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.
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, who the San Antonio Express-News described as a respected professional “who sometimes posted bonds for clients out of his own pocket.”
Brian played basketball well enough to make an athletic scholarship a possibility.
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.
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 burglary. 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, who started out as an assistant district attorney for Bexar County and later went into private practice, had defended drug dealers, organized crime figures, and other rough characters.
“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.
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. “Oh, God, no. I can’t lose them both,” his mother cried out upon hearing the verdict, according to an AP account.
A judge sentenced Brian to 33 years in the Institutional Division of the Texas Department of Corrections. Brian served time at the Hamilton Unit in Bryan, Texas, as well as the Ramsey I prison.
As of 2016, he was still incarcerated, according to Inside Prison.
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