Judge mulls new trial for dad in family slayings

Associated Press Modified: November 26, 2012 at 6:16 pm •  Published: November 26, 2012
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JOLIET, Ill. (AP) — A judge will decide Tuesday whether an Illinois man convicted of killing his wife and three children deserves a new trial, based in part on claims that the behavior of lawyers next door during Drew Peterson's murder trial made it impossible for the man to get a fair trial.

Christopher Vaughn was convicted of fatally shooting his family in their SUV so he could start a new life living in the Canadian wilderness. His September trial overlapped with the high-profile trial of Peterson, the former suburban Chicago police officer convicted of murdering his third wife.

Vaughn's attorney, George Lenard, said press conferences held by Peterson's lawyers outside the Will County courthouse were so detrimental to the reputation of court that they damaged his own credibility with the jury.

He noted that in one press conference, Peterson's attorneys jokingly said, "Stacy who?" when asked what effect Peterson's fourth wife, Stacey Peterson, who vanished in 2007, might have on Peterson's trial in the 2004 death of his third wife, Kathleen Savio.

"That gave defense attorneys, all of us, a black eye," Lenard told the judge during a hearing Monday. "Nobody ever said to me that made defense attorneys look good."

Prosecutors said jurors made the right decision amid "overwhelming" evidence against Vaughn. Assistant State's Attorney Mike Fitzgerald noted that if Lenard was concerned about the media spectacle surrounding Peterson's trial, he could have asked that Vaughn's trial be delayed, but he did not.

Peterson was convicted in the courtroom next door of killing Savio, whose drowning was initially ruled an accident until the 2007 disappearance of Stacey Peterson triggered a new investigation. Peterson hasn't been charged in his fourth wife's disappearance.

Judge Daniel Rozak said he would announce his decision Tuesday.

Lenard also argued that jurors' own comments after convicting Vaughn of first-degree murder made it clear they considered factors they should not have, including Vaughn's apparent lack of emotion during the 5 1/2 week trial.