Born to Kill?
The man arrested for killing his mother has a history of violent sexual fantasies. But experts say law enforcement could have done little to prevent last week's crimes.
EARLY - Kirk Levin drove early one morning last week to Storm Lake, where the 21-year-old parked his car just off of a busy street and walked eight blocks to an apartment building.
Sac County Sheriff Ken McClure leads Kirk Levin to a district courtroom in Sac City on Tuesday. It was Levin’s second court appearance since he was arrested last week for kidnapping. McClure found Levin’s mother dead in the upstairs bedroom of her rural Early house with stab wounds and a belt around her neck.
Levin, 16, is arrested for breaking into five or six houses and stealing a car near his Ridgeway, Wis., home, which is about 20 miles west of Madison.
Levin is evaluated for two weeks at Mendota Mental Health Institute in Madison, Wis. He tells a psychologist that he has violent sexual fantasies but has not acted on them.
Sept. 29, 2008
Levin steals a car to escape the Eau Claire Academy for juvenile delinquents in Eau Claire, Wis. He uses stolen credit cards to buy gas and food.
March 13, 2009
Levin, now 17, and two other boys confined to the Eau Claire Academy flee in a stolen car. They steal gas in a town near Madison on their way to Milwaukee and are eventually arrested after a 17-mile high-speed chase
after the car catches fire.
May 1, 2009
Levin pleads no contest to operating a motorized vehicle without consent.
June 15, 2009
Levin is sentenced to 15 months in state prison and two years of supervised release. An Eau Claire Academy counselor testifies that his actions and thoughts "seem to be getting more extreme."
Levin, now 18, is released from prison and moves to Early. He works odd jobs with an uncle and lives with his mother and her fiance.
Aug. 23, 2010
Levin breaks into a house and semitrailer tractor in Early. He posts on his Facebook page: "People...im sorry...ill be in jail tomorrow."
Aug. 27, 2010
Levin is charged in Sac County with two counts of burglary - a felony and a misdemeanor.
Oct. 5, 2010
Levin pleads guilty to the felony burglary charge.
Nov. 19, 2010
Levin, now 19, is sentenced to five years in an Iowa prison.
Jan. 13, 2011
Levin is incarcerated at Columbia Correctional Institution in Portage, Wis., for breaching the terms of his supervised
Nov. 10, 2011
Levin, now 20, is transferred to the Iowa Medical & Classification Center in Oakdale, Iowa - the entry point for criminals who serve time in Iowa prisons.
Jan. 1, 2013
Levin, now 21, is released from Fort Madison Correctional Facility in eastern Iowa, where he served part of a five-year prison sentence for the Sac County burglary.
Jan. 2, 2013
Levin posts on his online Facebook page twice. In one, he says: "to stay out of prison.....yup. i like it." He also puts up his cell phone number for "any one who DOES care."
Jan. 3, 2013
Levin allegedly kills his mother and kidnaps a 21-year-old Storm Lake woman. He is arrested on three felony charges for the kidnapping.
Jan. 7, 2013
Levin is charged with first-degree murder for his mother's death after an autopsy shows she died from stab wounds.
Jan. 8, 2013
A judge sets Levin's bond at $1 million. He is held at the Sac County Jail in Sac City.
Inside was a young woman he had known for several years, whom he wrote notes from an eastern Iowa prison, court records show.
In the trunk of the car he drove was a broken knife blade, a notebook stained with blood, rope, a cheap pair of brown cloth gloves and other items that Sac County investigators have tied to his mother's murder - which they allege happened earlier that morning. She had been stabbed over and over in the upstairs bedroom of her rural Early house, where she was found face-down on the floor with a belt around her neck.
The young woman in Storm Lake, Jessica Vega, awoke about 6:30 a.m. when she heard keys clank against her window. There was a young man below who yelled her name and said his car had broken down.
Vega went to another bedroom in the apartment and told her sister that she was going to leave to help someone. Come find me, Vega said, if she didn't return in 10 minutes.
Vega went downstairs and opened the apartment building's front door.
"I was shocked to see Kirk," Vega, 21, wrote in an official statement to investigators. "We talked for a minute, then I told him I had to go tell my sister that everything was OK."
In March 2009, Levin pumped seven gallons of fuel at a Wisconsin gas station into a stolen car.
Levin, who was 17 at the time, and two other boys had fled Eau Claire Academy - where some of the state's juvenile delinquents live and are counseled - and planned to drive to the Milwaukee area, where they would steal to live, court documents show.
Levin had attempted to flee twice before from the western Wisconsin academy and was there for just seven months.
Court records show he had a history of theft - that he had stolen at least five vehicles and broken into at least five houses near his Ridgeway, Wis., home, just before he was sent to the academy.
Further, he told a psychiatrist at the state's Mendota Mental Health Institute that he had violent sexual fantasies about drugging and raping girls.
He said he bought cold medicines and used them to drug a girl. He tried later to drug the girl with alcohol.
"And when asked, 'What would you do if she drank it and it worked,' meaning it put her to sleep, 'would you have gone through with raping
her?' " a Wisconsin prosecutor told a judge. "His answer was 'Yes.' "
Levin allegedly admitted that he researched how to build a soundproof room, where he could rape without worrying that someone outside would hear.
"I hate to try to quantify the risk, but things seem to be getting more extreme," an Eau Claire Academy counselor said of Levin in a court report. "Treatment isn't doing him any good."
At the Wisconsin gas station near Madison, Levin finished refueling the stolen car and climbed back in. Another boy drove.
At about 3:40 a.m., the driver did not stop at a stop sign, and a police officer attempted to pull over the car. The boy driver sped off and led the officer on a 17-mile chase that exceeded speeds of 100 mph. Another boy in the car tossed out the window a hammer and screwdriver they had stolen from a Kmart and planned to use for future thefts.
Near the end of the pursuit, the boy drove over a set of spiked strips that law officers use to puncture car tires. The boy continued to drive without tires until sparks from the wheels - rolling bare on the roadway - ignited a fire on the rear of the car.
The car stopped, and Levin and the two other boys were arrested.
Despite the signs that Levin's crimes could become more severe, there was little anyone could have likely done to prevent them, said Mark Day, superintendent for the State Training School for Boys in Eldora, Iowa.
"We have 30 Kirk Levins on our campus at any point in time," said Day, whose training school houses about 130 of the state's worst juvenile offenders. "But it's impossible to say who among them will devolve into real severe mental illness. ... It is almost impossible to effectively treat a true psychopath."
Wisconsin court documents reveal some of Levin's deviant behaviors and broken-home circumstances before he was 17 years old:
- He neglected and harmed animals. The full details of those incidents were not available, but court records mention that he intentionally starved a pet bird.
- He spent his teenage years with his father, who was controlling and verbally abusive, claimed Levin, his mother and her fiance. Levin's father could not be reached for comment.
- Levin had periods of extreme depression and attempted suicide by taking too many pills of cold medicine.
- He was not officially diagnosed with a specific mental illness, but his mother's family has a history of depression and bipolar disorder, in which people experience periods of higher-than-normal highs or euphoria and lower-than-normal lows or deep depression that alternate over the course of months.
- He had violent sexual fantasies of raping girls and wrote out plans and drew pictures of those fantasies.
But the documents also show that Levin was an intelligent kid who always apologized for the crimes he committed and promised to do better.
Levin's mother, Marilyn Schmitt, and her fiance pleaded with a Wisconsin judge to spare her son from prison for the 2009 car theft and, instead, send Levin to live with the couple in Early.
"I'm a hundred percent with Mike (her fiance) on getting Kirk and helping him out and getting him a good life and getting him into college and having a good future," she said in June 2009.
With the right treatment, most children who exhibit violent tendencies like Levin's can rejoin society, said Day, of the Eldora training school. But others reach a tipping point where they lose their sense of right and wrong.
"It's a disease - it's more like a cancer," he said. "Some people have a body chemistry for it. In some cases, it's completely out of their control."
The switch to a psychopath or sociopath often occurs between the ages of 17 and 25, Day said, and when Levin was 17, "he might have still been manageable."
A Wisconsin judge, Daniel Moeser, who sentenced Levin for the 2009 car theft, glimpsed Levin's darker side and sentenced him to more than a year in prison and two years of supervised release after.
"And that's why I say perhaps (the car-theft arrest) is one of the best things that ever happened to you, is you have a chance to do this before you do something really serious where you'd be locked up the rest of your life," Moeser said at the time.
Another arrest, another warning
Levin was released from a Wisconsin prison the next year and moved to Early.
He worked odd jobs with an uncle and lived with his mother and her fiance. He met Vega, the Storm Lake woman.
In October 2010, Levin broke into an Early house and car.
"My mother was thinking of declaring bankruptcy, and I felt I should help," he later wrote to a judge. Levin wanted "to sell items for money to help my mother pay her rent."
Despite that, an Iowa judge later found him guilty of felony burglary and sentenced him to up to five years in prison.
Levin, now 21, was released early for good behavior from prison on New Year's Day, and Schmitt drove from her rural Early house on Ira Avenue about four hours to Mount Pleasant Correctional Facility in southeastern Iowa to get him.
"She was a sweetheart - always smiled at you," Gary Schramm, a neighbor, said of Schmitt.
Schramm, 58, said Schmitt drove Levin to Wisconsin to visit Levin's father and might have returned on Jan. 2.
The state Department of Corrections notified Sac County Sheriff Ken McClure of Levin's release because he planned to live in the county - as they do with all inmates who leave prison - and warned that Levin kept a notebook that had words and drawings that described "the sexual assault and rape of a female," court records show.
McClure declined to comment about the notice, but Day said there's little that law-enforcement officers could do to prevent future crime based on tips from prison officials.
"He can't do a damn thing," Day said of McClure. "There is no crime in drawing about something."
Schmitt, 45, was likely stabbed to death on Jan. 3 between 1:30 and 5:45 a.m. in her bedroom, investigators allege. There was a broken knife handle left in the room, and Schmitt's blood was everywhere.
Vega, the young Storm Lake woman, hadn't spoken to Levin for six months before she said he threw his keys against her apartment window at about 6:30 a.m. that day.
He told her his car had broken down.
According to Vega's statement to investigators:
Vega agreed to give Levin a lift to his mother's rural Early house about 15 miles away. Vega told her sister that she'd be back in 40 minutes, in plenty of time to get her daughter ready for the day.
Sleep in, Vega told her sister.
Levin had trouble finding the house on Ira Avenue. They got lost but found their way.
Vega pulled into the driveway, and Levin told her there was something she should see in the barn.
Vega said "no." She needed to get home to her daughter.
So Levin turned off the car and snatched the keys from its ignition. Vega reluctantly agreed to get out.
"OK, but we got to hurry," she told him.
They went into a barn with no lights on inside, and Levin walked around and claimed he couldn't find the switch. Vega eventually found it and turned on the lights as Levin closed the barn door.
He took her to a part of the barn with a tree and twigs and other logs and told her to sit.
She looked around for a weapon or way to escape. There was neither.
"I'm kidnapping you," he said.
She thought it was a joke and reminded him that she wasn't a "kid."
"I'm woman-napping you," he replied.
She laughed again but realized he was serious when he picked up the yellow nylon rope.
Levin said he didn't want to hurt her. Stop struggling.
Vega knew that she needed to get to a place with more people, and asked him to take her back to her Storm Lake apartment like they had originally planned.
He bound her hands.
Vega laid herself down in her car's backseat, and Levin drove south, away from Storm Lake. She protested, and he eventually turned the car around.
He got nervous about her being in the backseat. Someone might see.
So Vega offered to go into the trunk, which Levin opened and had to remove a child's tricycle and some boxes to make room.
"I had the opportunity to hit him with the car, but I didn't want to kill him so I decided to go in the trunk," Vega later told investigators.
He picked her up and put her in the trunk and closed it. She felt like she couldn't breathe and kicked the trunk lid. He pulled her back out and put her in the front passenger seat and covered her face with her daughter's sweater.
They drove toward Storm Lake, but Levin went too fast on the snow- and ice-covered gravel road, lost control of the car and went into a ditch.
'She's a lucky gal'
Schramm, the neighbor, was driving back to his house after coffee in Early about 8 a.m. when he saw the car in the ditch just south of U.S. Highway 20.
School buses with children and cars and trucks passed by.
Schramm turned his pickup truck to help. He stopped and offered to pull the car out of the ditch, like he's done so many times for kids on their way to school.
He couldn't see Vega in the car as she struggled to loosen the yellow rope.
"No," Levin declined the help, "everything is all (expletive) up."
And Vega burst from the car with the rope and what looked like torn bedsheets hanging off.
"He's taking me! Don't let him hurt me!" she yelled.
She kept screaming and ran to the truck and got in.
"Lock the doors, lock the doors," she repeated.
Levin took a few steps down the road and turned and looked at Schramm, waiting for him to give chase. Vega called her foster father, who dialed 911.
Levin ran over snow-covered grass to the Boyer River and under a highway bridge and out of sight.
He was found by law officers - who followed his footprints and used a dog to track him - more than a mile away, sitting cross-legged rubbing his cold feet.
The sneakers he wore apparently came off in the deep snow.
He shivered in a light jacket.
A bloody end
Levin was arrested and charged with felony kidnapping and later for murder when a State Medical Examiner's autopsy found that Schmitt died from the stabbing.
Levin allegedly admitted to the kidnapping but was less forthcoming about the murder. He allegedly told investigators that he probably killed his mother because he choked her with the belt.
He didn't mention the broken knife and the blood.
Sheriff McClure found Schmitt face-down on the bedroom floor with stab wounds and a gaping gash near her left knee.
Levin again told investigators of his fantasies of kidnapping and rape.
He has since stood in a Sac County courtroom twice in an orange jumpsuit and socks and tan sandals. He was quiet and kept his eyes low. He has told judges several times that he regrets how much of his life he has been locked up.
He now faces life in prison for the murder and is held in jail on $1 million bond. It's unclear whether the case will go to trial.
Schmitt's funeral was Thursday.
- Reporter Paige Godden contributed to this article