PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — A true-crime podcast is gaining nationwide attention and shining a spotlight on an Illinois murder case.
Lauren Bright Pacheco is the writer, host, and executive producer of Murder in Illinois. She joined WMBD’s Matt Sheehan for an interview about the podcast, and where Christopher Vaugn’s case stands now.
“In 2007, Chris Vaughn was arrested during a funeral for his wife and three children. He would be tried and convicted of their murders. To this day he maintains no memory of what occurred that tragic day 14 years ago.* Murder in Illinois follows the complicated circumstances that led to Vaughn’s conviction, as well as the forensic evidence his supporters believe proves his innocence- in attempt to answer one question: Who killed the Vaughn family?”Description of Murder in Illinois podcast
The podcast began airing July 8, 2021. It looks into whether Christopher Vaughn, a man from Oswego, Illinois, was justly charged, tried and convicted.
Lauren broke down how the case came on her radar, and why she chose to create the investigative podcast.
“At the time I was specializing in true crime for a daytime show. This case popped up in my news feed, it was the 10-year anniversary,” Bright Pacheco said. “It caught my eye because I had never heard of it before and I was surprised because it was a heartbreakingly, tragic story that involved an entire family. A good-looking, affluent family, and that’s the thing that usually makes the headlines across the nation. Particularly when it’s a family annihilator case. The deeper I dug into the story, the case, and the factors surrounding the arrest and the trial… the more intrigued I became because it became immediately apparent there were red flags left and right. I questioned whether or not Christopher Vaughn was rightfully convicted.
Bright Pacheco called the case a “tragedy onion.”
“You cannot fathom the kind of pain that this horrible tragedy caused both families, friends and loved ones of everyone involved. It was a delicate thing to revisit, but my intention and integrity always revolved around the fact that if Christopher Vaughn was wrongfully convicted, that was the only thing that could make this tragic story even more tragic.”
Sheehan: “There’s been a lot of online chatter and criticism of the views expressed by Christopher Vaughn’s family in the podcast. What are your thoughts?”
“I understand it. But at the same time, I know that if a loved one of mine were accused of what Chris was convicted of, I would be very angry. I would have very complicated feelings. It’s not my job as a journalist to monitor or sanitize the viewpoint of the people I interview,” Lauren said. “It is to present it in a very honest, authentic way. That’s what I strove to do.”
Bright Pacheco said the most interesting reaction to the podcast is a “societal prejudice” against fathers.
“That was one of the many things that was working against Christopher Vaughn. He was a lone survivor, and he was a male. He was very much tried and convicted by the media long before he set foot in the courtroom. This happened in June of 2007, he wasn’t tried until 2012. He sat in prison for five years, which is a red flag for me if you consider our 6th Amendment right to a speedy judicial process,” Lauren said.
Lauren met Christopher Vaughn in person at the Pinckneyville Prison, where he is at to this day. Before this meeting, they had communicated via email and letter. She shares her thoughts about the in-person meeting.
“He is a very petite man, which actually became an even more jarring juxtaposition when we did the crime scene recreation in July of last year in Kentucky. We had an actor who was Vaughn’s height and weight at the time of the tragedy. Vaughn is not even 5’9 in dress shoes,” Lauren said. “To see him next to an SUV of the size of the Expedition. That’s the vehicle the family was killed in, it became even more improbable that he could have pulled off this crime in which the prosecution alleged. Their theory of how Christopher Vaughn murdered his wife and three children was formed the same day as the tragedy by Illinois State Police Sergeant Gary Lawson. When Lawson shared his theory with the then-crime scene investigator, that Vaughn somehow reached through the passenger window, shot his wife before shooting his three children. The trajectory he would have had to have achieved to make any of those shots was impossible from the passenger window. The day that he shared that, which is the day the tragedy happened, the crime scene investigator called that theory “friggin’ impossible.” We have that because Bob Deel was deposed by the initial defense team.”
Sheehan: “Lauren, can you reveal any developments of where Vaughn’s case stands today?”
“I spoke with Jed Stone who is Christopher Vaughn’s very capable and charismatic attorney. He stepped forward and took on this case pro bono. Jed likes to say “the law loves finality more than it loves justice.” Unfortunately, it is going to be very difficult to have the Will County State’s Attorney revisit this case. I can tell you that Jed Stone is preparing a petition for clemency, which he is filing in the spring. There is currently a petition for clemency for Christopher Vaughn that has about 5,000 signatures. His mother has been diligently collecting those signatures to hopefully present to the Governor of Illinois or the Attorney General,” Bright Pacheco said.
Sheehan reached out the Governor’s office on Monday and hasn’t received a response yet.
The Will County State’s Attorney sent the following statement the Sheehan via email.
“In 2012, we proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Christopher Vaughn ruthlessly shot his children in the head and chest at point-blank range after putting a gun under the chin of his wife and pulling the trigger. Vaughn had annihilated his family. Nothing has changed. Vaughn has simply concocted a new, meritless fabrication after a podcaster befriended him and took up his cause in an attempt to gin up listeners. I have never hesitated to dismiss cases when they cannot be proved. In fact, I have dismissed two murder cases on my own accord, over the objections of local law enforcement, when I found they could no longer be proved. (In both cases, the actual perpetrators were later found and convicted.) The evidence in Vaughn’s case, in contrast, was and is overwhelming. Tellingly, the jury convicted Vaughn in less than an hour after hearing from more than 80 witnesses and reviewing approximately 700 exhibits. Vaughn’s latest version is simply a self-serving prevarication that is again absolutely contradicted by the physical evidence. This psychopath is incompetently trying to escape responsibility for murdering his family in cold blood. Sadly, he is being assisted by an unskilled and horribly misinformed podcaster looking only to profit at the expense of the members of the Vaughn family. They have been forced to relive this horrific tragedy as a result of this ill-conceived podcast. In addition to his prison sentence, Vaughn has earned eternal damnation for these brutal murders.”James Glasgow | Will County State’s Attorney
Lauren Bright Pacheco said James Glasgow has not responded to her requests to speak. She claims Vaughn was never given the presumption of innocence.
“That is something that we are all guaranteed living in this country. You do not come up with a theory of how the crime happened the day of the tragedy and never deviate from it,” Lauren said. “Kimberly Vaughn’s family was notified by officers with a grief counselor in tow. Christopher Vaughn’s family was notified by a call from a reporter in the mid-morning and watched it play out on the afternoon news. They were not ever formally notified. Out of the gate, there’s a discrepancy to how law enforcement responded. You also do not arrest a man as he is burying his family, if you give him the presumption of innocence.”
Lauren said the tragedy happened on June 14, 2007. The decision to arrest Vaughn was made on the 22nd of June, and he was arrested the next day.
“That decision was based on two things. When he was found staggering on the frontage road in Joliet, he seemed dazed and confused. He said to the driver who stopped to render assistance that he thought his wife had shot him. He maintained an inability to remember the events that happened in the car. Vaughn was shot twice. Once in his left wrist, another went through his upper left thigh. Very narrowly missing a major artery and his privates,” Bright Pacheco said. Lauren said the gun was held six inches away from his thigh when it was fired.
Lauren said he was arrested based on his inability to remember what had happened and the fact Kimberly Vaughn’s seatbelt was removed.
“It was retracted. It was covered in blood. The initial responders made the assumption Kimberly Vaughn was wearing her safety belt when she was shot and that Christopher Vaughn staged the crime scene. There’s a problem with that because the blood on that safety belt belonged to Christopher Vaughn. The Will County State’s Attorney knew this on the 27th of June,” Lauren said.
Lauren said there are some major concerns with the documents and testimony given to the grand jury. You can hear more about that in the full video.
She said the following statement before ending the interview.
“I don’t want anybody to take my word for this. I invite them to listen to the podcast and go through the many news articles that have been written about this,” she said. “It’s impossible not to realize there something wrong here. There’s something about this case that’s troubling. If Vaughn was this criminal mastermind the State’s Attorney deemed him to be, why would he make such a flawed plan?