JOLIET, Ill. (AP) — Jurors deliberated for less than an hour Thursday before convicting a suburban Chicago man of fatally shooting his wife and three children during what he told them was a road trip to a water park.
Christopher Vaughn shot his family, including one of his daughters as she clutched a stuffed animal, because he saw them as obstacles to his dream of starting a new, isolated life in the Canadian wilderness, prosecutors told jurors before they withdrew to deliberate.
Vaughn hunched forward as jurors re-entered the Joliet courtroom, but the 37-year-old computer specialist displayed no visible emotion as their verdict was read. Sitting nearby, his wife's sister smiled and cried quietly, and family members later wept as they fell into each other's arms in a courtroom hall.
"This case is not just a murder, it's an atrocity," Will County States Attorney James Glasgow said outside the courthouse. "To annihilate your family, I can't think of a more unspeakable crime."
Glasgow noted that Vaughn's two daughters and son were each shot in the chest and head, and he said the father's lack of emotion was the mark of "a psychopath."
Jury foreman Dan Lashat said jurors believed Vaughn's odd and inappropriate demeanor strongly suggested he killed his family. The jurors were later applauded by relatives of Vaughn's wife as they walked into a nearby restaurant.
Vaughn faces a maximum life prison term when sentenced Nov. 26.
The prosecution argued that he had compiled survival guides and posted wistful Internet messages about constructing a cabin and settling for good in the Yukon, cut off from the world.
Then early on June 14, 2007, Vaughn awoke his wife and children, promising a surprise trip to a water park downstate. Prosecutors alleged that he pulled the family SUV off the highway after 5 a.m. He placed a pistol under his 34-year-old wife Kimberly's chin and fired, then meticulously shot 12-year-old Abigayle, 11-year-old Cassandra and 8-year-old Blake — each in the chest and head.
Abigayle was found holding a stuffed animal and a Harry Potter book. Forensics experts said the trajectory of the bullet into Blake's chest indicated he had raised his arm up as he was shot.
During nearly a full day of closing arguments Thursday, prosecutor Chris Regis read emails that Christopher Vaughn wrote to a friend before the murders saying he longed for a life unencumbered by cellphones and other hallmarks of modernity. He cited poet Henry David Thoreau about the virtue of shrugging off obligations.
"I just want to live plain and simple," Vaughn wrote in one email.
Regis said Vaughn felt held back by four obstacles, all of which "were eliminated on June 14, 2007."
Vaughn took notes during the nearly six hours of closing arguments but displayed little emotion as he sat at the defense table, even when prosecutors displayed crime-scene photos of his wife, her head hanging back and dried blood near her nose and mouth.
In his closing, defense attorney George Lenard repeated Vaughn's contention that his wife was suicidal over marriage troubles and affected emotionally by antidepressant medication. The defense claimed she shot Vaughn in the wrist and leg, then killed the children and herself.