Defense attorneys begin their case for Christopher Vaughn
By JON SEIDEL AND ERIKA WURST Sun-Times Media September 12, 2012 9:12AM
Christopher Vaughn. Photo input: 8/15/12. Will County Sheriff's Office.
Updated: September 13, 2012 11:24AM
Christopher Vaughn’s attorneys began defending him Wednesday against claims he murdered his family, calling a ballistics expert to the stand and letting the jury hear more emails from his late wife.
An investigator from his legal team read the emails, in which Kimberly Vaughn complained about her chronic migraines, anxiety and the stress of raising three young children. She also showed concern for the kids, though, who Vaughn argues she shot to death before killing herself.
And under cross-examination the investigator read a seemingly cold reply from Vaughn to his wife’s complaints about headaches so painful she wanted to cry.
“Go for a walk, drink some water, and see if that helps,” Christopher Vaughn wrote back.
Vaughn’s defense attorneys began calling witnesses after prosecutors rested their case against the Oswego man they say wanted to go live a life of isolation in the Canadian wilderness. The jury considering his fate heard from about 80 witnesses over more than three weeks.
Prosecutors painted a picture of Vaughn as disinterested and fed up with his life as a suburban family man, who also was spending thousands of dollars at strip clubs in the days leading up to his family’s deaths. They also heard Kimberly Vaughn described through friends, family and emails as a bubbly, happy homemaker looking forward to a new career after her graduation from the University of Phoenix.
But police would find Kimberly and her three children — 12-year-old Abigayle, 11-year-old Cassandra and 8-year-old Blake — shot to death in the family’s SUV on June 14, 2007. Christopher Vaughn was discovered that day bloody and limping on a frontage road west of Interstate 55, nursing gunshot wounds in his left wrist and thigh. Police found the dead bodies of his family in his red Ford Expedition nearby.
Vaughn contends he was taking his family to a water park in Springfield, but pulled off the highway when his wife got sick. He said he sought a secluded area to give Kimberly some privacy. He said he got out of the car, checked the rooftop luggage carrier and returned to the driver’s seat. That’s when he said his wife shot him and he left the SUV.
Prosecutors said Vaughn got out of the car, shot his wife and children, and then returned to the driver’s seat to shoot himself so it would look like his wife turned the gun on him. Then they said he put his 9 mm Taurus pistol on the floor between Kimberly’s feet and unbuckled her seat belt.
A bloodstain pattern analyst has said Christopher Vaughn’s blood was found on Kimberly’s retracted seatbelt, on the car’s center console and on the floor beside the gun.
Vaughn’s attorney called ballistics expert and criminalist Lucien Haag of Arizona to talk about the scene inside the SUV.
Two bullet casings were found in the crease of the driver’s seat, and a ballistics expert called by the prosecution said they must have landed there before the glass fell. That seemed to undermine Vaughn’s contention that he was shot first if the window was shattered by the bullet that hit him in the wrist.
Haag, though, pointed out glass from the shattered driver’s side window might not have fallen until after the door was open or closed, which could support the idea Vaughn was shot before he got out of the car and made the glass fall.
Haag said the stuffing of Christopher Vaughn’s clothing into a single bag at the hospital the day of the shootings made it difficult to study the evidence.
“When hospital folks just stuff things in bags together,” Haag said, “it’s a problem.”
But Haag also told prosecutors he couldn’t rule out the wounds to Christopher Vaughn’s left wrist and thigh were self-inflicted.
Vaughn’s defense team ended the day by calling investigator Michelle Palaro to the stand. She read several emails written by Kimberly Vaughn, including one to her husband in May 2007 about a trip to her doctor.
“I told him you had noticed, and I had noticed, a big personality change and anxiety change and that I was feeling lethargic,” Kimberly Vaughn wrote.
Investigators found the anti-seizure medicine Topamax and anti-depressant drug Nortriptyline in Kimberly Vaughn’s body after she died, and Vaughn’s defense attorneys have pointed to warnings from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that the drugs can increase the risk of suicidal behavior.
Kimberly also complained in her emails about her children’s chicken pox, and she wrote to her classmates at the University of Phoenix that “monster mommy was ready to come out” when she found out about ongoing bullying of one of her daughters at school.
In one note to her classmates, which prosecutors later pointed out was part of a class discussion question, she writes that people are “more mentally fragile than anyone wants to believe.”
“We do have a little bit of animal in us that can snap,” Kimberly wrote.
But she also showed affection toward her husband in the note about her trip to the doctor.
“I am glad you gave me an afternoon call,” Kimberly wrote. “It made me feel better to hear from you.”