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Vaughn sentencing polite end to horrific crime

Christopher Vaughn. Phoinput: 8/15/12. Will County Sheriff's Office.

Christopher Vaughn. Photo input: 8/15/12. Will County Sheriff's Office.

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Updated: January 1, 2013 6:12AM

Of the 51 points in attorney George Lenard’s motion for a new trial for Christopher Vaughn, perhaps the most far-fetched was that somehow the Drew Peterson trial going on in the same courthouse at the same time gave all defense attorneys “a black eye” — therefore prejudicing the jury against his client.

Lenard is correct on two counts: Peterson was a circus compared to this other high-profile Will County trial taking place at the same time. Which is one reason much of the Vaughn case didn’t get the blanket coverage a crime of this horrific proportion would otherwise have received. That’s why I don’t mind sharing a few more courtroom observations written on the yellow note pad I carried during the two-day sentencing that took place this week.

The Lawyers

A good trial lawyer is always fascinating to watch. Lenard was so skilled at his craft that, as he argued for hours on end, I found myself gradually swaying to his side ... until he stopped speaking and my brain clicked back on.

An example: The jury delivered a verdict in less than an hour, which Lenard argued was not enough time to discuss the mountain of evidence — over 80 witnesses and 700 exhibits — presented during the five-week trial. His points sounded plausible ....until the brain reminds you that this mountain of evidence, the vast majority against the defendant, is the reason for the quick verdict.

Lenard’s oration included acting personally insulted by the prosecutor calling him ridiculous, offensive, ludicrous, silly, shameful, embarrassing and dumb. Never mind the fact those words he found so insulting were actually used by the state’s attorney’s office to describe Vaughn’s defense .... that it was his wife who shot the children at point-blank range before turning the gun on herself.

Lenard also took issue with several jurors chatting with the press after the verdict about how Vaughn’s stoic demeanor played into their guilty verdict. “No one knows what’s going on in his head,” he passionately argued about his client. I’ll give him that one. If we knew the answer to that question, maybe we could make sense out of this senseless massacre; better yet, stop psychopaths from killing again.

The families

You couldn’t help but be impressed with the family of Kimberly Vaughn. Despite ongoing grief, they showed class and strength, even as they sat just feet away from the son-in-law who murdered their daughter and grandchildren; even as they sat across from Vaughn’s parents and siblings who obviously believed the defendant’s story, despite the above mentioned pile of evidence. (Personally, I’d like to know what was going on in this family’s heads, but they stuck with no comment.) The Phillips cited faith, family and friends with giving them their strength. I found it particularly compelling when Kimberly’s mom Susan mentioned that because friends often became so distraught when trying to comfort her family after this unimaginable tragedy, the Phillips “ended up being the comforter.”

Court watchers

Besides rows of family, police and media, others in the courtroom for sentencing included several jurors and Kendall County Board member Anne Vickery, who grew close to the Phillips family after offering up her home when they traveled from Missouri for court proceedings. Others simply showed up out of curiosity, including a young father who, during a court recess, summed up all our feelings when he told me, “Dads are supposed to kill for their kids; not kill them.”

The defendant

Much has already been written about the unapologetic, unemotional demeanor of Christopher Vaughn. Still, I was struck by Lenard’s final attempt at leniency when he described to Judge Daniel Rozak his client’s impeccable manners and polite attitude over the five-year-stint in the Will County Jail. He always “treated everyone with respect,” he said, lamenting the fact Vaughn’s “politeness and demeanor were used against him.”

If only he would have shown such respect for those who loved him most.

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