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Christopher Vaughn trial nears end : News : Oswego Ledger-Sentinel : Hometown Newspaper for Oswego and Montgomery, Illinois
Christopher Vaughn trial nears end
Closing arguments expected today in Joliet

by Tony Scott


Attorneys rested their case in the Christopher Vaughn murder trial this week, with closing arguments expected today (Thursday).

Vaughn is accused of murdering his wife and three young children in their SUV in Will County in June of 2007. The family was living in Oswego at the time, in a two-story home in the Southbury Subdivision.

Vaughn was arrested in Missouri shortly after the murders, just hours before the memorial service for his wife, Kimberly, and three children - Abigayle, 12, Cassandra, 11, and Blake, 8. He has resided in the Will County Jail in Joliet since then.

On Tuesday, the defense objected to a state witness taking the stand for rebuttal.

Rebuttal allows for the prosecution to respond to witnesses for the defense. However, Judge Dan Rozak allowed for Dr. Michael Schrift, the director of neuropsychiatry at the University of Illinois Chicago, to take the stand.

The defense has contended that Vaughn's wife shot herself after shooting the children, because she was stressed and depressed, and was suffering from side effects of prescription drugs she was taking - nortriptyline, an anti-depressant, and Topamax, an anti-seizure medication used to treat migraines.

Earlier in the trial, a pathologist testified that Kimberly Vaughn had a high amount of nortriptyline in her system, but also said that amount in the body can increase after death.

However, even witnesses for the defense, including Dr. Pradeep Bhatia, a neurologist at Rush-Copley Medical Center in Aurora, and Dr. Richard Steslow, a family practice physician, who both had Kimberly as a patient, testified that Kimberly did not seem depressed or suicidal in their visits.

And another defense witness, Tom Bevel, an Oklahoma-based expert in blood splatter patterns, testified that Vaughn's story "does not jibe" with the blood evidence, although he said he could not rule out Vaughn's story.

In more damning testimony for the defense, Schrift, who reviewed Kimberly Vaughn's medical records but testified mostly on the risk of suicide for those taking Topamax and nortriptyline, said that while the anti-depressant has a "black box" warning related to suicide risk, it's the same for all anti-depressants. There are no black box warnings for Topamax, he said.

Schrift said there is a general warning on the Topamax label that states anti-epileptic medications "may increase the risk of suicidality, meaning suicidal behaviors or ideas or attempts."

Schrift further testified that while the risk of suicidal thoughts was present with those age 24 and younger taking the medication, there was a preventive effect in older age groups.

When asked if the FDA has found "any link between the drug nortriptyline and murder," Schrift answered no. He said a study was done in 2010 by a researcher who reviewed FDA data related to violent behavior linked to anti-depressants, and nortriptyline "did not make the list at all."

He also said that, while there have been risks of violent behavior with SSRIs, a group of newer anti-depressants, there was no such phenomenon with tricyclic anti-depressants, the older type that includes nortriptyline.

When asked by prosecutors about the symptoms of an overdose of nortriptyline, Schrift said such drugs slow the cardiac conduction in your heart, and if you die, it would be a "cardiac death." Before that state, you would be delirious, he said.

"You have very impaired attention, concentration, you could have seizures," he said. "You'd have very severe blurred vision."

When questioned by prosecutor Debbie Mills on whether an overdose of that drug wouldn't increase a person's focus or concentration, Schrift agreed and said it would do the opposite.

"The hallmark of delirium is being inattentive and distractable, and have an altered state of consciousness," he said. "You couldn't possibly commit an act that required a goal-directed behavior in a delirious state."

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