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Ballistics expert disputes Christopher Vaughn’s version of family shootings

Christopher Vaughn. Phoinput: 8/15/12. Will County Sheriff's Office.

Christopher Vaughn. Photo input: 8/15/12. Will County Sheriff's Office.

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Updated: September 11, 2012 9:20AM

A ballistics expert’s testimony Monday further undermined Christopher Vaughn’s story that he got out of his red Ford Expedition after being shot by his wife, went looking for help and didn’t return before police found his wife and three children shot to death in June 2007.

Matthew Noedel testified for prosecutors about his analysis of bullet casings found in the SUV and the glass from the shattered driver’s side window he said was piled on top of casings found on the driver’s seat.

The order in which Noedel suspects they fell — and the glass found on Vaughn’s bloody jeans — didn’t match the story jurors heard Vaughn tell police in videotaped interviews after his family’s shooting deaths.

The Vaughn family was supposed to be on its way to a Springfield water park June 14, 2007, but Vaughn told police his wife got sick and he tried to find a private place to pull over. He told investigators he got out to check the rooftop luggage carrier and got back into the driver’s seat. That’s when he said he realized his wife had a gun.

He said he heard a loud noise, realized his leg was bleeding, got out of the SUV and went looking for help. His attorneys contend Kimberly then shot their three children before killing herself.

But prosecutors putting Vaughn on trial in Joliet for his family’s murders have said Vaughn got out of the car, shot his 34-year-old wife and then shot his children — 12-year-old Abigayle, 11-year-old Cassandra and 8-year-old Blake. They’ve said he then got back into the car and shot himself in the left leg and wrist to make it look like Kimberly fired the gun at him.

Noedel said Vaughn was likely sitting in the driver’s seat when he was shot in the thigh, because a bullet carrying fibers matching Vaughn’s clothing was found in the driver’s side door.

However, he also showed jurors a photo of the driver’s seat that showed glass in front of, but not behind, the bullet casings that rolled toward the crease of the driver’s seat. He said that suggested the casings must have already been in the seat when the window shattered, possibly when Vaughn was shot in the left wrist, meaning the gun had already been fired by the time Vaughn was shot.

Jurors watched as Noedel walked them through a PowerPoint presentation analyzing the shots fired inside the Vaughns’ SUV. It included animation of bullets being fired out of a Taurus pistol like the one found between Kimberly Vaughn’s feet, and a night-vision scan of Christopher Vaughn’s bloody jeans.

The night-vision scan revealed soot on Vaughn’s jeans, Noedel said, meaning the muzzle of the gun that shot him must have been near the wound in his leg.

Noedel showed jurors a side-by-side comparison of a hand with blood back-spatter from a self-inflicted gunshot wound and Kimberly Vaughn’s left hand. While several tiny red droplets could be seen on the suicide victim’s hand, jurors saw a larger smear of blood on Kimberly Vaughn’s.

He also supported previous testimony that the gun used to shoot Vaughn’s children was about a foot away from them or closer when it was fired. The bullets that hit Abigayle and Cassandra came from the left shoulder of the front passenger seat, Noedel said.

Prosecutors have said Vaughn started with Abigayle, who sat behind the driver’s seat, and then shot Cassandra, who sat in the middle of the back seat. They said Blake was the last to be shot as he sat behind the front passenger seat.

One forensic pathologist already testified Blake must have held his left arm up as he was shot, because a bullet hit him in his left underarm. Noedel said Monday that bullet traveled through Blake’s body and exited through his back. It didn’t, however, pierce Blake’s shirt.

That, Noedel said, means Blake must have been pushing his body into the back seat as the gun was fired.

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