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Jury hears case against Illinois man accused of killing his family

By Steve Schmadeke, Chicago Tribune –

CHICAGO — As his family lay shot dead in their SUV, one daughter clutching a stuffed animal and Harry Potter novel, Christopher Vaughn was at a hospital complaining about investigators ruining his cowboy boots, prosecutors said Monday.

Prosecutors painted the Oswego, Ill., man, who is on trial on charges of killing his wife and three children in 2007, as a heartless husband and indifferent father who spent thousands of dollars at strip clubs and yearned to leave his dull suburban life behind.

To fulfill his fantasies of living in the Canadian wilderness, Vaughn settled upon a nightmarish solution, Assistant Will County State’s Attorney Deborah Mills told jurors. He woke his family before dawn on the pretense of taking them on a surprise trip to a downstate water park, and then shot and killed all four of them as they sat buckled into the family’s SUV, Mills said.

“Oh my God,” Channahon Police Sgt. Steve Weiss testified he said when he saw the carnage inside the Vaughn’s vehicle on June 14, 2007. The family’s Ford was parked near Interstate 55 on a narrow gravel path near a cellphone tower.

Weiss said Vaughn answered only one question he asked that morning.

“I said, ‘Where’s your wife?’” Weiss testified. “He nodded (and said), ‘Down there.’”

Kimberly Vaughn, 34, was killed instantly when her husband shoved a 9 mm handgun under her chin and pulled the trigger, Mills said. Christopher Vaughn had been taking target practice at a Plainfield gun range the night before while his wife made dinner for the neighbors, she said.

Abigayle, 12, who was seated behind Vaughn, was killed next, shot in the chest and in the head as she slept. A soccer player who had a practice scheduled for that afternoon, she was found holding a novel and stuffed animal, a firefighter testified.

Cassandra “Sandy” Vaughn, 11, who had science camp later that day, was killed with shots to the head and chest while sitting in the middle seat, Mills said. Her body fell to the right almost atop her 8-year-old brother Blake.

Blake, who apparently raised his hands to defend himself, was shot once under the left arm and then once in the head, Mills said. Gruesome photos were displayed on a courtroom TV for jurors, showing the children lifeless in a tangle of blood, blankets and pillows.

Vaughn then shot himself in the wrist and leg, incurring minor wounds before dropping his gun between his wife’s feet, Mills said. He then flagged down a passing car.

“Christopher Vaughn was planning an exit scenario and in making that exit he wanted to be without any obligations,” Mills told jurors during her opening statements.

She said blood evidence left inside the vehicle as well as blood found on Vaughn’s clothing proves he was the killer — as does common sense.

“He was the only one to exit the Expedition alive,” Mills told jurors.

Defense attorney George Lenard told jurors that the evidence will show the deaths were a murder-suicide committed by Kimberly Vaughn, who he said was distressed about a failing marriage she couldn’t fix.

It was Kimberly, he said, who shot and killed her family before turning the gun on herself.

Lenard noted the drugs Kimberly was taking for her migraine headaches can increase the likelihood of suicidal thoughts.

He also spent time combating hours of videotaped interviews jurors will see of a “monotone” Vaughn speaking to Illinois State Police detectives.

“Mr. Vaughn did not ever have any close friends,” said Lenard, who called his client a “very, very private person.” “He is one speed, one-speed only. He is monotone.

“He does not talk about anything that goes on inside the home.”

Vaughn was “not a perfect father,” working long hours and then spending time at home on his hobby, making bows and arrows, Lenard said.

Lenard also told jurors that his client is a “quirky” person who likes writing poetry — an apparent reference to coded poems recovered in Vaughn’s jail cell that prosecutors plan to use to show he wanted to start a new life with a stripper.

Jurors on Monday heard the story of a busy suburban family centered on a couple whose marriage was falling apart. Lenard told jurors that Vaughn had cheated on his wife with “one or two women” on a business trip to Mexico, and then told her of the betrayal.

Mills told jurors Vaughn took a lengthy trip one month before the murders to the Yukon region of Canada, telling his wife he was there on business but actually using vacation time for what he called “a scouting trip,” she said.

She said that among the encrypted files on Vaughn’s laptop computer were messages between Vaughn and a Canadian friend detailing Vaughn’s plans to move north permanently.

“Christopher Vaughn is an eccentric dreamer,” Lenard said during his opening statement, dismissing the messages as idle talk.

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