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Doctors: Christopher Vaughn’s wife not suicidal, depressed before family killed

The Vaughn family: Christopher Kimberly Abigayle (right) behind CassandrBlake.

The Vaughn family: Christopher, Kimberly and Abigayle (right) behind Cassandra and Blake.

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Updated: September 18, 2012 9:33AM



Kimberly Vaughn may have reported feeling an increase in anxiety the month leading up to her death, but she indicated no signs of suicidal thoughts or depression, her doctor told Will County jurors on Friday.

“She didn’t seem to have any problems other than trying to be as healthy as possible,” said Dr. Richard Steslow, who had been treating Kimberly Vaughn for high blood pressure. Steslow met with her in late May 2007, less than a month before she was found shot to death along with her three children in the family’s SUV.

Defense attorneys for Kimberly’s husband, Christopher Vaughn, allege that medication Kimberly was prescribed by Dr. Pradeep Bhatia for migraine headaches caused suicidal thoughts in the mother of three, driving her to kill her children —12-year-old Abigayle, 11-year-old Cassandra and 8-year-old Blake — and herself on June 14, 2007.

Prosecutors allege it was Christopher Vaughn who was wielding the gun, killing his family so he could live a life of solitude in the Canadian wilderness. They say he shot his family, then shot himself twice, creating superficial wounds in his wrist and thigh, before flagging down a passerby on a frontage road west of Interstate 55, where the SUV was found.

When Steslow met with Kimberly Vaughn a month before her death, he said she mentioned that she was experiencing an onset of increased anxiety around times of her menstrual cycle, and likely due to raising three kids and attending college.

“Depressed means sad,” he said. “Anxiety is good ol’ ‘I’m just stressed out.’”

Bhatia, who began treating Kimberly Vaughn for migraines in November 2005, said diagnosing her as depressed or suicidal would be a mistake.

He met with Kimberly Vaughn on eight occasions between November 2005 and April 2007 as he tinkered with anti-seizure and anti-depressant medications used to treat her chronic migraines. First she was prescribed Nortriptyline, then Topamax, then a combination of both.

“Up until the time that I last saw her in April (2007), there was no indication of her being depressed,” he said. “She came across as a very cheerful nice young lady, always pleasant to talk to.”

Bhatia said while the medications Kimberly Vaughn was prescribed could increase suicidal thoughts in teens and young adults, or those with prior psychiatric illness, there was never any concern about Kimberly Vaughn. He said she was very forthcoming about side effects -- tingling fingers -- she was experiencing as a result of her medications, and about the daily stressors in her life.

He said in April, when he saw her last, her headaches had diminished to the point she wasn’t even taking over-the-counter medication to combat the pain. Bhatia had planned on weaning her off the medication over the next several months.

Defense attorneys suggest she shouldn’t have been on them to begin with. They pointed to emails Kimberly had sent to her husband in May 2007 talking about the increased anxiety she had mentioned to Steslow. They questioned Bhatia about whether he would have changed Kimberly’s prescription had he been aware of these alleged “personality changes.”

“Depending on what kind of personality change, I would have taken her off of the appropriate medication,” Bhatia said, but he maintained that he never witnessed such a change.

People “don’t usually go into major depression right off the bat. She might have had a little sadness, but that doesn’t qualify her as having major depression,” he said. “If it’s major depression, which would lead a patient to commit suicide, it would be very apparent.”



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