will receive psychiatric care while in prison, and he receives credit for nearly five years served in jail so far.
Feetterer made his decision Thursday after a parade of testimony from mental health experts, pleas from Morgan's parents for leniency and an apology from Morgan himself.
"It hurts me to come to terms with the things I've done," said Morgan, apologizing to Burton's family. "It was hard to separate my dreams from reality and it ended up becoming a constant nightmare. My emotions are becoming clean. In my balanced state, I am a loving and caring person."
McHenry County Assistant State's Attorney Michael Combs argued for a 36-year term. Combs said Morgan chose not to take his medication, abuse drugs and alcohol, and even wrote to serial killers Richard "The Night Stalker" Ramirez and Dennis Rader, the "BTK" killer, in 2008.
"I would like to know if (murder) is worth doing? Does it live up to the hype?" Morgan wrote in a letter to Rader.
"Look at the end result," Combs told the judge. "This was a horrific, horrific, brutal crime." But defense witnesses, such as forensic psychiatrists Jonathan Howard and James Cavanaugh, testified that a doctor wrongly prescribed a drug called Vyvanse to Morgan.
The medication, combined with Morgan's drug use, drinking and fascination with violence, resulted in a "perfect storm" that led to violence, Cavanaugh said.
Morgan met Burton, who was a total stranger, on Jan. 18, 2009. The pair took the train to Chicago in search of heroin, but returned empty-handed. They began drinking and playing video games when Morgan attacked Burton from behind with a hammer and stabbed him more than 20 times.
"He simply was out of control, he had no impulse control, and did something that made absolutely no sense. (The murder) was not premeditated," Cavanaugh testified. "This is a classic disorganized chaotic crime scene consistent with somebody who is mentally ill."
Defense attorney Steven Greenberg argued that Morgan was born with a mental illness, which he equated to a birth defect.
"He was born with a disease and this disease is directly related to what happened here," Greenberg said. "This was not a crime of meanness. This is not a crime of revenge. This is the most random act of murder you'll ever see."
Afterward, Rick Johnson, who is Burton's uncle, said the family was satisfied with the sentence.
"It's a tragedy this all happened. I feel bad for both families," Johnson said. "I just hope that the sentence (Morgan) was given will get him some help."