Alleged murder for hire charges bound over
BY ROBERT L. BAKER
A 32-year-old Towanda man accused of trying to hire a hit man to kill three psychics will stand trial in the Wyoming County Court of Common Pleas.
Craven Michael Vaughn did not speak during a preliminary hearing Friday before Magisterial District Judge Carl Smith and mostly kept his head down while two state troopers testified to what happened between Dec. 7 and 20.
Police charged Vaughn late last month with three counts each of criminal solicitation of criminal homicide, criminal attempt to commit criminal homicide and criminal use of a communication facility. He is accused of trying to hire a hit man, actually an undercover state trooper, to kill three psychic mediums.
According to an affidavit of probable cause filed by state police, the targets of the hits were identified as:
*James Van Praagh, an author and television producer.
*Maureen Hancock, a TV personality credited with a series on the Style Channel.
*David M. Baker, a professional investigator who has written books.
At the preliminary hearing, however, none of the three were mentioned by name.
During testimony, Trooper Michael Adams of the Tunkhannock barracks said he was asked to be part of an investigation after Dec. 5 when an unidentified source told troopers at the Towanda barracks that Vaughn planned to hire a hitman to have three individuals “killed.”
Vaughn’s attorney Paul Walker immediately challenged the use of the word to Judge Smith,
“That was hearsay. We don’t know what he actually said,” Walker told the judge.
District Attorney Jeff Mitchell said he was merely trying to provide a timeline.
Adams said that a call was recorded Dec. 7 in which the caller indicated he had $3,000 saved up as an initial payment,
“Did he identify how many individuals were involved?” Mitchell asked.
“Three,” Adams said.
Under cross examination, Walker asked if his client identified the alleged victims.
“Initially, he did not,” Adams said, nor did he identify their business.
In fact, Adams said, that it wasn’t until after Vaughn’s arrest on Dec. 20, that the names, addresses and photos of the targeted individuals were known.
Trooper Christopher B. O’Brien of the Wyoming barracks took the stand and said, “Trooper Adams contacted me about being the so-called hit man in this situation.”
O’Brien testified that on Dec. 12, he received three voice mail messages from a person named “Mike.”
He noted that each of the messages suggested “I have something you can help me with.”
O’Brien said he did not call the man back until Dec. 17.
He noted there was a brief discussion on Dec. 18 and it was decided they would meet at WalMart on Route 29 in Eaton Twp., Wyoming County, on Dec. 20.
Mitchell asked, “Did you meet?”
“We did,” O’Brien said, adding that the person now identified as Vaughn said he would be in a dark green pickup truck.
O’Brien recalled locating the truck and pulling up nearby it.
He testified that Vaughn got out of his vehicle, “entered my vehicle and sat beside me.”
Mitchell asked O’Brien, “What did the man say?”
“He indicated he wanted three people killed,” O’Brien said.
Mitchell asked, “Did he give a reason why?”
“He said they were messing with his business,” O’Brien said.
“What was his business?” Mitchell asked.
“He said, he could tell me but not then and there,” O’Brien said,
Mitchell asked, “Did he say who ‘they’ were?”
“He told me they were out of the area,” O’Brien said. “The state of Washington was mentioned for one.”
The trooper then noted that the man gave him $3,000 and had $350 more, if needed.
“I said, are you sure you want these people murdered? He said he did, and I said, ‘You know once the ball gets rolling, there’s no turning back.”
Attorney Walker cross examined O’Brien, and noted from the time the alleged investigation began and when they had a meeting 15 days had transpired.
“Was there no sense of urgency?” he asked.
O’Brien said he was only involved in a small part of the investigation and didn’t know what others were doing on the case.
Walker called Adams back to the stand and asked about the alleged victims.
Trooper Adams noted that one was a TV person, one was an author and another happened to be a deputy sheriff in San Francisco.
“Did you know about paranoia?” Walker asked.
“No,” Adams said.
In his closing argument, Walker wondered why the state police wouldn’t have acted more promptly.
He admitted the possibility of a prima facie case to Judge Smith, but added, “You have to examine whether there was genuine evidence to carry this out.”
Mitchell shook his head.
“They can’t rush a suspect,” he said. “It’s the defendant who wants to pursue this matter. He insisted he wanted it done and even provided $3,000.”
Judge Smith ruled there was enough evidence to bind the case over to county court and acknowledged Walker’s request to have $75,000 bail reduced.
But he added, that he was not the original judge to set bail, and he told Walker he could appeal the bail matter to the county jurisdiction where the case was now moved.
Walker did ask for a mental health evaluation for his client.
“I would not have any objection regarding some modification for that,” Judge Smith said.
He noted that Vaughn would be arraigned in county court on March 1 at 8:30 a.m.