CHICAGO (CBS) — Christopher Vaughn’s fate has been all but sealed since the day two months ago when a Will County jury took less than an hour to convict the Oswego man for the cold, calculated murder of his family.
They found Vaughn guilty of the June 14, 2007, shooting deaths of his wife, Kimberly, 34, who once told her college classmates he was a hero, and their three children — Abigayle, 12; Cassandra, 11, and Blake, 8, who prosecutors think held his left arm up defensively as his father fired the bullets at close range inside the family’s red Ford Expedition.
The conviction came at the end of a five-week trial filled with testimony about Vaughn’s plans to vanish in the Canadian wilderness with a man he had met online. Jurors also heard from two exotic dancers who said that Vaughn had visited them in the days before the murders as he spent thousands of dollars at area strip clubs.
And jurors watched Vaughn crumple up two photos of his children and throw one at an Illinois State Police special agent in a long, intense interrogation video.
Vaughn showed no reaction to the guilty verdict. He might have known he’s likely to spend the rest of his life in prison. That’s the minimum sentence authorities said is available to Will County Judge Daniel Rozak for Vaughn, whose sentencing hearing is set for Monday. Life is also the maximum. There’s no longer a death penalty in Illinois.
“Obviously, if there’s any case that deserves the death penalty, this is the case,” Will County State’s Attorney James Glasgow said after Vaughn’s Sept. 20 conviction.
When Vaughn’s sentencing hearing began Monday, the only hope for his defense attorneys was to convince the judge that Vaughn’s trial was flawed. It’s a common, but often unsuccessful, request for defendants to make after they lose, but Vaughn’s lawyers filed a motion to ask for a new trial last week.
Beyond that, there are appeals. But it will likely be an uphill battle for Vaughn. Unlike this summer’s trial of former Bolingbrook cop Drew Peterson — another high-profile Will County case ending with Peterson’s conviction for his third wife’s murder — Vaughn’s lawyers only made a few minor requests for a mistrial.
Downers Grove attorney Kathleen Zellner also said Vaughn had “one of the best attorneys in Will County” in George Lenard, who led his defense team. That means it’ll be tough to argue he had ineffective counsel.
“I just see it as almost a formality,” Zellner said of Monday’s sentencing hearing.
If the death penalty were still available in Illinois, Zellner said, Vaughn would certainly get it. The Vaughn family was murdered before Illinois abolished it, and Glasgow originally said Vaughn was a candidate. “I just don’t think there’ll be any mercy shown,” Zellner said.
Monday’s hearing could be a chance for Kimberly Vaughn’s family to finally speak about the pain they’ve been feeling since the deaths. Judges often listen to family members of the victims and the defendant before handing down a sentence.
Jurors said anyone who sat through the trial as they did would have come to the same quick decision. Prosecutors said police found Kimberly and the children gunned down in the family SUV, which was found in a small gravel drive off a frontage road west of Interstate 55.
A man driving to work early on the morning of the shootings said he found Vaughn bloody and limping north on the frontage road toward Bluff Road. Vaughn was nursing superficial gunshot wounds in his left wrist and thigh.
“I believe my wife just shot me,” Vaughn told the man.
LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio John Waelti Reports
Vaughn later told police that his wife had claimed to be sick and shot him after he pulled off the expressway. He also said the family was supposed to be on its way to a water park in Springfield.
But 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. Then he got back into the driver’s seat, shot himself twice, put the gun between Kimberly’s feet and unbuckled her seat belt.
Kimberly’s family wept softly after Vaughn’s conviction. Then, when it was over, they went to a nearby bar in Joliet and ordered a lemon-drop martini — Kimberly’s favorite drink.
Court was adjourned until 8:30 Tuesday morning. The judge would either grant a new trial or proceed to sentencing Vaughn.
(Source: Sun-Times Media Wire © Chicago Sun-Times 2012. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)