Jurors to get Christopher Vaughn murder case on Thursday
By ERIKA WURST AND JON SEIDEL Sun-Times Media September 18, 2012 9:40AM
The Vaughn family: Christopher, Kimberly and Abigayle (right) behind Cassandra and Blake.
Updated: October 20, 2012 6:12AM
After listening to more than four weeks of testimony about the fatal shootings of Christopher Vaughn’s wife and three children, the jury won’t hear the Oswego man explain why he was the only member of his family to walk away from their SUV in June 2007.
Christopher Vaughn offered quick answers to Judge Daniel Rozak’s questions when his turn came to take the witness stand.
“I do not wish to testify,” Vaughn said. With that, his lawyers rested their case and prosecutors called just one witness in rebuttal, neuropsychiatrist Michael Schrift. Then prosecutors rested their case, and the judge told jurors to return for closing arguments Thursday.
That’s when the case likely will go to the jurors after a long trial filled with gruesome crime scene photos; testimony from two former exotic dancers, and a reading of several emails by a Canadian man who received them from Vaughn. The two men allegedly planned to disappear into the Canadian wilderness together.
Vaughn is accused of shooting to death his wife, Kimberly, 34, and their three children, Abigayle, 12; Cassandra, 11, and Blake, 8, in their red Ford Expedition on June 14, 2007. The SUV was parked in a small gravel drive off a frontage road west of Interstate 55.
A man driving to work that day found Vaughn limping and bloody, claiming his wife had shot him. He had superficial gunshot wounds in his left wrist and thigh. Prosecutors say Vaughn staged the scene — to make it appear that his wife killed the kids and herself — so he could vanish into the Yukon.
Vaughn contends his wife shot him and the children before committing suicide. A key pillar of his defense has been the drugs that investigators found in her system — the anti-seizure medication Topamax and the antidepressant Nortriptyline — which the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warns can increase the risk of suicide.
Prosecutors called Schrift to put those warnings in context and talk about the two drugs. Schrift said neither drug, prescribed to Kimberly for migraines, would have increased her risk of suicide.
Schrift also said the FDA’s warnings apply only to people under 25. And he said there’s no evidence that the combination of the two drugs would increase Kimberly’s risk of suicidal or homicidal behavior. He said murder-suicide is a rare phenomenon.
Before the defense rested, Vaughn’s lawyers also called bloodstain expert Tom Bevel of Oklahoma to tell jurors his analysis of what happened in the SUV. He testified that he saw what might have been back-spatter bloodstains on Kimberly’s left thumb, right sneaker and the Taurus 9 mm pistol found between her feet. Those types of stains might suggest a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
He also said he amended his report earlier this year after a conversation with defense attorney George Lenard. He said he took out a sentence about Vaughn unbuckling his wife’s seat belt, on which investigators found Vaughn’s blood, and replaced it with a sentence suggesting Vaughn and his wife must have come into contact with each other after they both began bleeding.
Assistant State’s Attorney Michael Fitzgerald pointed out that Vaughn told police he left the SUV after his wife shot him — and before she took a bullet under her chin, which another expert has testified would have led to her near-immediate death. Some of the blood evidence suggests Vaughn was in the SUV after she was shot.
Bevel agreed it didn’t make sense.