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Defense seeks new trial for Vaughn

Attorneys cite Drew Peterson case among reasons for request

JOLIET, Ill. — Attorneys representing an Oswego man convicted of killing his wife and children on the side of a Channahon frontage road in 2007 are seeking a new trial in the case.

At the sentencing hearing Monday for Christopher Vaughn, Vaughn's attorney George Lenard said the amended motion has been filed and included 51 grounds for a new trial.

Vaughn was found guilty Sept. 20 on four counts of first-degree murder for the June 14, 2007, deaths of his wife, Kimberly, and children Abigayle, 12; Cassandra, 11; and Blake, 8.

Over about two hours, Lenard identified four areas of concern, which included the concurrent Drew Peterson case and its possible effects on the Vaughn trial, alleged indoctrination of the jury foreman by an assistant state's attorney during jury selection, alleged improper deliberations by the jury, and alleged improper statements by Assistant State's Attorney Chris Regis in his closing rebuttal.

He highlighted the similarities between his client's case and Peterson, who was convicted in the death of his third wife, Kathleen Savio. Peterson's case started in July and overlapped with Vaughn's, and the two were held in neighboring courtrooms. He also asserted that the behavior of Peterson's attorneys could have had an effect on Vaughn's case, noting that some of the jurors could have already had exposure to the Peterson case, because it started first.

He suggested the jurors could have a negative perception of him and defense attorneys based on the statements given to the press by Peterson's lawyers.

"That spills over into the Christopher Vaughn case," he said. " ... Because even though the jurors in the Christopher Vaughn case were told not to listen to anything in the media ... about Christopher Vaughn, they were able to follow the Drew Peterson case."

He added that, in some cases, news stories touched on both cases, which would also pose a problem.

Lenard also focused his attention on the jury, both in its decision-making process and its foreman, Dan Lachat. He asserted that Assistant State's Attorney Jim Long indoctrinated Lachat in jury selection by asking him questions that were in line with the state's arguments, asking him if he was a father and how he'd respond if his children were in danger.

Regarding the deliberations, he said it was the first time in his 20-plus year career where the jury did not ask any questions nor ask to review reports, evidence or transcripts.

"It's very rare and it's never happened to me where a jury doesn't ask one single question," he said.

He also questioned the depth of deliberations, and whether the jury had considered the case fully.

"It was 45, 50 minutes, sign the guilty-verdict forms and it's Miller Time," Lenard said, noting the jury's post-verdict stop at a downtown Joliet bar.

He also said, based on interviews with news outlets following, the jury appeared to have improperly based their decision on Vaughn's lack of reaction to proceedings, which shouldn't be considered as evidence because Vaughn did not testify.

Regis' rebuttal at the trial's closing arguments was also in the spotlight. Lenard said it was full of error, and claimed Regis told the jury there was no question about Vaughn's guilt, and "to forget about reasonable doubt."

Assistant State's Attorney Michael Fitzgerald had the chance to rebut Lenard's claims. He said the items outlined by Lenard were within his ability to change — from the jury selection process to the trial's timing.

"If he believed that that case was going to have some kind of impact on the Vaughn trial, he should have filed a continuance," he said.

He said it was unbelievable for Lenard to make it an issue at this point, after making no efforts to minimize the alleged impact. 

"It's unbelievable that the Drew Peterson case would find itself in the Christopher Vaughn case," he said.

Additionally, Fitzgerald said Lenard could have chosen a different juror over Lachat, and that Regis acted properly in addressing the jury, noting that the jury was aware that the state had the burden of proof, and that he told the jury the state had proven Vaughn guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Fitzgerald said the accusation that jurors improperly based their decision on Vaughn's lack of emotion is insulting to the jury, considering the large amounts of evidence and testimony they saw and heard over the course of the five-week trial.

"It doesn't do justice to what they did, their sacrifice for five and a half weeks," he said.

He said the defense is to blame for the grounds Lenard presented.

"The defense has kind of connected the dots on what they didn't do," he said.

Judge Dan Rozak opted to take Monday afternoon and evening to review submitted documents, including clips of media coverage in addition to transcripts from jury selection and the first day of witnesses.

Rozak was to announce his decision when court reconvened at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday.

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