An Illinois man convicted of killing his wife and three children was sentenced Monday to four life terms in prison.
Christopher Vaughn sat stone-faced as victim impact statements were read and during the sentencing. Vaughn was convicted of fatally shooting his family so he could start a new life in the Canadian wilderness.
"This man is a heartless, soulless psychopath who committed a diabolical atrocity," Will County State's Attorney James Glasgow said after the sentencing. "That's the bottom line. There isn't a punishment that fits this crime."
"There was never a hint that he was inappropriate or wrong," Kimberly Vaughn's father, Del Phillips, said of Vaughn. "He was skilled at doing the socially acceptable thing at any moment. I believe he was skilled at being able to portray things that might appear to be true but were not.
The sentence was handed down after a judge ruled Vaughn did not deserve a new trial, rejecting a defense attorney's argument that an unrelated, high-profile trial might have influenced jurors.
Judge Daniel Rozak said he found state legislature limiting his sentence to life in prison instead of the death penalty "very frustrating."
Vaughn's attorney, George Lenard, argued that part of the reason his client didn't get a fair trial was because the news conferences held by Peterson's lawyers outside the courthouse damaged his own credibility as a defense attorney.
But Judge Rozak dismissed that argument Tuesday, saying there is no evidence that the jurors at Vaughn's trial considered the actions of Peterson's attorneys or were even aware of the news conferences.
Before the sentencing, victim impact statements were read. One particularly heartbreaking account was from Kimberly Vaughn's identical twin sister, Susan J. Ledbetter.
"Kim and I will not be able to share our milestone 40th birthday this year," Ledbetter said. "My birthday continues to be very difficult for me, because it was Kim's as well, and we always shared it. ... I silently wonder if my parents and older sister experience pain in my presence because Kim and I share not only our looks, but also many of our personality traits. I have a deep ache in my innermost being with the knowledge that the defendant, Christopher Vaughn, took a part of me."
Vaughn was convicted of four counts of first-degree murder — charges that carry a mandatory life sentence — after a 5 1/2 week trial for the 2007 deaths of his wife, 12-year-old daughter, 11-year-old daughter and 8-year-old son. The judge's decision Tuesday meant that the court immediately proceeded with Vaughn's sentencing hearing.
On Monday, Lenard had argued that Peterson's attorneys made comments that were so detrimental to the reputation of court that they hurt his credibility with jurors in Vaughn's trial.
He noted that at one news conference, Peterson's lawyers jokingly said, "Stacy who?" when asked what effect Peterson's fourth wife, Stacy 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. "Nobody ever said to me that made defense attorneys look good."
Prosecutors scoffed at Leonard's argument, saying jurors made the right decision based on "overwhelming" evidence against Vaughn. Assistant State's Attorney Mike Fitzgerald noted that Lenard could have asked for a delay to Vaughn's trial if he was so concerned about the media spectacle surrounding Peterson's trial, but he did not.
Investigators said Vaughn surprised his family with news that he was taking them to a water park the morning of June 14, 2007, but pulled off the road soon after starting the trip. Prosecutors allege he first shot his wife, then twice shot each of his children — who were buckled in the back seat — and then shot himself in the leg and wrist to make it seem like his wife was the shooter.
Prosecutors said the slayings were part of Vaughn's plan to start a new life in the Canadian wilderness.