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Juror: Physical evidence, Vaughn’s lack of emotion key

Sulikowski, 24, describes verdict decision, experience during high-profile trial

NEW LENOX, Ill. — Members of the 12-person Christopher Vaughn jury focused mainly on the case's physical evidence before coming to their conclusion of his guilt, one jury member said Friday.

In a phone interview, Steve Sulikowski, a 24-year-old from New Lenox, described his experience serving as part of the jury that took less than an hour Thursday to convict Vaughn on first-degree murder charges in the shooting deaths of his wife, Kimberly, and children Abigayle, 12; Cassandra, 11; and Blake, 8, on June 14, 2007, in Channahon.

While ready to bring the trial to an end, Sulikowski said the group's first interest in entering the jury room at about 3:30 p.m. Thursday wasn't to start deliberations — it was a delayed lunch.

"Our main discussion was getting food because we didn't eat yet," he said, noting that there was no lunch break dividing about six hours of closing arguments.

Over that late lunch, the group selected a foreman, Dan Lachat. Sulikowski said Lachat was chosen because for his background as an insurance company lawyer. The group next took a silent vote on their thoughts by writing on strips of paper.

The result was 11 guilty votes and one undecided that was later determined to be a guilty vote when one of the jurors admitted to having bad handwriting. A second vote was unanimous, so the group verbally agreed and signed the paperwork for the verdict.

Sulikowski said the jury did discuss some areas of the case before coming to the decision, which was made in about 45 minutes, focusing heavily on the hard evidence.

"How did Kim's blood get on Chris' clothes? How did Chris' blood get on Kim's clothes?" he said. "We're there to make a decision, not make assumptions."

Sulikowski said witnesses discussing blood stain evidence marked the turning point in his mind that pointed to Christopher's guilt. He also noted that Christopher's fleece jacket, with two unexplained bullet holes, also posed a problem to the defense.

"What we mainly considered was how did bullet holes get in clothes without him being injured — how did his blood trail get in the area of the murder weapon?" he added. "We only came up with one decision — that he had to be the one who did it."

While the jury took background information into account, like the emails between Christopher and Canadian Steve Willet about leaving his family to live in Canada, Sulikowski said they mainly wanted to stick to physical evidence.

He said that, in addition to processing the more than 90 witnesses and 700 pieces of evidence, the jury was naturally also interested in tracking Vaughn's reactions to the proceedings. He said Vaughn remained neutral throughout.

"It was really hard to decipher any kind of emotion from him, he was very emotionless," he said.

He said that lack of emotion, while presented by witnesses and the defense as part of who Christopher is, was striking.

"I'm not a father or anything like that, but I have a dog," he said. "If somebody was showing me a picture of my dead dog, I would have emotions."

He said when the verdict was read, Christopher's family members, seated on the defense side of the courtroom, also did not show emotion, but Kimberly's family, from her sisters to her brother-in-law, was "extremely emotional."

The trial was the first time Sulikowski had been on a jury. He said the experience was challenging, and being part of a high-profile case was also occasionally nerve-wracking, especially with so much media scrutiny.

Sulikowski, a service manager for a Goodyear Just Tires shop, said the biggest challenge throughout the five-week trial was sitting all day, keeping his focus on what was being presented to the jury, particularly because his job is more physical. He said careful attention was required to process the details and to assess the witnesses' messages.

"They can't just come out and say things they need to say," he said. "It's more trying to figure out what they're trying to say."

Seeing gruesome photos and hearing explicit details of the crime scene and aftermath was another hard part of serving as a juror, he said.

"It was pretty difficult to be in the room with that, but we were there to take that evidence," he said.

While it was not an easy process, Sulikowski said he knows the jury made the right conclusion.

"It does make me happy to see that the families got to have some closure from it," he said. "It will make me sleep better tonight knowing that I made the right decision."

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