(MCT) — An Illinois State Police investigator has testified that Christopher Vaughn, charged with killing his wife and three children, may not be responsible for their deaths, a former member of Vaughn's defense team said.
Sgt. Robert Deel, who is no longer a crime scene investigator after prosecutors faulted his work on another murder case, testified that the evidence convinced him that Vaughn's wife might have shot her husband and children before killing herself, the former defense team member said. Vaughn suffered minor gunshot wounds in his wrist and leg.
Deel's testimony and some new details in the case are included in a letter sent this month by Vaughn's former private investigator to the state inspector general's office, asking for an outside examination into "issues of serious negligence and or misconduct" by state police investigators.
Vaughn, 37, is charged with killing his family in their Ford Expedition after pulling off Interstate 55 in Channahon Township on the way from Oswego to a Springfield water park in 2007. His trial is scheduled to begin in August.
The letter by private investigator Bill Clutter alleges state police had "tunnel vision" that led them to overlook bullet trajectory evidence and ignore concerns from Deel.
The letter also claims a bullet was fired at Vaughn's head by his wife, Kimberly, that was deflected away when he raised his left arm and the projectile hit his heavy silver watch.
Deel said during a deposition with Vaughn's attorneys, according to the letter, that his fellow investigators quickly dismissed the possibility that anyone but Christopher Vaughn was responsible for the slayings:
"I wasn't being listened to by them," he said. "In fact, every time that I offered up something that was contrary to what they said, they had some reason why I didn't know what I was talking about, and basically it all fell back on that Christopher Vaughn is a criminal mastermind and he knows all about crime scenes and that he would be able to fool me into thinking that something else happened."
Deel has been faulted for failing to recover any evidence while investigating the 2004 death of Drew Peterson's ex-wife Kathleen Savio in her dry Bolingbrook bathtub, prosecutors have said. Peterson was charged with Savio's murder after her body was exhumed years later.
Will County prosecutors asked that Deel never process another crime scene in their county again. Deel has since been assigned to patrol, officials said.
A spokesman for the Will County state's attorney's office said the letter is full of "tremendous inaccuracies," though he declined to name them. A state police spokeswoman said the agency couldn't comment on a pending case.
"It's really questionable," said state's attorney spokesman Charles Pelkie of Clutter's letter. Clutter "is a potential witness for the defense. No potential witness should be discussing these issues publicly."
Vaughn's attorney George Lenard declined to comment.
Investigators said they believed that after Vaughn pulled over, he retrieved his handgun from a roof rack, wrapped it in his fleece jacket, then shot his wife in the head and shot each of his children — ages 12, 11 and 8 — twice from the vehicle's passenger side.
Deel told Vaughn's attorneys that he didn't think that version of events was possible, according to the letter.
After about 10 hours of questioning, the letter said, Vaughn gave police a brief account of what happened:
"I got back in the truck and I looked over at Kim and I think she — I think she had a gun. It doesn't — right in my face and I put my hand up (takes left arm up to his forehead) and ugh, and (long pause) everything kind of went numb and uhm, (long pause) I don't know if she was mad at me or what. There was no way she could have hurt the kids.
"I just didn't think it was real ... it was like my mind shut off. ... I don't remember her saying anything. ... I looked over and thought I saw a gun but, I knew that was impossible — why does Kim have a gun?"
Vaughn told authorities he checked the roof rack and tires after pulling over because his wife felt sick. He got back into their SUV, looked down and saw his leg bleeding, got out, fell to the ground and limped down the road and flagged down a car, according to the letter.
Kimberly Vaughn was taking migraine medication that her physician has testified would increase the risk of having suicidal thoughts, the letter said. Prosecutors have said there's no evidence she was suicidal.
The letter also indicates the forensic puzzle that jurors may have to sort out in the case, including how Vaughn's blood got on his wife's retracted seat belt, how her husband's blood got on Kimberly's thumb and the reasons for the bullet holes in Vaughn's fleece jacket.
All of that evidence, Clutter wrote, supports Vaughn's version of events.