Brian Vaughn: A Student-Athlete Kills

A Murdered Dad, a Broken Teen
(“Shattered Innocence,” Forensic Files)

If there’s a Fredo Corleone of Forensic Files, it’s Brian Vaughn. He betrayed a family member, then incriminated himself by blurting out a few words.

Brian Vaughn at 16

Not that the 16-year-old Texan had formulated anything close to a foolproof plan for getting away with his father’s murder in the first place.

Own worst enemy. Investigators picked apart his story in weeks, issuing an arrest warrant two months after the shooting of San Antonio trial lawyer Leslie Vaughn, murdered in his sleep at home.

But it was the student-athlete’s own inadvertent admission to a 911 operator that guaranteed he’d end up in a jail cell rather than a dorm room.

Shattered Innocence,” the episode about the November 10, 1998, crime doesn’t make anyone want to see Brian get away with murder, but it’s still excruciating to hear his unforced error.

The story is also a bittersweet reminder of how small disadvantages feel like the end of the world to a teenager.

Shiny, shiny. Here’a a recap of the episode along with additional information from internet research.

Brian Vaughn was born on May 20, 1982, to Madeline Vaughn, a registered nurse, and Leslie Vaughn, a defense lawyer who started out as an assistant district attorney for Bexar County and later went into private practice.

Brian played basketball well enough to make an athletic scholarship a possibility.

Madeline and Leslie Vaughn

But in 1998, he was wishing for an off-court score: a brand-new car. His used auto was cramping his style.

After his father refused to buy him a new one, the old car conveniently caught on fire. It looked like arson, but no charges were filed.

Leslie Vaughn then agreed to replace the burned-out vehicle with another used one. He and Brian had an argument about it at a car dealership on November 10, 1998.

Concerned older brother. Brian and his father left without making a purchase. Later at home, Chris, Brian’s 12-year-old brother, overheard Brian threaten to quit the basketball team if he didn’t get a new car.

That night, at 1:24 a.m., Brian took Chris to the neighbors’ house. Brian explained to Mr. and Mrs. Floyd that he had called 911 after hearing what sounded like an intruder. He wanted to make sure his brother was safely off the premises while he waited for the police.

On the 911 call, Brian said he heard a gunshot coming from his father’s bedroom, but he couldn’t get in to check on him because the door was locked.

When Deputy Edward Olivares broke down the door, he found Leslie Vaughn, age 44, lying in bed with a gunshot wound to the back of his head. A 10-pound piece of limestone lay on the floor; it had created a conveniently tall hole in the French doors leading to the balcony off the bedroom.

The Vaughns’ balcony

Noxious glass. Brian apparently wanted authorities to think that an unknown intruder had climbed onto the balcony, thrown the rock through the glass, shot his father, and exited the same way he came.

His mother was working the night shift at Methodist Heart Hospital, so Brian didn’t have to worry that detectives would suspect her.

It was he who became the No. 1 suspect early on. Investigators saw evidence that contradicted Brian’s narrative. There was broken glass on top of Leslie’s body, suggesting that he slept through the break-in — an unlikely scenario.

This was no burglar. And more glass shards lay on the rug in the hallway outside the master bedroom door. The fragments created a trail to the bathroom. How did it get there if the assailant came and left via the balcony?

Also, Brian had waited 25 minutes in between leaving the Floyds’ house and phoning emergency services, giving him time to shoot Leslie and stage the scene.

Nothing was stolen from the bedroom.

And the bedroom door handle looked rather flimsy. As a couple online YouTube commenters put it:

• Indy Castleton If my dad was shot I wouldn’t let a locked door prevent me from going inside that’s for sure.
• 
Jocelyn Vernon: I agree if that would of been my parent no door would stop me from getting in the room!!!!

Seeking a scapegoat. Investigators theorized that after dropping off Chris, Brian used his father’s own 9-millimeter Smith & Wesson to shoot him as he slept, then stepped onto the balcony, hurled the rock through the glass, exited through the bedroom door, locked it on the way out, inadvertently tracked shards to the bathroom, washed the gunshot residue from his hands, and called 911.

Brian insisted an unseen intruder was responsible; perhaps one of his dad’s unsavory clients had a grudge. Leslie Vaughn had defended drug dealers, organized crime figures, and other rough characters during his career.

“My father was a strong man,” Brian told an AP reporter. “He would stand up to anybody, no matter what. I think that’s what happened to him.”

It was a nice try, but not enough, especially once investigators took the time to listen to the entire 911 tape.

Final nail. After giving his locked-bedroom-door-can’t-get-in spiel, Brian said that his father was “bleeding from the mouth area.”

“OK, so how do you know he’s bleeding from the mouth area?” the operator asked.

There was no walking back on that one.

According to court documents, Brian told the Floyds that his father was not moving or breathing, which confused them because he had also told them he couldn’t enter the bedroom.

Anguish: Brian Vaughn during his murder trial

The Floyds noted that Brian was wearing a different shirt when he came back to pick up Chris.

Low-profile release? A jury convicted Brian Vaughn in 1999, and a judge sentenced him to 33 years in the Institutional Division of the Texas Department of Corrections.

Brian was housed at the Hamilton Unit in Bryan, Texas, as well as the Ramsey I prison.

As of 2016, he was still incarcerated, according to the Inside Prison website.

It always seemed a little unfair that the court tried him as an adult when he committed the murder for a child’s reasons. Also, it sounded as though he did so in a fit of anger rather than out of diabolical blood lust.

He became eligible for parole in 2017 — and it looks as though he won it. Inmate lookup websites for Texas have no listing for a Brian Leslie Vaughn anymore.

What could have been. I searched online for any media coverage related to his release, but nothing turned up. Brian would be 35 today, not old, but past his prime in his sport.

“He was a good athlete,” Bexar County Homicide Detective Al Damiani said in his interview with Forensic Files. “He could have played basketball in college and had the time of his life.”

Perhaps, unlike Michael Corleone, Brian’s younger brother will be forgiving and the two of them, along with their mother, can be a family again.

That’s all for this post. Until next week, cheers. RR

12 thoughts on “Brian Vaughn: A Student-Athlete Kills”

  1. Thanks for this, RR. Vaughn also told the Floyds that his dad wasn’t breathing, as well as the 911 operator about the blood. The Floyds reported in court that they wondered how he knew this, being locked-out. And he admitted, possibly unnecessarily, that he’d washed his hands, as no gunshot residue was found on them.

    A number of small ‘errors’ were made that pointed to his guilt — the ‘mis-speaking,’ the glass trail, and the 25 min delay. While it’s tempting to suggest that ‘if only he hadn’t…,’ I suspect that it’s very often these details that lead to conviction. Still, adults have made far more crass ‘errors’…

    As a child — albeit tried as an adult — he served about 18 years, so likely less than an adult. You say: “It always seemed a little unfair that the courts tried him as an adult when he committed the murder for a child’s reasons. Also, it sounded as though he did so in a fit of anger rather than out of diabolical blood lust.” I think a jury would consider that while no long-term planning was shown, and there was no obvious benefit to Vaughn, there was SOME malice aforethought, since the crime required some planning and sophistication: it didn’t happen during or straight after argument via a ready-to-hand gun. Nonetheless, as he was a child I would find murder in the second-degree (on the information we have): there wasn’t enough planning for substantive premeditation, and the motive was, as you say, a child’s, for which there was no benefit (though how many adults have murdered for a ‘childish’ motive…?) Murder-in-anger, though, is a tough one. Here’s a US case of a first-degree charge for a road rage shooting murder: surely a preeminent case of spontaneous anger and unplanned killing?

    1. Thanks for sending the link! Road rage is such a curiosity — the way drivers think that the actions of strangers on the road are personal affronts.

      1. They MAY think that, and no doubt some do, though I wonder if it’s just pure anger with no personal motivation other than ‘you got in my way and I want you removed.’ It’s one of the ‘precipitative’ situations illustrating the danger of gun ownership/carrying: irrational, extreme, essentially motiveless anger plus a weapon nearby equals danger. But then people who experience these emotions would arguably carry anyway, legally or not.

  2. False equivalence has to be given its due because it’s out there. In some ways, stupidity and incompetence is as good as having a moral conscience after the fact. Not that it excuses homicide, but it worked as well as a confession. Love the way FF raises obscure points of ethics.

  3. Dumb ass kid, usually this is what white kids do. He even burned the used car he had that he didn’t want thinking his father would buy him a new one. However his father was only going to buy a used one. Spoiled little bitch

    1. Tempting to think he was spoiled — yet dad seems to have been trying not to do that — at least in this instance. There are, as you suggest, too many cases of teens murdering a parent or both because of seeming trivia, though I don’t know if there’s a racial predominance (and if there were, what could we conclude?)

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