JOLIET – Relatives of Kimberly Vaughn marked a bittersweet day with her favorite drink – a lemon drop martini, a family spokesman said Friday.
Chicago-area jurors convicted Christopher Vaughn of murdering Kimberly, his 34-year-old wife, and their three kids after just 50 minutes of deliberations Thursday.
"They feel justice has been done," said David Butsch, a lawyer in Missouri where Kimberly Vaughn's parents live.
The successful computer specialist wanted his family out of the way, prosecutors said, to pursue his dream of starting a new life subsisting in the Canadian wilderness.
Their speed was telling, Butsch said.
"As a rule of thumb, there's an hour of deliberation for each day of a trial," he said. "When they come back in less than an hour, it tells you there's no debate as to his guilt."
Jurors came back so quickly that family members who had withdrawn to McBrody's Bar & Grill to await a verdict had to run back to the Joliet courthouse – leaving their food behind.
Afterward, family members returned and ordered Kimberly's Vaughn's beloved cocktail. And when jurors also showed up, her relatives applauded and said, "Thank you," as each walked by their table.
The 2007 quadruple murder started as a death penalty case, slowing the pace to trial. But Illinois has since abolished capital punishment, meaning Vaughn now faces a life term when sentenced Nov. 26.
"He'll spend the rest of his life staring at the cold walls of his prison cell, then he'll meet his maker for his real punishment," Will County State's Attorney James Glasgow told reporters after the verdict.
Before the killings, Vaughn became obsessed with Druid beliefs in the spirituality of nature. He told a friend he longed for a life unencumbered by cellphones and other hallmarks of modernity. He considered asking a stripper he had a crush on to join him.
"He was held back by four major obstacles in his life," prosecutor Chris Regis said in his closing. "Those four obstacles were eliminated on June 14, 2007."
That day, Vaughn awoke his wife and children, promising a surprise trip to a water park. Just after 5 a.m., he pulled the family SUV off the highway, placed a pistol under his Kimberly's chin and fired. He then shot 12-year-old Abigayle, 11-year-old Cassandra and 8-year-old Blake execution-style – once each in the chest and head.
Their bodies were buckled in the back seat. Blake's wounds indicated he had raised his arm to shield himself.
Vaughn blamed his wife. His lawyers told jurors she was suicidal over marital strife. They suggested she shot her husband in the wrist and leg, and then killed the children and herself.
Prosecutors balked. They told jurors to ask themselves how a woman who disliked guns could have grazed her husband with two bullets, but with a marksman's expertise shot her children in the head.
For the most part, Vaughn never displayed a hint of guilty conscience or concern about his kids after the killings, prosecutors said. But in a video shown at trial, he seemed haunted, at least momentarily, when left alone in an interview room with a crime-scene photo of his son's bloodied body. Video shows him staring at the picture, then pushing it away, then covering it up.
Prosecutor Chris Regis likened it to Edgar Allen Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart," in which a killer goes mad as he starts to hear his victim's beating heart.
"That picture is like a Tell-Tale Heart. It's beating louder, louder, louder," he said.
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