Christopher Vaughn Murder Trial: What’s the Expected Defense?

For background on the ongoing Christopher Vaughn murder trial, see our earlier coverage of the first day of the case.

Christopher Vaughn has been accused of the unthinkable: murdering his wife and three children. His trial began Monday and the prosecution is expected to present evidence that the self-professed Druid staged a murder-suicide in order to start a new life in the Canadian wilderness with a stripper as his companion.

Some of the evidence they’ll show is Vaughn’s personal journal, online postings on Druid message boards, and expert testimony about the victims’ causes of death.

How will Vaughn counter these allegations?

In Christopher Vaughn’s murder trial, his defense lawyers will claim that it was a murder-suicide perpetrated by Vaughn’s late wife.

Vaughn was wounded twice on the day his family died. Prosecutors claim the wounds were self-inflicted. Vaughn claims that his wife shot their children, shot him twice before he was able to flee, and then turned the gun on herself.

Vaughn’s late wife Kimberly reportedly suffered from migraines and high blood pressure. According to the defense, the Vaughns’ oldest daughter also told a friend that her mother was “psycho” and “hearing thoughts in her head.” The friend came forward after the shooting, reports the Chicago Tribune.

Kimberly allegedly wrote a note to her husband about personality changes and anxiety after taking a medication, Topamax, for her migraines. A month after the shootings, the FDA required Topamax’s makers to add a warning label about the risk of suicidal behavior while on the drug.

Vaughn’s defense team won’t have an expert testifying about those side effects, however. According to the Oswego Patch, the judge ruled that the proposed expert’s testimony was “speculative” and not allowable. The defense will, however, be able to show the warning label to jurors.

For expert testimony to be admissible in Illinois, it must comply with Illinois’ Rule 702, known to many as the Frye standard:

“Where an expert witness testifies to an opinion based on a
new or novel scientific methodology or principle, the proponent of the opinion has the burden of showing the methodology or scientific principle on which the opinion is based is sufficiently established to have gained general acceptance in the particular field in which it belongs.”

The judge in Christopher Vaughn’s murder trial apparently felt the defense expert’s proposed testimony was not based on principles generally accepted by scientists. The warning label, on the other hand, indicates a generally accepted side effect.

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Christopher Vaughn Murder Trial: What’s the Expected Defense?