Thursday, June 17, 2010

"Claiming Bloody Innocence"

by Susan Murphy Milano

On June 14, 2007, exactly three years ago this past Monday, Kimberly Ellen Vaughn, 34; Abigayle Elizabeth Vaughn, 12; Cassandra Ellen Vaughn, 11; and Blake Phillip Vaughn, 9, were found shot to death in a red SUV parked among a grove of trees in Will County, Illinois.

The only survivor of this gruesome tragedy is Kimberly's husband, Christopher Vaughn, who had minor gunshot wounds to his thigh and wrist. A former private investigator, Vaughn claims the family was headed to a water park when he pulled the SUV over because his wife “suddenly became ill.” What happened next is the crux of this case. Vaughn admits that he'd brought along a 9mm handgun on the family outing. Yet he claims that he didn't pull the trigger. In Vaughn's version, his dead wife suffered from severe depression and abused prescription drugs. She was suicidal, and he was simply another victim. The shooter that day, according to Vaughn, was Kimberly, who shot him and murdered the children before turning the gun on herself.

On this, the Vaughns' 13th wedding anniversary, Kimberly died of a single bullet to the chin, while each of her children suffered two gunshot wounds to their bodies. At least one piece of forensic evidence calls Vaughn's account into question; Kimberly had no gun reside on her hands.

It appears that authorities believe what I do, that the gunshot wounds Vaughn suffered were self inflicted, and that Kimberly wasn't the one pulling the trigger. Just hours before she and the children were to be buried, nine days after the murders, investigators arrived at the funeral home to take this low-life piece of human garbage into custody, charging him with eight counts of first-degree murder.

We'll never know if Vaughn had GSR, gunshot residue, on his hands; he wasn't tested at the scene. Since the day of the murders, he has claimed that he has no memory of the events, suffering from some bizarre form of amnesia. It seems absurd in the face of his actions that day, especially flagging down a vehicle for help and then conversing normally with the driver who called 911.

The trial date isn't set yet, but in the courtroom, the prosecution will have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Vaughn planned and carried out the murders. For motive, they'll point to a $1 million dollar insurance policy Vaughn took out on Kimberly’s life. For the time being, the accused murderer hasn't been able to collect. Under the “Illinois slayer statue” unless Vaughan is acquitted he won’t see a dime. However, there are more problems with the way the case was handled than that Vaughn's hands weren't tested for gunshot residue at the scene. Another crucial piece of evidence, a towel, was rendered useless when it was mistakenly washed at the Will County morgue.

The defense will no doubt use investigators' mistakes to their advantage, along with pointing at prescription drugs Kimberly took for migraines as evidence of her "depression." Sprinkle in a parade of neighbors the defense will undoubtedly call to show what a loving, wonderful father their client is, and you can predict the prosecutions' problems. I expect the defense team to play a full symphony complete with violins casting doubt before the case finally goes before a jury.

Why hasn't this case received more publicity? Soon after the murders the case was sealed by a judge. In that way, the Vaughn case is different than that of former Bolingbrook police Sgt. Drew Peterson, who will be tried next month in the same county for the murder of his third wife, Kathleen Savio. The result is that in the Vaughn murders, the prosecution and the defense have the opportunity to try their case in a court of law minus the Peterson case's media circus.

Although I try to be mindful that a person is always innocent until proven guilty, I have a difficult time believing any other result than that Christopher Vaughn should receive the death penalty.


lisamichels said...


Kathryn Casey said...

Great post, Susan. I'd missed this case completely. Really interesting.

Kyla Myerson said...

The trageddy of this mother and her children mirrors what is happening across American.

Bravo to you Susan for the outstanding work with those who would have been silenced if not for your intervention.

Your book "Time's Up" is blessing and a must own for every advocate, shelter, social worker,law enforcement and library. God Bless you!