JOLIET, Ill. (AP) – An Illinois man convicted of killing his wife and three children does not deserve a new trial, a judge ruled Tuesday, rejecting a defense attorney’s argument that an unrelated, high-profile trial might have influenced jurors.
Christopher Vaughn was convicted of fatally shooting his family so he could start a new life in the Canadian wilderness. His September trial overlapped with the trial of Drew Peterson, the former suburban Chicago police officer convicted of killing his third wife and whose case had been made into a TV movie.
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 Will County Judge Daniel 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.
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.
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