The Chicago Sun-Times has learned that nearly nine years after a judge delivered four life sentences to an Oswego man for the murder of his wife and three children, efforts are underway to free the person convicted of one of Chicago’s most disturbing suburban crimes.
The jury took less than an hour in September 2012 to convict Christopher Vaughn at the end of a five-week trial that included more than 80 witnesses. Jurors found Vaughn guilty on June 14, 2007, of the murders of his wife Kimberly, 34, and their children: 12-year-old Abigail, 11-year-old Cassandra, and 8-year-old Blake.
But on Thursday, Waukegan’s defense attorney Jade Stone told the Sun Times that he had recently signed on as Vaughn’s lead counsel and was “looking at a number of avenues, all of which lead to an actual innocence.” Stone and another longtime investigator on the case, Bill Clutter, have said they will begin seeking clemency for Vaughn this year from Governor JB Pritzker.
Richard Kling, another veteran defense attorney in Chicago, confirmed it was part of those efforts.
Meanwhile, the man whose office oversaw the prosecution said Vaughn would release him “when hell freezes over.”
“We have proven it beyond a reasonable doubt [Vaughn] James Glasgow, a Well County attorney, told the Sun Times.
Pritzker’s press secretary declined to comment.
Vaughn’s long-dormant case resurfaced with the iHeart Radio podcast, “Murder in Illinois.” Thursday’s episode offered a new theory of what happened to Vaughn’s SUV when it was parked in a secluded area along a frontage road near Interstate 55 and Bluff Road. Vaughn told investigators the family was on their way to a water park in Springfield.
Podcast host Lauren Bright Pacheco said the theory presented in Thursday’s episode, 9, has already been tested at the July 15 crime scene reconstruction in Kentucky. She said the results will be broadcast during the eleventh episode of the weekly podcast.
Records show Vaughn is being held at Pinkneville Correctional Center. He turns 47 years old on September 26.
“Murder in Illinois” has been heavily criticized for its generally negative portrayal of Kimberly and her family. Pacheco, a former producer of Dr. Oz, said the Kimberly family declined their requests for comment. On Thursday, she told the Sun Times that feuds in the family “contributed significantly to the public’s perception of Vaughn’s crime.”
A Kimberly family member refused to speak to the Sun Times. The Vaughn family did not respond to a letter seeking comment.
Meanwhile, a producer of Doctor Phil said There are plans to record an episode of the iPhone issue on September 15. At Stone, Vaughn hired the same attorney representing Marnie Young, the woman convicted of killing Chicago Bear’s ex-girlfriend Sean Gale— Another case under appeal.
At the 2012 Vaughn trial, jurors heard that Vaughn was discovered limp and bloodied along a road confrontation by a man on his way to work. “I think my wife shot me,” Vaughn said. The man called 911, and police were dispatched around 5:15 a.m. They found the bodies of the Vaughn family in a Ford Expedition parked in a gravel driveway next to a cell phone tower. Driver’s side window shattered.
Records show that Kimberly sustained a gunshot wound under her chin. Abigail was hit near her right eye and down her right chest. Cassandra was hit in the middle of her forehead and in the chest. Blake was hit in the forehead and near the left armpit – suggesting he raised his arm defensively.
Records show that shots aimed at children in the back seat came from over the left shoulder of the front passenger seat, where Kimberly was found.
Prosecutors said Vaughn pushed his Taurus pistol under Kimberly’s chin from outside the SUV and shot her, then reached out to shoot his children. “He had to make it look like he didn’t,” they said, then got back into the SUV and shot him in the wrist and left thigh before the pistol fell between Kimberly’s feet, unbuckled her seat belt and walked away.
Crucially, prosecutors also argued that two bullet holes in a jacket he was wearing were created when someone wrapped the gun into the jacket—either to silence the gun or to conceal the weapon, or to soften the blow. The attorney general said that if Vaughn had been wearing the jacket when the holes were made near the right front pocket and in the back, “he probably wouldn’t be here today.”
Prosecutors said Vaughn hoped to disappear into the Canadian wilderness, citing emails he exchanged with a Canadian man he met online. They said he spent nearly $5,000 at a strip club in the days before the murders. The night before the murder, Vaughn also visited a shooting range, according to trial testimony.
Although Vaughn claimed he did not remember the details of the shooting, he allegedly pulled the expedition off the highway when Kimberly said she was feeling ill. His lawyers argued that Kimberly shot him and the children and then killed herself. They also noted the Food and Drug Administration’s warnings that the medications Kimberly took — Topamax and nortriptyline — could lead to suicide.
However, even the bloodstain expert advocated by Vaughn’s lawyers agreed at trial that the defense’s claim – that Vaughn left the SUV before Kimberly was shot – did not make sense. Prosecutors said blood evidence suggested Vaughn was moving over Kimberly’s body after her death, and none of it indicated a struggle.
On Thursday’s episode of “Murder in Illinois,” a letter was read allegedly written by Vaughn, admitting he “lied about not remembering how Kimberly shot my children and then killed herself.”
“I paused and went out to give her a minute,” the letter read. “When I was around the back of the truck, heading toward my door, it looked like the truck was exploding from the inside. I opened my door and saw the gun Kim was carrying and jumped into my seat to take it. Kim shot me. I fell out the door and I’m getting ready to make another try. Kim looked at me and said, “You will not take my children. You killed them. Then she pointed the gun at herself and fired. I came back to check on the kids. Nothing can be done. I thought I’d drive the truck. Kim was relaxed so I tried to hook her up. My hand shook badly. I couldn’t fasten the belt. I couldn’t drive the truck. I hit the road for help.”
The letter said Vaughn trusted investigators to get to the truth. He also said he was ashamed that he failed to protect his children and would have shot Kimberly if she hadn’t done it herself.
Clutter, founder of Investigating Innocence, said the rebuilding of the crime scene showed Vaughn couldn’t untie his wife’s seat belt. He said Kimberly’s arm blocked him. He also said, “No doubt [Vaughn] He was wearing that jacket” when he was shot – which contradicts the theory that Vaughn wrapped the gun in the jacket.
Although he was an early member of Vaughn’s defense team when Vaughn initially faced the death penalty, Clutter said he was laid off when the death penalty was abolished and worked mostly free on the case. He also acknowledged that the new theory undermined a theory he had previously embraced.
Chaos previously wrote that a blood stain was transferred on Kimberly’s right thumb “Everyone came together to prove that it was the wife who untied her seat belt, after her husband was shot.”
“That was my practical theory at the time,” Clutter said Thursday. “Now, it is clearly a mistake.”
Clutter has also previously suggested that Vaughn suffers from dissociative amnesia. On Thursday, he said he wanted to know when iPhone memory came back.
Chris Regis, the former attorney general who provided part of the closing argument in Vaughn’s trial, is now a corporate counsel for the City of Juliet. When contacted by the Sun Times on Thursday, he noted that Vaughn “had 10 years to come up with that statement,” which Regis called “contrary to the evidence.”
Glasgow also said the new theory contradicted the scene, insisting that “the angles are all wrong” meaning that Vaughn’s car door, where a bullet was found, was open. He noted that he had previously dismissed murder cases when he found he could no longer prove them. But in Vaughn’s case, he said the evidence was “overwhelming.”
“We are prepared for whatever happens,” Glasgow said.