Jury picked in Vaughn trial, alternates still needed
By Jon Seidel firstname.lastname@example.org August 13, 2012 10:30AM
Updated: August 13, 2012 10:55PM
JOLIET — Five years after police found his wife and three young children gunned down in the back of their SUV, a jury has finally been picked to decide if Christopher Vaughn pulled the trigger.
The 37-year-old Oswego man wore a white shirt, dark pants and tan jacket for his long day in court Monday. He wore no tie, though, and his jacket looked a little baggy.
He joined his lawyers in their morning introductions to 34 potential jurors. He stood, looked around the room and said, “Good morning, ladies and gentlemen.”
Then he nodded and sat down. He didn’t say his name.
It took Vaughn’s lawyers and prosecutors all day to choose a jury of eight men and four women. The attorneys will return to the courtroom Tuesday to pick six alternates. Opening statements are set for Aug. 20.
Vaughn is accused in the June 14, 2007, slayings of his wife, Kimberly, and their three children: Abigayle, 12; Cassandra, 11; and Blake, 8. Authorities discovered their bodies that day in their SUV, parked on a frontage road just west of Interstate 55, after Vaughn flagged down a passing motorist near Channahon.
He had minor gunshot wounds on his wrist and leg, and he blamed his wife for the shootings. The family had been on its way to Knight’s Water Park in Springfield.
Prosecutors have said he may have wanted to abandon his life in suburban Chicago to live in the Canadian wilderness. His wife had a $1 million life insurance policy that listed him as a beneficiary.
But Vaughn has said Kimberly was angry the day of the shootings because he’d confessed he had an affair. Judge Daniel Rozak, who is presiding over the trial, has also said jurors can hear about the anti-seizure drug Topamax that Kimberly Vaughn was taking when she died. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has warned it could increase the risk of suicidal behavior.
Lawyers peppered the potential jury pool Monday with questions about prescription medications — several said they’ve taken medication for anxiety, depression or migraines or knew someone who has — as well as their experiences with guns and whether they liked outdoor activities like camping.
At one point Vaughn defense attorney George Lenard accused Assistant State’s Attorney Jim Long of trying to indoctrinate the jury. Long had asked some jurors how they’d react if they thought their children were in danger. Long said he only wanted to explore the demeanor of the jury pool.
Many potential jurors said they’d read about the Vaughn case, and a few said they’d have a hard time ignoring what they’ve heard on TV or read in the newspaper about it. One man said if it looks like a duck and walks like a duck, “it’s a duck.”
“I would say the defendant is here for a reason,” the man said. “He’s probably guilty.”
That man wasn’t picked for Vaughn’s jury, which ultimately includes an attorney who said he has three boys and coaches football, a retired business owner with four children and 12 grandchildren, and a local truck driver whose wife is a nurse and barely let Long finish before insisting he’d risk his own life for his children.
The judge and the lawyers told the jurors Vaughn’s trial could last between four and six weeks. And it will play out in the courtroom next door to the murder trial of Drew Peterson, the former Bolingbrook cop accused of killing his third wife.