A man who executed his wife and three young children in their SUV will spend the rest of his life in prison after being found guilty of their brutal murders.
Christopher Vaughn, 37, was sentenced on Tuesday to four consecutive life terms for killing his wife Kimberly, 34, and children Abigayle, 12, Cassandra, 11 and eight-year-old Blake.
Each child was shot once in the chest and head while buckled into the back seat.
Vaughn murdered his family by the roadside in June 2007 as they drove to an Illinois water park. He had harbored fantasies of starting a new life alone in the Canadian wilderness and viewed his family as the obstacle standing in his way.
The victims’ family spoke outside court in Joliet of their relief that the trial was over but were devastated that Vaughn had shown no remorse for taking his family’s lives.
Kimberly’s mother Susan Phillips said now that the family had seen justice they ‘can begin to really get with the process of grieving’.
Her husband Del Phillips added: ‘We had no indication from this individual that he could be so evil or do such acts but we did find out the hard way.’
Alongside the couple sat their daughter Jennifer Ledbetter who is Kimberly’s twin sister. She was so overcome with emotion at the press conference that she could not speak.
At Vaughn’s sentencing, Mrs Ledbetter broke down while giving testimony where she told of the ‘indescribable pain’ of losing her sister, to whom she bears a striking resemblance, and her nieces and nephew.
The judge sentenced Vaughn to four consecutive life sentences with no possibility of parole after he was found guilty on September 20. A jury took less than an hour to convict the computer specialist.
He was eligible for the death penalty when the case began but Illinois has since abolished capital punishment.
Vaughn did not make a statement in court on Tuesday but turned to watch his family as they left the room.
On June 14, 2007, Vaughn ordered his family into their SUV at 5am before pulling off the road and placing a 9mm pistol under his wife’s chin and firing a shot.
He then turned to each of his three children buckled in the back seat and fired, once in the chest and once in the head for each of them.
Abigayle was found holding a stuffed animal while Blake’s wounds indicated he had raised his arm to shield himself.
Prosecutors said Vaughn had dreamed of starting a new life in the Canadian wilderness and viewed his family as what was holding him back.
He posted wistful Internet messages about building a cabin and settling in the Yukon cut off from the world.
‘He was held back by four major obstacles,’ prosecutor Chris Regis said. ‘Those four obstacles were eliminated on June 14, 2007.’
Regis read emails 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.
At trial defense attorneys told jurors that Vaughn’s wife was to blame, saying she was suicidal over their marriage problems.
They suggested she shot her husband in the wrist and leg, then killed the children and herself.
Vaughn’s defense attorney added later that Kimberly Vaughn may have seen the murder of her kids as a twisted act of mercy.
‘(She) was of the mindset that they if she was gone, they were better off with her … “Come with me to heaven,”‘ Lenard said.
Prosecutors balked at that theory, asking jurors whether it seemed reasonable that a woman who disliked guns could have shot her husband twice – only grazing him each time – but then killed each of her children with marksman’s precision.
In closing statements, prosecutors said Kimberly Vaughn was upbeat in the days before her death and that the night before, she had fussed cheerfully over a recipe for ‘cheesy potatoes’
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