Christopher Vaughn's murder trial lasted a full month, but it only took the jury 50 minutes to signal the court that they had a verdict.
That verdict was guilty on all four counts of first-degree murder. Vaughn sat expressionless while Will County Judge Daniel Rozak read the finding and as each juror repeated it in turn.
"This case was not just a murder, it was an atrocity," Will County State's Attorney James Glasgow said at the trial's conclusion Thursday afternoon.
Vaughn, 37, killed his entire family in June 2007. He initially faced the death penalty if convicted, and that played a large part in the case's lurching progress through the court system.
"If there's a case that deserves the death penalty, it's this case," Glasgow said.
Gov. Patrick Quinn abolished the death penalty in 2011.
"He's a sociopath," Glasgow said of Vaughn. "He's going to get life in prison and then he's going to be on his road to perdition."
Judge Rozak set Vaughn's sentencing for Nov. 26—the same day as the sentencing hearing for ex-Bolingbrook cop and convicted wife-killer Drew Peterson.
Closing arguments in the Vaughn case took six hours. Vaughn's attorney, George Lenard, made a last desperate bid to convince the jury that it was actually Vaughn's wife, Kimberly Vaughn, 34, who put bullets in the head and torso of each of their three children—Blake, 8, Cassandra, 11, and Abigayle, 12—before sticking a pistol under her chin and pulling the trigger a final time.
Before shooting the children, Lenard said, Kimberly Vaughn tried to kill Christopher Vaughn, but he escaped with minor bullet wounds to his wrist and thigh.
"Why would a mother kill her children?" Lenard asked the jury. "We are rational people. It's difficult for rational people to understand irrational acts. But it does happen. Women do kill their children."
Lenard then speculated that Kimberly Vaughn thought her children were better off dead than alive, and referenced a registered sex offender she learned was living in the family's Oswego subdivision as factoring into her decision to kill them.
"Come with me, come with me to heaven," Lenard imagined Kimberly Vaughn saying to her children. "You're going to be away from harm. You're going to be away from sex offenders. You're going to be away from pedophiles."
Assistant State's Attorney Chris Regis then tore into both Christopher Vaughn's alibi and Lenard's defense.
He called Vaughn's sometimes contradictory explanation to Illinois State Police detectives "ridiculous," "full of holes," "ludicrous," "bizarre," "laughable," "unbelievable," "absurd," "insane" and "silly."
As far as Lenard's defense, which focused on Kimberly Vaughn being the real murderer, Regis labeled it "shameful and embarrassing too."
Regis punctuated his rebuttal argument with video of state police detectives questioning Christopher Vaughn about what happened to his wife and children. In the video, state police Special Agent Cornelius Monroe arrayed photographs of the Vaughns' children in front of him on a desk. A visibly irritated Christopher Vaughn tried to sweep the pictures off the desktop. He succeeded in crumpling and throwing all of them to the floor except for the one of his son, Blake.
"What did he do to those kids?" Regis said. "He destroyed them. He picked them up, crumpled them up and threw them."
The detectives left Vaughn alone in the interrogation room with the photograph of his son. Vaughn pushed the picture away and ultimately covered it with a folder.
"It's the first time he's seen Blake since he put a bullet in his head and he doesn't know what to do," Regis said of the video. "He doesn't know how to react. That picture is like The Tell-Tale Heart. It's beating louder and louder. That picture's screaming at him, just like Blake screamed when he put a bullet in his head."
Prosecutors alleged that Christopher Vaughn wiped out his entire family in order to free himself from responsibility. He wanted to take off and live outside society in the Yukon wilderness, Regis said. Christopher Vaughn allegedly planned to ask a stripper from a Stone Park club to join him in his new life.
The police said they found Christopher Vaughn's plans outlined in encrypted files stored on his laptop computer. Regis said the police also found encrypted files written in a secret code and a a quote from the Henry D. Thoreau poem Walking:
"If you are ready to leave father and mother, and brother and sister, and wife and child and friends, and never see them again,—if you have paid your debts, and made your will, and settled all your affairs, and are a free man, then you are ready for a walk."
"Christopher Vaughn wanted to take that walk but he wasn't ready," Regis said, explaining that Christopher Vaughn's wife and children were all that stood between him and his migration to the northern wilderness.
Jury foreman Dan Lachat said the "totality" of the case led him to vote guilty.
After the verdict, Glasgow spoke of the brutal nature of the killings and echoed Regis' accusation that Vaughn felt no compunction over murdering his wife and children.
"We've never had anybody kill their family execution-style like this," he said. "He feels nothing—no compassion, no remorse."