CHICAGO (AP) — After five years of legal proceedings and a few bizarre twists, the trial of a man accused of fatally shooting his wife and three children in an SUV in suburban Chicago is expected to begin Monday.
Christopher Vaughn of Oswego is charged with first-degree murder in the deaths of four family members on June 14, 2007. Authorities allege he pulled the vehicle onto a frontage road near Channahon — about 40 miles southwest of Chicago — and shot Kimberly Vaughn and children, Abigayle, 12, Cassandra, 11, and Blake, 8.
Vaughn, 37, was arrested at a funeral home in suburban St. Louis hours before a memorial service for his wife and children. He pleaded not guilty and insists the killings were at the hands of his wife.
“It’s a case of murder-suicide,” said Vaughn’s defense attorney, George Lenard. “Christopher Vaughn is not responsible for the deaths.”
Opening statements are slated for Aug. 20 and the trial is expected to last four to six weeks, according to attorneys. It is the second high-profile trial at the Will County courthouse and will be held in the courtroom next to the Drew Peterson murder trial.
The Vaughn deaths made headlines in 2007 partly because the family recently had been featured in a Chicago Sun-Times real estate article. They had moved from Washington state to the Chicago area and bought a spacious home. The article was accompanied by a photo of the couple sitting at a dining table, their three smiling children standing behind them.
After Christopher Vaughn’s arrest, prosecutors had vowed to seek the death penalty, which Illinois abolished last year.
Chuck Pelkie, a spokesman for the Will County State’s Attorney’s office, declined to discuss specifics of prosecutors’ approach to the case before trial.
“It’s a case that the office is ready and eager to move forward with,” he said. “It’s been a long time.”
Evidence may include a magazine article that court records say police found at Vaughn’s home about staging crime scenes and “making the death appear to be a suicide.” Court records also show that Vaughn spent time at a shooting range the night before the deaths and fired at targets with a gun that police later found near Kimberly Vaughn in the car.
Legal proceedings also revealed that Christopher Vaughn was the beneficiary of his wife’s $1 million life insurance policy. In 2009, her family filed a wrongful death suit to keep him from claiming any assets.
Among those could testify are an exotic dancer who Vaughn visited days before the killings. Prosecutors have said that Vaughn had lied to her about his identity and talked of the future.
Vaughn’s defense is expected to delve into Kimberly Vaughn’s life and health, and likely will include that she was taking an anti-seizure drug at the time of her death that federal health officials have said can increase the risk of suicidal behavior.
Vaughn, a computer security consultant, told police in 2007 that his wife shot him in the leg before killing the children and committing suicide. Vaughn had superficial gunshot wounds to the leg and arm. Court records show the children were each shot twice and Kimberly Vaughn was shot once under the chin.
According to Christopher Vaughn’s account, the family had been headed on a trip and Vaughn said that he had stopped to secure luggage on the roof of the vehicle. His wife allegedly started shooting shortly after that and he told police he fled the scene to escape.
Vaughn has been held without bond in Will County.
“He’s ready for trial, he’s been waiting for a long time,” Lenard said.
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