JOLIET, Ill. — An Oswego man convicted in the 2007 deaths of his wife and three children has been sentenced to four life terms in jail without the possibility of parole.
Judge Dan Rozak handed down the sentence to Christopher Vaughn Tuesday morning at the Will County Courthouse for the deaths of Kimberly Vaughn, 34; Abigayle Vaughn, 12; Cassandra Vaughn, 11; and Blake Vaughn, 8.
Before the sentencing portion began, Rozak responded to a motion for a new trial filed by Vaughn's attorney, George Lenard. The motion claimed 51 grounds, among them a contention Vaughn's trial was negatively impacted by the concurrent Drew Peterson case, an alleged indoctrinated juror, improper statements in the closing rebuttal by an assistant state's attorney and quick jury deliberations.
Rozak denied the motion, stating that there was no proof that the jury had encountered news articles for either the Peterson case or the Vaughn case. He used transcripts as proof that he told the jury it was best to avoid all news media during the trial.
He said the allegation against Assistant State's Attorney Chris Regis' rebuttal was the most serious in the motion — Lenard asserted that Regis told the jury to forget about reasonable doubt. When Rozak reviewed the transcripts, he said he found the context around the assertion that Regis told the jury to forget about reasonable doubt.
"When you read what came before this, it has to be put in the correct context," he said.
Rozak said the record shows Regis did not intend to decrease the state's job of proving Vaughn's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, but sought to increase it and show that the evidence proved beyond all doubt he was guilty.
Four victim impact statements followed the decision. The at-times emotional remarks were read into the record by Kimberly's mother, Susan Phillips, and identical twin sister, Jennifer Ledbetter. Additional statements were read by assistant state's attorneys on behalf of her father, Del Phillips, and sister, Nikki Isemann.
The remarks outlined the impact of the murders on their lives, from stress that has triggered health conditions to forever changing the Vaughn children's cousins.
Susan Phillips said she heard about the deaths by tuning into the afternoon news and seeing the crime scene and her daughter's SUV. They were not able to receive confirmation until 3 p.m. that day.
Throughout her statement, she stressed that Christopher had other options — divorce, or just walking away. She said Kimberly would have been able to recover from either. Instead, she said she was robbed of a third of her family and will never know what accomplishments her daughter or grandchildren may have had.
Ledbetter, who fought back tears as she spoke, said that as twins, she shared a special connection with Kimberly — and occasionally she is struck by seeing Kim in a mirror reflection or in the sound of her laugh. She said the two would shared a 40th birthday this year.
"I have a deep ache in my innermost being with the knowledge that the defendant, Christopher Vaughn, took a part of me," she said. "Kim and I were supposed to grow old together."
Christopher declined to give a statement, but Lenard appealed to Rozak on his behalf, saying that Rozak should keep in mind his client's lack of prior criminal history and that he had treated court and jail personnel with respect since being in custody.
In statements immediately following the sentencing, Will County State's Attorney James Glasgow said the sentence brings to an end a five-year-saga that began as a death-penalty case. He called the family remarks tragic and that it's hard to imagine a parent murdering their own children.
"Unconditional love is the one mandate that you have when you have a child, and to kill your child is the antithesis of that," he said. "What this guy did here was a diabolical atrocity and he's a heartless, soulless psychopath. That's the bottom line."
Glasgow noted Vaughn's lack of reaction or emotion to further the point.
"You saw it today — not a single show of emotion, nothing, when Kimberly's sister was crying on the stand — nothing. Heartless, soulless, without any compassion, without any empathy for other human beings," he said. "There isn't a punishment that fits this crime. You could lock him up for 500 lifetimes and it would not compensate the victims in this case, or the family members."
Glasgow praised the work of Assistant State's Attorneys Michael Fitzgerald, Regis, Debbie Mills and Jim Long, as well as the work of the Channahon Police Department in preserving and collecting the crime scene evidence, and the Illinois State Police.
"We've never had a case like this in Will County, where someone killed their entire family, and I pray to God we never have it again," Glasgow said.