'He would have killed every single one of us,' judge says of defendant slain in Person courtroom shooting
Two months after a criminal defendant was shot and killed in a Person County courtroom during an altercation with a bailiff, WRAL Investigates has obtained new details of the incident.Posted — Updated
Christopher Thomas Vaughan, 35, of Oxford, became enraged during his trial on a misdemeanor false imprisonment charge. The bailiff and a Roxboro police officer worked to subdue Vaughan, but during the struggle, Vaughan got hold of the bailiff's gun. At that point, the Roxboro officer shot Vaughan.
A recording of the trial that day obtained by WRAL shows Vaughan and District Court Judge Caroline Burnette engaged in a three-minute confrontation that escalated before that.
Roxboro police Officer Trey Wright was then sworn in as a witness in the case.
At that point, Vaughan stood up, threw a chair and charged toward the judge. The bailiff, Deputy J.R. Ray, intercepted Vaughan, and the two were wrestling on the ground when Ray started screaming that Vaughan had his gun.
Wright then rushed down from the witness stand and shot and killed Vaughan.
"I just had a bad feeling," Burnette recently told WRAL while reflecting on the chaos. "I heard shouting. You could see people punching."
Burnette and others retreated to her chambers as the struggle continued on the ground.
"When the door shut to the judge’s chambers, we heard the shot," she said.
The State Bureau of Investigation is reviewing the shooting, which is standard for officer-involved shootings. The final report and any decision on possible criminal charges are expected before the end of the year.
Burnette said she believes the actions of both law enforcement officers saved lives.
"If it wasn’t for the bailiff, I would be dead, and if it wasn’t for the investigator, 15 people would be dead," she said. "There’s no doubt in my mind he would have killed every single one of us."
As the judge continues to deal with post-traumatic stress from the incident, she’s also focused on getting more funding and more deputies in courtrooms.
"I never thought anything like that would happen in my courtroom – never in a million years," she said. "I don’t want anyone to ever have to go through what we went through that day. It was horrific."
She said she will no longer take any chances if courtrooms are understaffed.
"I will walk off the bench if there’s not enough security in the courtroom I’m in – 100 percent," she said.
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