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Vaughn given four life sentences : News : Oswego Ledger-Sentinel : Hometown Newspaper for Oswego and Montgomery, Illinois
Vaughn given four life sentences
Oswego man who murdered his wife, kids called a 'soulless psychopath'

by Tony Scott


The Oswego man convicted of murdering his wife and three young children will spend the rest of his life in an Illinois state prison, a Will County judge ruled Tuesday.

Judge Daniel J. Rozak handed down four consecutive life sentences to Christopher Vaughn, following an unsuccessful attempt by Vaughn's public defender, George Lenard of Joliet, to request a new trial. Vaughn is also responsible for $878 in court costs, Rozak said.

Vaughn was arrested following the June 2007 murder of his wife, Kimberly, and three children - 12-year-old Abigayle, 11-year-old Cassandra, and 8-year-old Blake.

According to prosecutors, early in the morning hours of June 14, 2007, Vaughn packed his family into their SUV, headed out for what he said was a family trip to a Springfield water park. However, according to testimony, Vaughn pulled off a frontage road near Interstate 55 in rural Channahon Township and shot his wife before shooting his three young children, once in the head, once in the chest.

A jury found Vaughn guilty of first-degree murder Sept. 20 following a five-week trial. The jury took less than an hour to deliberate.

Vaughn's sentencing was originally scheduled for Monday, but Lenard entered the motion for a new trial that morning, following a lengthy argument about why Rozak should consider a new trial.

Among Lenard's 51 reasons he listed in a motion for a new trial were that the jury could have been tainted by media coverage of the Drew Peterson trial, taking place in a courtroom right next door around the same time as the Vaughn trial. Lenard also argued that the jury foreman, Dan Lachat, had considered Vaughn's demeanor during the trial as he considered the verdict, based on comments Lachat had given to the media. He also argued that the jury didn't deliberate for a long enough time.

"They went in, took a vote, and left - that's it," Lenard said of the jury.

However, Assistant State's Attorney Michael Fitzgerald argued that the evidence given to the jurors "was overwhelming" against Vaughn. Fitzgerald also noted that there have been felony cases in Will County where jurors only deliberated for a matter of a few minutes.

"There is no law on this," Fitzgerald said. "There's no time limit."

In the end, Rozak disagreed with Lenard's arguments for a new trial, and denied his motion.

Vaughn declines to make
statement before sentencing

Prior to sentencing, Kimberly Vaughn's mother, Susan Phillips, and her twin sister, Jennifer Ledbetter, read their victim impact statements aloud to the court. Prosecutor Debbie Mills read the statement from Kimberly Vaughn's older sister, Nikki Isemann, who was present in court Monday but had to return to her home in Nebraska. Fitzgerald read a statement from Kimberly Vaughn's father, Del Phillips.

Also prior to sentencing, Rozak asked Christopher Vaughn if he wanted to make a statement. He said he did not.

Fitzgerald pointed out that state law mandates a life sentence for first-degree murder when the victim is under 12 years old and also when there is more than one victim in a murder regardless of age.

Lenard acknowledged that Rozak was bound by law to hand down life sentences, but pointed to his client's lack of previous criminal history and several letters that touted his character. Lenard said Vaughn had "treated everybody with respect" during the trial, including court and jail personnel.

Before Rozak handed down the sentence, he said the legislature "severely limits my options," although he did not specify whether he thought Vaughn should have received the death penalty.

Will County State's Attorney James Glasgow had originally pursued Vaughn's case as a death penalty case, but Gov. Pat Quinn signed legislation ending the death penalty in March of 2011. Vaughn initially hired private attorneys, but with the end of the death penalty came the end of the Capital Trust Litigation Fund, which helped pay attorney fees in death penalty cases, including Vaughn's. Vaughn was assigned a public defender shortly thereafter.

Vaughn shows no emotion
when judge gives sentence

After Rozak gave the sentence - four consecutive life terms without any possibility of parole - Wade Ledbetter, Kimberly Vaughn's brother-in-law and husband to her twin sister, Jennifer, burst out in tears, and several of Kimberly Vaughn's family members wept openly. However, Christopher Vaughn showed no emotion and made no noise, and his family, seated two rows behind him, was silent and did not express any emotion.

Outside the courtroom, Pierre and Gail Vaughn, Vaughn's parents, declined to comment on the sentence.

In front of the Will County Courthouse, Glasgow and his four prosecutors that handled the case held a brief press conference. Glasgow praised his prosecutorial team and called Christopher Vaughn a "heartless, soulless psychopath."

Glasgow said the death penalty process "slowed this case down to a crawl." He said he opposed the abolishment of the death penalty, but that once it was abolished "we were able to expedite the trial."

Glasgow, who was in the courtroom during the sentencing hearing, said he heard the victim impact statements from Kimberly Vaughn's family and that they were "tragic."

"It's hard to imagine a parent killing their children," he said. "Unconditional love is the one mandate you have when you have a child, and to kill your child is the antithesis of that. What this guy did here is a diabolical atrocity, and he's a heartless, soulless psychopath - that's the bottom line. The family members can't speak in those terms, but that's what he is."

Kimberly Vaughn's father:
'a long haul' for the family

Kimberly Vaughn's parents and her twin sister and brother-in-law also held a press conference at Joliet Police headquarters after the sentencing.

Susan Phillips, Vaughn's mother, said the family has survived on "faith, family and friends" since the murders.

Del Phillips, Vaughn's father, explained that the family had to deal with the emotions of the tragedy not just during the five-week trial, but since the murders occurred in 2007.

"It's been a long haul; it's not been five and a half weeks, it's been five and a half years," he said.

When asked about "closure" for the family, Phillips said it's "going to take a long time to heal."

Susan Phillips said the family would not be involved in an appeal process.

"I think that, since this entire process is over now, and we won't be involved with an appeal, we can begin to really get to the business of grieving," she said.

Wade Ledbetter said the family had to put its life "on the backburner for a while" through the process of court hearings and the trial.

"You try to go back to living your life and raising your kids," he said.

Susan Phillips said they have a close-knit community and friends that, initially, didn't want to say the wrong thing to the grieving family but "they wanted to comfort us."

"We've had such support," he said. "It's hard for people sometimes to say things to us because they don't know what to say; it's something beyond anybody's experience. And as a result, we've had to kind of pick up the slack and help them say what they've needed to say. It's particularly hard when people cry before saying a word."

Del Phillips said for some in the family, or friends, it has impacted the way they view potential personal relationships.

"It's impacted how they live their lives, and some of them are thinking about selecting the right partners, making them second-guess checking into who they're going to marry, making them second-guess what they should do to vet the fiancée," he said. "These sort of things come to mind now, where we didn't think of them before. We had no indication from this individual that he could be so evil or do such acts, but we did find out the hard way."

When asked about creating a sense of normalcy for the other children in the family, Susan Phillips said the family ensures that their children and grandchildren who are living are also acknowledged and loved.

"We've always been a close family, and Kim's family was part of that, so it's like a big hole there when we're together because they're not there anymore," she said. "Del and I have worked hard (to ensure) that Kim and her children aren't the focus of our home, that our other children and our other grandchildren are celebrated for the great things they're doing. We try to get to sports events, and confirmations and graduations, and all the things that are milestones or rites of passage for children, we try to be there for them."

Del Phillips thanked the press for giving the family privacy over the past five-and-a-half years since the murders. He also thanked the Will County State's Attorney's Office, the Illinois State Police and the Channahon Police Department. He also thanked Anne and Ray Vickery, who hosted the couple - who live in the St. Louis area - at their Kendall County home over the years while they attended court hearings.

An emotional Phillips said he also wanted to thank God, "for giving us grace, to get us through this dark valley."

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