JOLIET, Ill. — The family of a mother and her children murdered at the hands of an Oswego father and husband reflected on the trial and moving forward after he was sentenced to life in prison Tuesday in Will County.
Just over two months after jurors convicted Christopher Vaughn in the June 14, 2007, deaths of his wife, Kimberly, 34, and children Abigayle, 12; Cassandra, 11; and Blake, 8, he was given four life sentences without possibility of parole.
During the trial, which lasted just over five weeks, prosecutors sought to prove Vaughn fatally shot his family in their SUV on a frontage road along Interstate 55 in Channahon. Vaughn’s defense shifted the blame onto Kimberly, claiming her medications drove her to commit murder-suicide.
After five weeks in court, jurors sided with the state, returning four guilty verdicts for first-degree murder in under an hour.
Immediately following the sentencing, Kimberly’s parents, Del and Susan Phillips, as well as her twin sister Jennifer Ledbetter, and brother-in-law Wade Ledbetter gave their first public comments following the trial in a conference room at the Joliet Police Department.
In prepared remarks, Del thanked Will County State’s Attorney James Glasgow, prosecutors, law enforcement personnel, as well as others who helped them through the trial process. Del said it’s not been an easy process for the family.
“It’s been a long haul — it’s not been five and a half weeks, it’s been five and a half years,” he said.
He referred to the delay in the case, which was brought on by changes by the state legislature to the death penalty, saying that it didn’t prevent prosecutors from seeking justice in the case.
“Even though (there were) legislative challenges over these last five years, Will County prosecutors remained steadfast and, in their care and custody, my daughter and grandchildren were well served, as evidenced by the verdict and the sentence today,” he said.
The members of the family said they believe now that the trial has concluded, they can move forward in the healing process.
“I think this day will help our family get some closure, but I believe that it’s going to take a long time to heal,” Del said.
His wife agreed.
“I think that since this entire process is over now and we won’t be involved with an appeal, we can begin to really get back to the business of grieving,” Susan said.
She said others advised that it would be difficult to be in the grieving process until after the trial was over. She also said watching the closing arguments made family members realize they had further to go in the process.
“We will never forget these four people, they’re there every day of our lives, but I think the perspective will change as we get older,” she said.
Wade said the trial process always loomed ahead of the family and recalled the difficulty of moving forward.
“You have to put your life on the back burner for awhile and bring this back to the front again, but you try to push it back when you can and go back to living your life and raising your kids,” he said.
In a more lighthearted moment, Del called Wade “my good son-in-law,” along with his other son-in-law in Nebraska.
“I’ve got two out of three,” he said.
A moment later, his tone changed, choking up as he realized he had more thanks to give — to God.
“Thank God for giving us the grace to get through this dark valley,” he said.
Susan cited faith, family and friends as helping her through the last several years.
The couple recounted how much the tragedy had changed theirs and their families’ lives and changes connected to them. Del said something that wouldn’t have been considered in the past — family members selecting spouses — now come under more scrutiny.
“These sort of things come to mind now, we didn’t think of them before,” he said. “We had no indication this individual, that he could be so evil or do such acts, but we did find out the hard way. We will be more vigilant next time.”
He later added that while their experience has changed them in this regard, they do realize Christopher was an exception in what happened, not the rule.
“He’s the evil in the night,” he said.
Susan said the family has sought to move forward by celebrating important moments in the family — she said there’s a hole where Kimberly’s family was, but they try not to dwell.
“Del and I have worked hard that Kim and her children aren’t the focus of our home, that our other children and other grandchildren are celebrated for the great things they’re doing,” she said, noting graduations and other milestones. “We try to be there for them and not have Kim be the elephant in the room.”
Del and Wade weighed in on what they had wanted to hear from Christopher at the sentencing. Christopher instead declined to give a statement.
“In my heart, I was hoping he would open up and say why I did this or what my justification was or why I thought I could get away with it, or what was his motivation,” Del said.
“I’m sorry,” Wade said, interjecting.
“I’m sorry would have been a good one,” Del said. “He could have just said that and it would have helped a little bit on the closure aspect, but he’s always been a person who is very careful on what he did or did not say and he was not as shy as some people think. He was clever and cagey.”