(Updated: 11 a.m.)
JOLIET, Ill. — A suburban Chicago man was sentenced to life in prison on Tuesday for killing his wife and three school-age children in the family's SUV as they drove to an Illinois waterpark — allegedly so he could start a new life subsisting in the Canadian wilderness.
The sentencing of Christopher Vaughn, 37, came two months after jurors found him guilty of killing his 34-year-old wife Kimberly and their children on June 14, 2007. Each child was shot once in the chest and head while buckled in the back seat.
The judge sentenced to Vaughn to four consecutive life sentences with no possibility of parole. Vaughn did not make a statement in court.
Vaughn, who lived with his family in a spacious Oswego home, faced a mandatory life term for the killings. But the hearing in Joliet gave relatives a chance to confront him and to convey how much pain he caused.
The 2007 murders started out as a death penalty case, slowing the pace to trial. But Illinois has since abolished capital punishment, making life in prison the maximum penalty.
Vaughn murdered his family members, prosecutors say, because he saw them as obstacles to his dream of a new life in Canada. He posted wistful Internet messages about building a cabin and settling in the Yukon cut off from the world.
According to prosecutors, Vaughn woke his family on the day of the killings promising a surprise trip to a water park. But shortly after 5 a.m., he pulled off the road, shot his wife, then killed 12-year-old Abigayle, 11-year-old Cassandra and Blake, 8.
Abigayle was found holding a stuffed animal; Blake's wounds indicated he had raised his arm — to shield himself.
At trial, defense attorneys told jurors that Vaughn's wife was to blame, saying she was suicidal over marital strife. They suggested she shot her husband in the wrist and leg, then killed the children and herself.
Prosecutors balked at that theory, asking jurors whether it seems reasonable that a woman who disliked guns could have shot her husband twice, only grazing him each time, but fatally shot each of her children with a marksman's precision.
They contended that Christopher Vaughn shot himself to make it look like his wife carried out the attack, and told jurors that Vaughn showed little emotion after the shootings and was more interested in his damaged clothing than the fate of his family.