Former Sammamish man convicted in Illinois of killing wife, 3 children — (The Seattle Times)

SSRI Ed note: Mom on deadly combo of nortryptaline and Topomax kills kids and self, tunnel vision police blame husband she also tried to kill

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The Seattle Times

September 20, 2012 at 9:40 PM

The Associated Press

This is an undated picture of the Vaughn family, from left, Blake, Kimberly, Abigayle, Christopher, and Cassandra, at their home in Oswego, Ill. (AP Photo/The Chicago Sun Times)

JOLIET, Ill. –  Jurors convicted a former Sammamish man of murder Thursday in the 2007 deaths of his wife and three school-aged children during a road trip to a water park.

Christopher Vaughn, a 37-year-old computer specialist, traveled to northwestern Canada a month before the slayings, and had compiled survival guides and posted wistful Internet messages about constructing a cabin and settling for good in the Yukon cut off from the world, state attorneys said.

The family at one time lived in the 22600 block of Northeast 15th Place in Sammamish.

Jurors took less than an hour to convict Vaughn.

It started as a death-penalty case, but Illinois has since abolished capital punishment. That means Vaughn faces a maximum life sentence.

Prosecutors say Vaughn pulled off the highway after 5 a.m. on June 14, 2007, placed a pistol under his wife Kimberly’s chin and fired.

They say he then shot 12-year-old Abigayle, 11-year-old Cassandra and 8-year-old Blake in the chest and head.

“He was held back by four major obstacles,” prosecutor Chris Regis said. “Those four obstacles were eliminated on June 14, 2007.”

Just after 5 a.m. on that day, as they headed to a Springfield waterpark from their Oswego home, Vaughn pulled the family SUV off the highway, placed a 9-mm Taurus pistol under his 34-year-old wife Kimberly’s chin and fired, prosecutors told jurors.

Regis read emails Christopher Vaughn wrote to a friend before the murders saying he longed for a life unencumbered by cellphones and other hallmarks of modernity. He cited poet Henry David Thoreau about the virtue of shrugging off obligations.

“I just want to live plain and simple,” Vaughn wrote in one email.

He had long since written off his wife and kids, Regis told jurors.

“He’s ready to drop off the face of the earth and disappear,” he said. “This is all about him. … Me, me, me, me. I, I, I.”

Christopher Vaughn took notes during nearly six straight hours of closings but displayed little emotion as he sat at the defense table, even when prosecutors displayed crime-scene photos of his wife, her head hanging back and dried blood from her nose and mouth.

In his closing, defense attorney George Lenard repeated Vaughn’s contention that his wife — suicidal over marriage troubles and affected emotionally by antidepressant medication — shot Vaughn in the wrist and leg, killed the children and then herself.

Lenard added later that Kimberly Vaughn may have seen the murder of her kids as a twisted act of mercy.

“(She) was of the mindset that they if she was gone, they were better off with her …‘Come with me to heaven,”’ Lenard said, depicting what the mother might have been thinking.  Prosecutors balked at that idea.

In his closing, Mike Fitzgerald cited witnesses who testified that Kimberly Vaughn was upbeat around the time and that, just the evening before, she had fussed cheerfully over a recipe for “cheesy potatoes.”

Moreover, he asked how the wife could have just grazed her husband with two bullets as he sat right next to her — yet somehow managed to put a bullet into each of her kid’s heads. “No way, ladies and gentlemen,” Fitzgerald said. “No way that’s possible.”


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Vaughn Jury Foreman Writing Book About Trial

CBS Chicago

JOLIET, Ill. (CBS) — A Will County attorney is looking to write a book about his role as foreman on the Christopher Vaughn murder trial.

As WBBM Newsradio’s Lisa Fielding reports, Dan Lachat says everywhere he goes, he’s asked about the case.

“Everyone I know says I should write a book,” Lachat says.

Now, he says, it’s an experience he wants to share.

“I know there is a lot of interest in it locally. That’s why I thought about the idea of a book,” he says.

Over the course of five weeks, he and his fellow jurors heard from 100 witnesses and had to go through 700 pieces of evidence, but it took them less than an hour to find Vaughn guilty of killing his wife and three children.

“Everything that we saw and heard really pointed to Christopher Vaughn,” he said.

Lachat says there was no doubt in the jurors’ minds of Vaughn’s guilt, and they never even considered the defense argument that his wife committed the murders. He also said jurors were struck by Vaughn’s lack of emotion during often gruesome testimony.

Prosecutors said Vaughn shot his family to death in their SUV in 2007, in a bid to start a new life in the Canadian wilderness.

Lachat says the trial has affected him for the rest of his life.

“The impact that this has had, it has changed my life seeing the things that we did. I also have more respect for the law enforcement personnel as far as the work they did on this,” he says. “All I can say is love your family. It’s made me love my family more because of it.”

Vaughn faces life in prison and will be sentenced Nov. 26th.

Lachat says he’s in the preliminary stages of writing the book’s first chapter.


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Cop testified Vaughn’s wife may have killed children, then herself, investigator says.   As husband’s trial looms, letter yields new details in 2007 deaths

Chicago Tribune

March 23, 2012

By Steve Schmadeke, Chicago Tribune reporter

An Illinois State Police investigator has testified that Christopher Vaughn, charged with killing his wife and three children, may not be responsible for their deaths, a former member of Vaughn’s defense team said.

Sgt. Robert Deel, who is no longer a crime scene investigator after prosecutors faulted his work on another murder case, testified that the evidence convinced him that Vaughn’s wife might have shot her husband and children before killing herself, the former defense team member said. Vaughn suffered minor gunshot wounds in his wrist and leg.

Deel’s testimony and some new details in the case are included in a letter sent this month by Vaughn’s former private investigator to the state inspector general’s office, asking for an outside examination into “issues of serious negligence and or misconduct” by state police investigators.

Vaughn, 37, is charged with killing his family in their Ford Expedition after pulling off Interstate 55 in Channahon Township on the way from Oswego to a Springfield water park in 2007. His trial is scheduled to begin in August.

The letter by private investigator Bill Clutter alleges state police had “tunnel vision” that led them to overlook bullet trajectory evidence and ignore concerns from Deel.

The letter also claims a bullet was fired at Vaughn’s head by his wife, Kimberly, that was deflected away when he raised his left arm and the projectile hit his heavy silver watch.

Deel said during a deposition with Vaughn’s attorneys, according to the letter, that his fellow investigators quickly dismissed the possibility that anyone but Christopher Vaughn was responsible for the slayings:

“I wasn’t being listened to by them,” he said. “In fact, every time that I offered up something that was contrary to what they said, they had some reason why I didn’t know what I was talking about, and basically it all fell back on that Christopher Vaughn is a criminal mastermind and he knows all about crime scenes and that he would be able to fool me into thinking that something else happened.”

Deel has been faulted for failing to recover any evidence while investigating the 2004 death of Drew Peterson’s ex-wife Kathleen Savio in her dry Bolingbrook bathtub, prosecutors have said. Peterson was charged with Savio’s murder after her body was exhumed years later.

Will County prosecutors asked that Deel never process another crime scene in their county again. Deel has since been assigned to patrol, officials said.

A spokesman for the Will County state’s attorney’s office said the letter is full of “tremendous inaccuracies,” though he declined to name them. A state police spokeswoman said the agency couldn’t comment on a pending case.

“It’s really questionable,” said state’s attorney spokesman Charles Pelkie of Clutter’s letter. Clutter “is a potential witness for the defense. No potential witness should be discussing these issues publicly.”

Vaughn’s attorney George Lenard declined to comment.

Investigators said they believed that after Vaughn pulled over, he retrieved his handgun from a roof rack, wrapped it in his fleece jacket, then shot his wife in the head and shot each of his children — ages 12, 11 and 8 — twice from the vehicle’s passenger side.

Deel told Vaughn’s attorneys that he didn’t think that version of events was possible, according to the letter.

After about 10 hours of questioning, the letter said, Vaughn gave police a brief account of what happened:

“I got back in the truck and I looked over at Kim and I think she — I think she had a gun. It doesn’t — right in my face and I put my hand up (takes left arm up to his forehead) and ugh, and (long pause) everything kind of went numb and uhm, (long pause) I don’t know if she was mad at me or what. There was no way she could have hurt the kids.

“I just didn’t think it was real … it was like my mind shut off. … I don’t remember her saying anything. … I looked over and thought I saw a gun but, I knew that was impossible — why does Kim have a gun?”

Vaughn told authorities he checked the roof rack and tires after pulling over because his wife felt sick. He got back into their SUV, looked down and saw his leg bleeding, got out, fell to the ground and limped down the road and flagged down a car, according to the letter.

Kimberly Vaughn was taking migraine medication that her physician has testified would increase the risk of having suicidal thoughts, the letter said. Prosecutors have said there’s no evidence she was suicidal.

The letter also indicates the forensic puzzle that jurors may have to sort out in the case, including how Vaughn’s blood got on his wife’s retracted seat belt, how her husband’s blood got on Kimberly’s thumb and the reasons for the bullet holes in Vaughn’s fleece jacket.

All of that evidence, Clutter wrote, supports Vaughn’s version of events.


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Professional Investigator Magazine

November/December 2013

by Bill Clutter

Note: the update on the 2010 Moore Glenmullen study shows of all medications with side effects reported to the FDA and Health Canada, Nortryptaline is the 4th highest on violence and suicide, combined.   Given that Topomax also carries a high risk of suicide (PRR 4.7), although it did not make the Top 30 for homicide and suicide, the combination should have been a serious red flag to investigators.  

Even more compelling evidence supporting a murder-suicide came over a year after Chris was arrested when the Food and Drug Administration recommended a black box warning for a risk of suicidal behavior for the medicine Kimberly was taking to treat her stress-induced migraine headaches. After she enrolled in her online class, Kimberly began to experience migraine headaches that her doccor attributed to stress. It’s worth mentioning that when Christopher was interviewed by police they suggested that he had been “stressed out,” which caused him to shoot and kill his family.

But there is more than just stress involved here. Kimberly’s doctor began to prescribe a cocktail of medications to relieve her migraine headaches, including the prescription medications Nortriptyline and Topamax. Both medications were detected in the toxicology testing conducted at autopsy. The Illinois State Police followed up by issuing subpoenas to her physicians requesting her medical records “that may indicate suicidal or homicidal thoughts or impulses,  or  relating  to  Kimberly’s  prescriptions for and utilization of the drugs referred to as Topamax, Avapro, and Nortriptyline. “She was taking Avapro for high blood pressure.

On December 16, 2008, the FDA released a report linking a statistically significant risk of suicide in patients taking the prescription medication Topamax. Approved by the FDA co treat epilepsy and seizures, Topamax has an off label use for che treatment of migraine headaches.

The prosecution won a motion to introduce all of Kim’s emails to show to the jury that she was a happy person who was planning for the future. The prosecution argued co the jury that nowhere in these emails was any hint of suicidal ideation.

But there was one email she wrote to her husband on May 24, 2007, three weeks before her death that provides the best supporting evidence that she was experiencing dangerous side effects of her medications. After visiting a new doctor who specialized in osteopathic medicine, Kim wrote that her new doctor told her, “stopping the migraine medication … will also help stop my anxiety . . . told him that you had noticed and I had noticed a big personality change and anxiety change and that I was lethargic (tired all the time).”

According to the new medication guide published in May 2009, the FDA required the manufacturer to insert into the product labeling new warnings informing patients and physicians: “Effects on Thinking…TOPAMAX may cause depression or mood problems, tiredness, and sleepiness”. Other side effects: “acting aggressive, being angry or violent” and “acting on dangerous impulses.”

The new medication guide advised patients to inform their doctor right away if they experienced anxiety while taking the medication. Her chief complaint on the day she went to see the osteopath was for the onset of “high anxiety”.

We  asked the doctor who prescribed the Topamax about his patient’s email co her husband. He said her big change in personality was of concern to him. Had he known this he would have taken her off the medication right away.

“Compared with what I knew about Kimberly, yes, that would be a big change. ..That would be significant”, he said.

Then the doctor was asked what the significance would be taking both medications Nortriptyline and Topamax together. He replied, “Well, it would increase the risk of suicidal thoughts.”

Christopher  Vaughn  was  sentenced on  Nov. 26, 2012,  to four consecutive life terms. He is at Menard Correctional Center, one of the most violent prisons in Illinois.