Parents of Christopher Vaughn sue Will County state’s attorney, others as bid for freedom continues
Vaughn’s parents argue they’ve lost time and income traveling to see their son in prison. Vaughn is being held in Pinckneyville Correctional Center, serving four life sentences for the murders of his wife and three children.
The ongoing effort to free a man convicted of murdering his wife and three children spilled into court for the first time Monday, when the parents of Christopher Vaughn filed a federal lawsuit against Will County State’s Attorney James Glasgow and others.
Vaughn’s new attorney, Keith Altman, told the Chicago Sun-Times there are also plans to file a motion by the end of the year in Will County Circuit Court, where Vaughn was found guilty a decade ago. He said the ultimate goal remains to undo Vaughn’s conviction.
For now, the new lawsuit alleges improper manipulation of the grand jury that indicted Vaughn. It claims an Illinois State Police sergeant “knowingly falsely testified” that blood found on a seatbelt in the Vaughn family’s SUV belonged to Vaughn’s wife, Kimberly.
However, when pressed by the Sun-Times, Altman acknowledged the sergeant “did not explicitly say it was Kimberly’s blood.” Rather, he said, the sergeant “implied” it.
“When you take his testimony there, it would certainly lead any reasonable person to believe that it was Kimberly’s blood on the seatbelt,” Altman said.
Vaughn’s parents argue they’ve lost time and income because they have had to travel to see their son in prison. Vaughn, who is not listed as a plaintiff, is currently being held in Pinckneyville Correctional Center, where he is serving four life sentences.
Altman said Vaughn is “very interested in trying to rectify the situation and defend himself.” Also listed as defendants in the lawsuit are former prosecutor John Connor, one-time Illinois State Police Sgt. Gary Lawson and Kelly Krajnik, who worked as a forensic scientist for the State Police.
The State Police declined to comment on the lawsuit Monday. Glasgow, who previously has told the Sun-Times Vaughn would go free “when hell freezes over,” released a statement through his office Monday afternoon.
“In the successful prosecution of Christopher Vaughn, we called 90 witnesses to the stand in our case ... and the jury returned a guilty verdict in 60 minutes,” Glasgow said.
That jury in September 2012 found Vaughn guilty of the June 14, 2007, murders of Kimberly and the couple’s children: 12-year-old Abigayle, 11-year-old Cassandra and 8-year-old Blake. Their bodies were found in the SUV while it was parked in a secluded area along a frontage road near Interstate 55 and Bluff Road.
Vaughn’s defense team argued at trial that Kimberly shot him and the kids and then killed herself. They also pointed to FDA warnings that drugs Kimberly took — Topamax and Nortriptyline — could lead to suicide.
The new lawsuit focuses on the proceedings that led up to Vaughn’s indictment. It alleges a draft lab report prepared by Krajnik and dated July 3, 2007, identified Vaughn as the source of the blood found on Kimberly’s seatbelt. It also listed Christopher and Kimberly Vaughn as suspects, according to the lawsuit.
A grand jury was then convened on July 25, 2007. That’s when the lawsuit alleges Lawson falsely testified the blood on the seatbelt belonged to Kimberly.
But a prosecutor did not ask Lawson who the blood belonged to and Lawson did not say, according to a transcript of the testimony obtained by the Sun-Times. Rather, the prosecutor asked, “There was blood on that seat belt, was there not?”
“Yes, it was,” Lawson replied.
The prosecutor asked, “And when Kimberly Vaughn was found by the paramedics and by the police, she was not wearing a seat belt?”
“That’s correct,” Lawson said.
The prosecutor asked, “And that is significant because she was wearing that seat belt when she was shot?”
“That’s correct,” Lawson said.
Altman, who said he is legally blind and can’t “substantively read a document,” had his team review the transcript of the grand jury testimony before he filed the new lawsuit. Later, he told the Sun-Times the testimony was “certainly deceptive” and Lawson “had an obligation to tell the grand jury that it was Chris’ blood on the seatbelt.”
Prosecutors went on to successfully argue at trial that Vaughn unbuckled his wife’s seatbelt after shooting Kimberly, the kids and himself. Altman insisted Kimberly’s blood should have been found on the seatbelt if it had been buckled when she was shot.
The grand jury returned an indictment against Vaughn on July 25, 2007. The next day, a second lab report was prepared by Krajnik listing only Vaughn as a suspect but altering no other information, the lawsuit said.
Lauren Bright Pacheco, the host of the podcast “Murder in Illinois” who has insisted Vaughn is innocent, said Krajnik’s removal of Kimberly Vaughn’s name as a suspect is troubling.
“Who instructed her to take Kimberly Vaughn’s name off of the suspect line?” Pacheco said.