JOLIET, Ill. — It took five years to get to the case to trial and five weeks to get through all the testimony. But it took just 50 minutes of deliberations for jurors to find Christopher Vaughn guilty.
The suburban Chicago computer specialist was convicted of fatally shooting his wife and three school-age children during what he told them was a road trip to a water park.
Vaughn slaughtered his family because he saw them as obstacles to his dream of starting a new life subsisting in the Canadian wilderness, prosecutors told jurors before they withdrew to deliberate.
Vaughn, 37, hunched forward as jurors re-entered the Joliet courtroom but 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.