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Reflecting on Vaughn case: How do we spot evil?

Christopher Vaughn  |  Will County Sheriff's Office photo

Christopher Vaughn | Will County Sheriff's Office photo

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Updated: December 29, 2012 6:07AM

One of the first things I noticed about Christopher Vaughn as he entered the courtroom was his facial hair. Impeccable and dapper, it made him look more like a man posing for GQ than a convicted murderer about to be handed a life sentence for killing his wife and three little kids at point blank range.

I don’t know if Vaughn gave himself this tidy shave before his court appearance this week, or whether it was the work of a Will County jailhouse barber. Either way, Vaughn, no doubt, looked into the mirror when he was all cleaned up. What remains a mystery is who he saw staring back.

Did he see the monster the rest of the world has come to know since the June 2007 murders? Did he see the evil lurking behind otherwise ordinary eyes? Did he see the face of a sociopath who could not only pump deadly bullets into his wife Kimberly and their children, but try to pin the crime on the woman who’d put all her trust in him?

Or did Christopher Vaughn look in the mirror and see the polite young man his lead attorney described to the court before handing Judge Daniel Rozak a pile of written statements from family and friends vouching for his character?

State’s Attorney James Glasgow, standing outside the courthouse on Tuesday after the defendant received four consecutive life sentences, declared Will County has never seen a crime so horrific and hopes to never see another like it.

Yet it wasn’t just the despicable crime that makes this case so haunting. It’s the fact that, during the five-week trial and two-day sentencing, Vaughn displayed absolutely no remorse or emotion — even when he had to stare into the face of his dead wife’s identical twin sister, Jennifer Ledbetter, and listen to her sobs as she read her victim impact statement. After the courtroom was cleared for a short recess and he sat alone at the defense table, Vaughn even picked up the statements written by Kimberly’s family and re-read them.

If the convicted killer ever turned around to acknowledge his own family sitting in support a couple rows behind him, I missed it. Afterward, the Vaughn family gathered with defense attorney George Lenard to talk about the appeals process in — I can only assume — the ongoing belief their son is not guilty of killing their grandchildren, despite the mountain of overwhelming evidence prosecutors laid out in the long trial.

Obviously, they don’t see the monster.

But until Christopher Vaughn was charged with slaying his family, no one else did, either. That was made clear in the victim impact statements, which described how he had been so loved and welcomed by all of Kimberly’s family. It was also reinforced in their press conference following the sentencing. Chris — described as a “computer geek” — may not have been as comfortable playing with, or hugging, his kids, Kimberly’s father Del Phillips said, but there were no red flags that marked his son-in-law as untrustworthy, much less capable of wiping out his family.

In her statement to the court, Kimberly’s mother Susan asked over and over why Christopher had to murder Kim and the kids to escape the confines of suburban life. Why not walk away, she wondered? Why not divorce?

It’s a question the Phillips family, who have not spoken to Vaughn since before the funerals, wish the defendant would have answered when the judge asked if he had anything to say before being sent away for life.

Even an “I’m sorry,” said Del Phillips, would have gone a long way in easing their grief.

Unfortunately, there are people walking among us who don’t care a lick about how others feel.

In describing the ripple effect of these murders, Del Phillips said many of their family and friends now say they are suspicious of every new person loved ones bring into their lives. They may look normal, sound normal, even act normal for years and years. But do we really ever know?

After all, if monsters can look in the mirror and not see evil, how are we supposed to see it?

That’s what makes this case most disturbing of all.

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