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Vaughn seeks new  trial with novel claim

Christopher Vaughn  |  Will County Sheriff's Office photo

Christopher Vaughn | Will County Sheriff's Office photo

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Updated: December 28, 2012 6:02AM

Drew Peterson’s lawyers have taken heat for losing his Will County murder trial this summer.

Now Christopher Vaughn’s attorney claims their over-the-top behavior — donning sunglasses and mugging daily for TV cameras while making jokes about the murder charges against Peterson — helped taint the trial of Vaughn, who was convicted in September of killing his wife and their three children in June 2007.

Defense attorney George Lenard made the novel argument Monday while arguing for a new trial on what was meant to be Vaughn’s sentencing day. Vaughn, 38, faces life imprisonment. His sentencing hearing will likely begin Tuesday.

Circuit Court Judge Daniel Rozak said he would consider Lenard’s motion overnight, meaning family members and numerous witnesses who appeared in the courtroom must return Tuesday if they want to see the five-year-old case through to its conclusion.

Vaughn, who was clean-shaven and wore a suit throughout his trial, appeared in court Monday with a goatee and his hair buzzed short.

Outside the courtroom, Lenard said the comments and actions by Peterson’s attorneys could have left Vaughn’s jury distrustful of all defense attorneys.

“It didn’t help,” said Lenard, who was a former member of Peterson’s defense team.

There has been a strange connection between the Vaughn and Peterson trials since they were scheduled to begin three weeks apart this summer. Testimony in the trials overlapped in courtrooms that were next to each other. They also involved a few of the same witnesses and, initially, the same sentencing date before Peterson’s sentencing was delayed.

Lenard said he never could have predicted the effects that the Peterson trial could have on the Vaughn jury. He pointed to a question-and-answer session Peterson’s lawyers held with reporters, in which they cracked jokes about the disappearance of Peterson’s fourth wife, Stacy Peterson.

“That gave criminal defense attorneys, all of us, a black eye,” Lenard said.

Peterson’s former lead attorney, Joel Brodsky, who recently withdrew from the team handling Peterson’s appeal because its main argument is Brodsky’s alleged mistakes, described the claims raised by Lenard as “just bizarre. When you don’t have a good argument, you make a bad one.”

Lenard’s bid for a new trial isn’t entirely dependent on his Peterson-trial argument. He also said the jury foreman in Vaughn’s trial, attorney Dan Lachat, was indoctrinated during jury selection by a prosecutor who asked pointed questions about Lachat’s children, what he would do to protect them and whether he was familiar with guns.

Lachat was in Rozak’s courtroom Monday, which Lenard called “unusual,” but Lachat declined to speak to reporters.

Lenard also complained at length about the passionate closing argument of Assistant State’s Attorney Chris Regis at Vaughn’s trial, in which Regis used words such as “ridiculous,” “offensive,” “shameful” and “embarrassing” to describe Lenard’s closing argument.

And Lenard questioned the jury’s verdict because it was reached in less than an hour after a five-week trial that featured more than 80 witnesses and more than 700 pieces of evidence.

“That tells me that there’s something that went terribly wrong in the trial,” Lenard said.

Assistant State’s Attorney Michael Fitzgerald told the judge that Lenard has simply connected the dots between what Lenard failed to do — not objecting during portions of Regis’ closing argument and the selection of Lachat for the jury — and his not seeking a continuance after Peterson’s trial was scheduled so close to Vaughn’s.

“It’s unbelievable that the Drew Peterson case would find itself in the Christopher Vaughn case,” Fitzgerald said.

With Lenard’s motion unlikely to succeed, members of Kimberly Vaughn’s family are expected to testify Tuesday about the pain of losing her and the children in a calculated murder seemingly motivated by Vaughn’s desire to live in isolation in the Canadian wilderness.

Police found the bodies of Kimberly Vaughn and the children in the family vehicle, which was parked in a gravel drive off a frontage road along Interstate 55. Christopher Vaughn was shot in his left wrist and thigh and told police his wife shot him before she killed the children and herself.

But prosecutors convinced the jury that Vaughn pulled off the expressway, got out of the car, shot his wife under her chin and then reached over her body to fire two bullets at close-range through each of his children.

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