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Vaughn trial underway : News : Oswego Ledger-Sentinel : Hometown Newspaper for Oswego and Montgomery, Illinois
Vaughn trial underway
Oswego man accused of killing his wife and three children in '07

by Tony Scott


12-year-old Abigayle Vaughn of Oswego was holding a stuffed animal and had a Harry Potter book on her lap when she was shot to death, authorities testified Monday.

Prosecutors say it was her own father, Christopher Vaughn, who killed her and her two siblings, 11-year-old Cassandra and eight-year-old Blake, in the back of the family SUV, after Vaughn fatally shot his own wife, 34-year-old Kimberly. They say Vaughn had plans to get away from his family and move to the Canadian wilderness.

Vaughn's defense team is claiming that Kimberly shot herself after killing the kids, suggesting that Kimberly was unstable and affected by medication she was taking for migraines and other ailments.

Vaughn's trial began this week, more than five years after the murders. The trial is taking place at the Will County Courthouse in downtown Joliet, in a courtroom right next to one being used for the trial of murder suspect Drew Peterson.

The Vaughn family's red Ford Expedition was found parked off a frontage road near Interstate 55 in Channahon Township early in the morning of June 14, 2007, with the four victims inside. Vaughn had flagged down a passerby, who called 911, and was treated for gunshot wounds in his leg and in his wrist.

He later told police that he had been driving his family to a Springfield area water park and pulled the vehicle over to adjust the luggage rack, according to various media reports.

During the first rounds of testimony Monday, police and paramedics described coming upon the scene.

Channahon Police Sgt. Steve Weiss testified encountering Vaughn, with bloody clothes, standing against a pickup truck parked near the scene.

"I asked what happened, he said 'I don't know,'" Weiss recalled. "I said, 'Who was shot?' He said, 'I don't know what happened.' I asked, 'Where's the gun?' He didn't answer. I asked, 'Where's your wife?' He said, 'Down there, if she's still down there,' indicating the frontage road."

While another police officer stayed with Vaughn, Weiss and Officer Mark Soustek drove to the SUV. After first taking a quick peek inside the front of the vehicle, Weiss yelled for the occupants to show their hands, but after getting no response, Weiss looked again, and saw carnage.

Weiss described seeing Kimberly Vaughn leaning over in the front passenger seat, her left eye bulging out and blood coming from her nose and mouth. He said he could "see people in back." He then opened the back door on the driver's side, and saw the three children, all shot in the head.

Weiss said he called for EMTs to see "if there was a spark of life left" in the kids.

Ryan Jandura of the Channahon Fire Department, one of the EMTs on the scene, described attempting to find signs of life by checking the pulse of Abigayle first. He said the 12-year-old was still "warm to the touch" but had no pulse. There was an "obvious amount of blood loss" from the bullet wound, and she had brain matter and bone fragments in her hair, he said.

Jandura said he used a heart monitor on all three of the children, but there were no signs of activity. Meanwhile, his co-worker, Lt. Ryan Radich, checked for a pulse on Kimberly Vaughn, but there was none.

During the testimony, photos of the crime scene were shown to the jury on a flatscreen TV.

Vaughn, in a tan sportcoat, white shirt with no tie, dark brown pants and black cowboy boots, stayed composed and showed no emotion during the testimony, looking forward.

Father-in-law had chilling
encounter with Vaughn

Susan Phillips, Kimberly Vaughn's mother, described how, the weekend before the killings, she and Kimberly's father, Del, drove up from their home in St. Charles, Mo., to celebrate Kimberly's graduation from the University of Phoenix.

She said Kimberly and Christopher did a "date night" that Friday night prior to Kimberly's graduation, while Del and Susan watched the grandkids.

The next day, the whole family traveled to the Rosemont Theater to watch Kimberly's graduation ceremony and then to a German restaurant in Naperville to celebrate. After they arrived home, the couple walked the family's dog as the Phillips and the children put together a small surprise graduation party for Kimberly.

Del Phillips testified that early Monday morning, on June 11, before the Phillips departed back to Missouri, he had a chilling encounter with Vaughn. He said that he had awoken early to do some reading and Christopher passed him by as he left for work.

"Usually, when he'd say goodbye to me, because he knew we were leaving, he would say goodbye when he went off to work and we would exchange a few civil remarks and was very courteous," Del Phillips said. "But, this morning, that date, he just walked right on by, stone-faced, determined to go out the door. Did not say goodbye, as he usually did for 13 years when we visited."

He said he told Kimberly about the incident on the phone when they got back to Missouri. He said she told him that Vaughn was probably busy or had his mind on his work.

"She defended him like she always defended him," he said.

The Phillips had plans to take the Vaughns and the grandkids to the Wisconsin Dells the following week, but instead, that weekend in Oswego was the last the Phillips would see their daughter or grandchildren alive.

The night before she died, Kimberly Vaughn called her mother and her twin sister, Jennifer Ledbetter, asking about a family cheesy potatoes recipe. She was going to serve it at a dinner the Vaughns were hosting with some neighbors, Todd and Hilary Andrlik, who were scheduled to testify Tuesday afternoon.

She also called her older sister, Nikki Isemann, who testified that Kimberly emailed her some discussion questions for an online class. She said her sister had plans of eventually going to law school.

According to various media reports regarding testimony, the neighbors, the Andrliks, testified that there was no mention of a water park trip that evening before the Vaughn deaths.

Ledbetter testified that Abbi, as Abigayle was called, was getting involved in a soccer program, and that Cassandra, or Sandy, as the family called her, was excited about signing up for Camp Invention that summer.

Asked by lead defense attorney George Lenard if Christopher Vaughn was "very supportive of his children," Ledbetter paused.

"He appeared to be a... father," she said.

Isemann, however, said that while her late sister struggled with migraines and was trying to spice up her marriage to Vaughn, she was an outgoing woman who showed no signs of depression.

"She was a bubbly, gregarious woman who made friends in every room she walked into," she said.

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