A Catoosa County jury found Daniel Vaughn not guilty Wednesday on all six charges stemming from a fatal shooting after a road rage incident in 2021.
The announcement of the verdict brought tears from the Vaughn family and the family of Chad Pedigo, whose shooting death led to this week's trial.
The two men, both from Ringgold, were involved in a September 2021 road rage incident that began on Battlefield Parkway. Pedigo followed Vaughn and his wife to their home after a series of threats and aggressive driving that included a minor collision.
Pedigo returned to the Vaughn household later that evening and was killed when Vaughn shot 20 rounds from his semi-automatic rifle into Pedigo's vehicle.
Pedigo, 34, was struck seven times and killed, according to testimony from Dr. Michelle DiMarco, an assistant medical examiner with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.
The prosecution argued Pedigo never exited his vehicle and words were insufficient for a self-defense killing. The defense argued the shooting was justified because of Pedigo's threats made earlier that day, along with the menacing behavior of returning to the Vaughn home.
Vaughn, 45, testified Tuesday that he feared for his life and the life of his wife. Pedigo made multiple threats of bodily harm, Vaughn said, and he could have never come to his house. Vaughn said he assumed Pedigo was armed because he said he had something for him earlier that day.
Jury finds Ringgold road rage shooter not guilty
In closing statements on day three of the trial Wednesday, Vaughn's attorney, Alan Norton, said that menacing action accompanied by verbal threats may justify reasonable force. Vaughn's actions were reasonable, Norton said, because Pedigo knew Vaughn had a gun but still returned to his home.
"When someone knows you have a gun, what is it reasonable to believe they're coming back with?" Norton said.
Senior Assistant District Attorney Deanna Reisman argued for the prosecution. In the prosecution's closing statement, she said Pedigo was unarmed and at least 27 feet away inside his vehicle. Vaughn fired blindly into the vehicle, she said.
"Vaughn's story changed," Reisman said to the jury. "And every time he told the story, it made him look better and Chad look worse."
During his testimony, Vaughn never expressed any remorse for killing Pedigo, she said.
The jury of six men and six women took about three hours to reach a verdict on charges that included malice murder and felony murder, among others. During deliberations, jury members asked one question of Superior Court Judge Brian House: What was the definition of malice?
House re-read the malice murder definition, saying malice murder is a murder done with malice, or hatred forethought, and an intent to kill.
Members of the jury hurried to their vehicles after the verdict, escorted by law enforcement officers as they left the Catoosa County Courthouse in Ringgold.
Makayla Marshall, a friend and colleague of both Vaughn and his wife, Wendy Vaughn, said she was relieved after the verdict. She spoke outside the courthouse.
"He didn't deserve it," Marshall, a resident of Trenton, said of the charges against Daniel Vaughn. "Now he can be back with his family and friends where he belongs."
Pedigo's mother, Donna Pedigo, walked swiftly up to the reporters gathered near where the Pedigo family was exchanging hugs and quietly grieving. She had tears in her eyes and said she was angry about the verdict.
"In Catoosa County, it's OK to kill someone driving down the road," she said. "How can that be not guilty?"
Eric Echols is a private investigator based in Marietta. He was hired by the Pedigo family when a grand jury decided not to bring charges against Daniel Vaughn in February 2022.
In his investigation, Echols said he found that key evidence wasn't presented to the first grand jury. That evidence was security footage from a neighbor that captured audio of the gunshots and muzzle flashes from Vaughn's rife. A second grand jury that met in early 2023 was shown that evidence, he said, and did bring the six charges, including the two murder counts.
After those charges were filed, Vaughn was arrested and was held without bail at the Catoosa County Jail.
Echols said he was shocked that evidence was withheld and believes it led to the charges being filed.
The verdict was unfair in his opinion, he said while standing in front of the courthouse. It's an example of a small town justice system where everyone is closely connected and a jury doesn't rule based on the law and evidence, he said.
"The Pedigo family lost a loved one, and now they lost today," Echols said of the jury's verdict.
He expressed his sympathy for the Pedigo family and encouraged them to stay strong.
Carolyn Frye, also a Marietta resident, is a friend of the Pedigo family. Also in front of the courthouse, she said this case sets a bad precedent for self-defense because Chad Pedigo didn't even get out of the car.