News Column

Drew Peterson Case Delays Sentencing of Christopher Vaughn

Nov. 27, 2012

Steve Schmadeke

Two of Will County's biggest criminal cases converged in court Monday when attorneys for convicted quadruple murderer Christopher Vaughn argued that he was entitled to a new trial because of fallout from Drew Peterson's highly publicized prosecution.

The trials overlapped this summer in adjoining courtrooms on the fourth floor of the Joliet courthouse, where Vaughn and former Bolingbrook police sergeant Peterson were convicted a few weeks apart of first-degree murder.

On Monday, Vaughn was scheduled to be sentenced for the 2007 slayings of his wife and three children, ages 12, 11 and 8, who were shot in the Oswego family's SUV on what Vaughn had said was a trip to a Springfield water park.

But Judge Daniel Rozak halted Vaughn's sentencing so he could review transcripts and television broadcast reports before ruling on the motion for a new trial, which he said he would do Tuesday morning. The courtroom was packed with Vaughn's family, his wife's family, reporters and at least three jurors from the trial.

Vaughn's public defender George Lenard, who cited 51 grounds for a new trial, began his more than two-hour oral argument by taking some shots at former Peterson co-counsel Joel Brodsky.

Lenard criticized a news conference held by Peterson's new defense team that he said seemed to mock the disappearance of Peterson's fourth wife, Stacy. Prosecutors believe Peterson killed Stacy, but he has not been charged. He was tried this summer for the 2004 drowning of his third wife, Kathleen Savio.

"That gave criminal defense attorneys -- all of us -- a black eye," Lenard told the judge, saying jurors may have been so disgusted by this "show" that they were unfairly prejudiced against Vaughn's defense team.

"I think they need to apologize about what they said out there," Lenard later told reporters outside the courthouse.

Prosecutors called the argument "unbelievable," and Peterson attorney Joe Lopez tweeted it was "hilarious to blame us for his loss."

"It's unbelievable that the Drew Peterson case would find itself in the Christopher Vaughn case," Assistant State's Attorney Mike Fitzgerald said.

"If they thought the Drew Peterson trial was going to be an influence, why didn't they do something about it at the time?"

Lenard said he never expected media coverage of the two trials to overlap. He also cited as grounds for a new trial closing arguments that he said were a "personal attack" against him and the speed with which jurors returned a verdict.

Fitzgerald said jurors might have returned a verdict in less than an hour because they found the evidence of Vaughn's guilt "overwhelming."

Lenard said that in his 28 years of practicing law, he's never before seen jurors return a verdict so quickly without asking to review evidence.

"I don't know exactly what it is that they were thinking, but 45 minutes and not asking for any exhibits, not wanting to hear any testimony, that's extremely rare. I've never had that situation before and that's odd."



Source: (c)2012 the Chicago Tribune Distributed by MCT Information Services


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