Jury takes less than hour to convict Christopher Vaughn of murder
BY JON SEIDEL, ERIKA WURST AND DAN ROZEK Staff reporters September 20, 2012 6:08AM
Kimberly Vaughn's twin sister Jennifer Ledbetter (left) and mother Susan Phillips (center) depart the courthouse as they await a verdict in the Christopher Vaughn murder trial at the Will County Courthouse Thursday, Sept. 20, 2012, in Joliet. | Matthew Grotto~Sun-Times Media
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Updated: October 22, 2012 6:17AM
Christopher Vaughn’s claim that his bubbly and outgoing wife of 13 years suddenly shot him, murdered their children and killed herself five years ago never even came up during jurors’ deliberations Thursday, their foreman said.
The lack of hand-wringing inside the jury room became obvious when, at the end of a five-week trial featuring more than 80 witnesses and six hours of closing arguments, the jury of eight men and four women took less than an hour to convict the Oswego man of his family’s brutal shooting deaths on June 14, 2007.
Vaughn sat stone-faced, just as he has since his trial began, while Will County Judge Daniel Rozak announced he had been found guilty of the first-degree murders of his 34-year-old wife, Kimberly, and their children.
Abigayle was 12. Cassandra was 11. And Blake was 8.
Prosecutors said Vaughn got out of the SUV that day, shot Kimberly under her chin, and then reached over her body to fire two bullets through each of his children, hitting them in their heads and torsos. They said he then got back into the driver’s seat, shot himself twice, put the gun between Kimberly’s feet and unbuckled her seat belt.
The close-range shots went through each child, including Blake, who was pushing his body into the back seat and holding his left arm up in a defensive position when he was shot, according to trial testimony.
Will County State’s Attorney James Glasgow called Vaughn, who turns 38 on Wednesday, a “psychopath.”
“He’s going to get life in prison,” Glasgow said. “And after that, he’ll be on his road to perdition.”
Kimberly Vaughn’s family members cried softly as the judge polled the jury. When it was over they went to nearby McBrody’s Bar & Grill in Joliet, and they ordered a lemon-drop martini — Kimberly’s favorite drink. The jurors, prosecutors, defense attorneys and even the judge could all be seen in different parts of the bar throughout the evening.
Vaughn, meanwhile, didn’t even look at his family as he was ushered out of the courtroom. When he’s sentenced Nov. 26 he won’t face the death penalty that prosecutors originally sought, but only because Illinois later abolished it.
“Obviously if there’s any case that deserves the death penalty,” Glasgow said, “this is the case.”
Jury foreman Dan Lachat said anyone who sat through Vaughn’s long trial would have reached the same swift conclusion about Vaughn.
They listened for more than a month to Kimberly’s friends and family, the police who investigated the Vaughn family’s deaths, a pair of exotic dancers who met Vaughn while he dropped thousands of dollars at local strip clubs in June 2007, and a Canadian man with whom Vaughn planned to disappear into the Canadian wilderness.
Lachat said jurors considered a snippet of Vaughn’s videotaped statement to police — it was played again by prosecutors during closing arguments Thursday — but he said no one piece of evidence convicted him.
“When you consider that with totality of all the evidence,” Lachat said, “it was certainly one of the pieces that we talked about.”
Assistant State’s Attorney Chris Regis played the video during his energetic rebuttal argument, picking apart the story Vaughn gave to the Illinois State Police the day of the shootings. Regis again showed jurors the portion of the tape when Vaughn, pushed to the brink by an antagonistic Special Agent Cornelious Monroe, finally crumpled up two photos of his children and threw one at the officer.
When police left the room, Vaughn could be seen glancing at the remaining photo of his son Blake before covering it with a piece of paper.
“Nothing screams ‘I’m guilty’ like that man’s reaction when he’s alone with a child he murdered just hours before,” Regis said.
Defense attorney George Lenard promised in his closing argument to prove Kimberly pulled the trigger. Using a toy gun, he told jurors she leaned over the gun and held its handle toward her body as she pulled the trigger. She appeared in crime scene photos leaning toward her left and bleeding over her Ford Expedition’s center console. The gun was found on the floor between her feet.
Lenard suggested police — who yelled for the occupants of the car to “show me your hands” when they first arrived — must have nudged her into that position while trying to determine if she was dead. Otherwise, he said, it was obvious Kimberly wasn’t living.
“You don’t have to yell ‘Show me your hands,’” Lenard said.
Lenard again brought up the anti-seizure medicine Topamax and antidepressant Nortriptyline found in Kimberly’s body when she died.
He’s pointed to FDA warnings the drugs can cause an increased risk of suicide, but he said it wasn’t the entire basis of Vaughn’s case.
“This is a piece of the puzzle,” Lenard said.
But Regis dismissed it along with the rest of Vaughn’s argument.
“There is no other person on the face of this Earth who wanted those people dead,” Regis said.
A little more than an hour later, the jury agreed.