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James Kraig KAHLER





Classification: Mass murderer
Characteristics: After his spouse took a lesbian lover and filed for divorce
Number of victims: 4
Date of murders: November 28, 2009
Date of arrest: Next day
Date of birth: January 15, 1963
Victims profile: His estranged wife, Karen Kahler, 44; their two teenage daughters Emily Kahler, 18, and Lauren Kahler, 16; and his wife’s grandmother, Dorothy Wight, 89
Method of murder: Shooting
Location: Burlingame, Osage County, Kansas, USA
Status: Sentenced to death on October 11, 2011

photo gallery


Sarcastic Kahler draws death penalty

Sentence issued in November 2009 murder of four in Burlingame

By Steve Fry - The Capital-Journal

October 11, 2011

LYNDON — James Kraig Kahler, who killed his wife, two daughters and their great-grandmother, took a parting shot at his in-laws as he walked out of the Osage County District Courtroom on Tuesday after he was sentenced to death.

Kahler spoke to his parents about his son, Sean Kahler, 12.

"Take care of Sean so he's not raised by a bunch of freaks," Kahler said, referring to the relatives of his wife who are caring for the boy.

During the trial in August, the boy testified about seeing his father shoot his mother while the son and mother were cleaning coins in a kitchen sink. Kahler allowed his then-10-year-old son to escape unharmed.

Kahler, 48, earlier made remarks under his breath Tuesday as the sister of his slain wife told a judge the pain the killings have caused her.

The two remarks were uttered about 20 minutes before he was sentenced to death for capital murder.

During the hearing, Lynn Denton, sister of Karen Kahler, said that after the sentencing, she could go outside and enjoy the day.

"A beautiful sunny day outside," Kahler said from his seat at the defense table.

A few minutes later, Denton talked about the last two times she saw her niece Lauren Kahler during the Halloween and Thanksgiving Day holidays in 2009, including a trip to the River Walk in downtown Wichita.

"And with Sunny, too," Kahler said, referring to Sunny Reece, the lover of his estranged wife, Karen Kahler. Kraig Kahler had resented his two daughters and son being present when Reece and Karen Kahler were together.

At 10:18 a.m. Tuesday, Kahler was sentenced to death for murdering Karen Kahler; daughters Lauren Kahler, 16, and Emily Kahler, 18; and Karen Kahler's grandmother, Dorothy Wight, 89.

The four were killed during the Thanksgiving Day weekend in 2009 at Wight’s Burlingame home.

“The court at this time for the crime of capital murder will sentence the defendant to death under the law,” Chief Judge Phillip Fromme announced.

Before sentencing, Fromme heard comments from Denton and another survivor of the victims.

Denton spoke first.

“I miss her (Karen) every day, some days more than other,” Denton said. “I still want to pick up the phone and call her.

“There are no words of how deeply I hurt because of these tremendous losses,” she told the judge. “I loved Grandma Wight, Karen, Emily, and Lauren very much and will miss them until the end of my days.”

A statement written by Patricia Hetrick, the daughter of Wight, was read into the record by Brenda Albright, office manager for the attorney general's office.

“I lost three generations of loved ones in one fell swoop, and to this day, I still replay that frightening night over and over in my mind just like watching an old movie reel,” Hetrick wrote. "I try so hard to rewrite (the end), but there is no such option."

Karen Kahler and her daughters died Nov. 28, 2009, the evening of the shooting, but Hetrick was able to drive to Kansas to be with her mortally wounded mother.

“I got to be with my mother until she died on Dec. 1,” Hetrick wrote.

Hetrick talked about cleaning up and restoring Wight’s house after the killings and said that even with all of the painting and new furniture, she knew the house that she had grown up in would be “hell and horror for me.”

Kraig Kahler was raised in Meriden and had lived in Columbia, Mo., where he once headed the city utility company.

After a jury convicted Kahler of capital murder, four counts of first-degree murder and one count of aggravated burglary, but before it began deliberations on whether to recommend to the judge the death penalty or life imprisonment, two notes from Sean Kahler were read to the jurors.

“I do not want my Dad to receive the death penalty because it would be hard on my grandparents,” the first note said.

The second note said, “I do not want my whole family gone.”

Defense attorneys said Sean Kahler was given an opportunity to appear at the sentencing but declined. However, they said he hadn’t changed his opinion that his father shouldn't be sentenced to death.

Defense attorney Tom Haney said sentencing Kahler to death "was totally anticipated today. There's never been a (Kansas) judge who overturned the jury's recommendation for death."

Assistant attorney general Amy Hanley and Osage County Attorney Brandon Jones, who prosecuted the case, declined to comment.

Haney filed a notice of Kahler's appeal of the convictions and death penalty sentence. Haney has withdrawn from the case, which will be handled by the state's capital appeals office.

At the end of court, Fromme turned Kahler over to the Osage County Sheriff's Office to transport the defendant to the Kansas Department of Corrections.


Jury recommends death for Kahler

By Steve Fry - The Capital-Journal

August 29, 2011

LYNDON — James Kraig Kahler showed no visible reaction Monday afternoon as a bailiff announced a jury’s decision to impose  the death penalty for the slaying deaths of four family members.

The Osage County District Court jury decided at 3:25 p.m. to recommend the death penalty after deliberating for 55 minutes.

Kahler’s parents, Wayne and Patricia Kahler, who were sitting on the front row behind their son, also showed no emotion.

Lynn Denton, a surviving sister of victim Kahler’s wife, sat quietly on the front row behind prosecutors. A supporter patted her on the back as the unanimous decision was read.

On Friday, jurors convicted Kahler of capital murder, four counts of first-degree murder and one count of aggravated burglary, all tied to Kahler's rampage through a Burlingame home on  Nov. 28, 2009.

Slain in the shootings were Karen Kahler, 44, Kraig Kahler's estranged wife; daughters Emily Kahler, 18, and Lauren Kahler, 16; and Dorothy Wight, 89, grandmother of Karen Kahler. Kraig Kahler walked into the home of Wight, gunning down his wife, daughters and Wight. He allowed his son, Sean Kahler, then 10, to escape unharmed.

Kahler's sentencing is to be at 9:30 a.m. Oct. 11.

Outside the courthouse, Denton, accompanied by her brother, Bill Hetrick, his wife, Donna, and Carmen Esch, a cousin, read a statement: "For the past year and a half, we've had a dark cloud around us that we associated with this trial. Now that it's over, the cloud is still there. The cloud wasn't about the trial. It is about our loss. The verdict and sentence doesn't bring our family back. The Kahlers, Wights, Dentons and Hetricks still have a lot of healing to do."

Denton, Hetrick and Esch are grandchildren of Wight.

Earlier Monday, Amy Hanley, the assistant attorney general, urged jurors to impose the death penalty, saying each of the four slaying victims died in anguish.

Kahler’s wife, his daughters and Wight “all died with an awareness that gave them the torture of slow death,” Hanley said.

They died with the awareness Kahler was armed with a gun, was shooting at them and that he intended to kill each, Hanley said.

“This is the proper case,” Hanley said, to impose the death penalty, pointing to two aggravating circumstances she said justified the death penalty.

The aggravating circumstances were that more than one person was killed, and the four victims were murdered in a “heinous, atrocious or cruel manner."

“He murdered them all, one by one,” she said.

Jurors either could recommend the death penalty or life in prison without parole.

Before deliberations began, defense attorney Amanda Vogelsberg read two notes to jurors from Sean Kahler, now 12.

“I do not want my dad to receive the death penalty because it would be hard on my grandparents,” the first note said.

The second note said, “I do not want my whole family gone.”

Defense attorney Tom Haney told jurors there were 12 mitigating circumstances that outweighed the aggravating circumstances, including that Kahler had no criminal history, he was operating under extreme mental and emotional stress, and he had a severe mental illness impairing his ability to think and control his actions.

Haney also noted the two notes from Kahler’s son.

“Do you have mercy for him?” Haney said, referring to Kahler’s son.

In Kahler’s case, prison would be worse for him than the death penalty, Haney said, noting his suicidal tendencies and his love of the outdoors. Throughout the trial, witnesses testified about Kahler’s love of hunting, fishing and the outdoors.

Osage County Attorney Brandon Jones asked jurors to think about the anguish the victims felt as jurors listened again to recordings of one of Kahler’s daughters screaming for help as her father walked through the home. In one recording, the dying teen was comforted by an Osage County Sheriff’s officer.

“I don’t want to die,” the daughter told Deputy Nathan Purling.

Jones told jurors the number of aggravating circumstances don’t have to outnumber the mitigating circumstances in order for them to impose the death penalty. Haney told jurors if any juror found the aggravating circumstances didn’t outweigh the mitigating circumstances, there wouldn’t be a unanimous vote to impose the death penalty.

“In this state, we don’t kill the mentally ill,” Haney told the jurors.

After the verdict was returned, prosecutors Hanley and Jones were pleased the Osage County jury had decided whether the death penalty was appropriate for Kahler.

"We hope this gives justice to the family,"Jones said.

At sentencing, Chief Judge Phillip Fromme will decide whether to accept the verdict.

According to Kansas law, Fromme must examine the jury verdict imposing the death sentence to determine whether the evidence supported the verdict. If it didn't, the judge would change Kahler's sentence to life in prison without parole.

Prosecution evidence included testimony that:

  • Kahler's blood was found inside the house.

  • Two victims and his son identified Kahler as the shooter of three victims.

  • A jacket found outside the house had Kahler's business card in a pocket.

  • Neighbors saw Kahler's sport utility vehicle parked near the shooting site and recorded the Missouri tag number, which was registered to Kahler.

After the verdict Monday, jurors declined to talk about the case.


Conviction in Murder of Man’s Lesbian Wife, Kids

By John Hanna - Associated Press

August 26, 2011

A jury convicted a Kansas man of capital murder on Thursday in the shooting deaths of his estranged wife, their two teenage daughters and his wife’s grandmother - crimes his attorneys said he committed after his spouse took a lesbian lover and filed for divorce.

Attorneys for James Kraig Kahler had argued that his mental health deteriorated and he finally snapped because of his pending divorce and his wife’s sexual relationship with another woman whom she met when they lived in Texas. But prosecutors painted a picture of man who coldly picked off his victims, one by one, at the home of his wife’s grandmother, near Burlingame, a small town 20 miles south of Topeka, during the weekend after Thanksgiving 2009.

The Osage County jury needed only about two hours to reach a verdict. Kahler, dressed in a dark suit, stood calmly and showed no outward emotion as the bailiff announced the verdict. His parents, seated in the front row, also appeared calm.

Jurors will next hear additional evidence and consider whether to recommend a death sentence, weighing issues such as the cruelty involved in the shootings against Kahler’s previous lack of a criminal record and his mental state at the time of the crimes.

Kahler, who goes by his middle name, Kraig, was convicted of four counts of first-degree murder as well as a single count of capital murder - a charge that prosecutors could bring because Kansas law says multiple murders can qualify a defendant for the death penalty if they’re part of "the same transaction" or "a common scheme." Kahler also was convicted of one count of aggravated burglary, with prosecutors contending he entered the grandmother’s home without permission.

Kahler, 48, had directed city utility departments in Weatherford, Texas, and Columbia, Mo., but moved back to Kansas just weeks before the shootings to live with his parents. Witnesses testified that he lost the Missouri job after he became obsessed with keeping his marriage alive and that he believed his daughters had sided with his wife.

The victims were his wife, 44-year-old Karen Kahler; her grandmother, Dorothy Wight, 89; and the Kahlers’ daughters, Emily, 18, and Lauren, 16.

Law enforcement officers and emergency medical personnel said that before dying, Wight and Lauren Kahler identified Kraig Kahler as the gunman. The Kahlers’ son Sean, now 12, also testified that he saw his father shoot his mother before he escaped the scene without physical injury.

In closing arguments earlier Thursday, Assistant Attorney General Amy Hanley said Kahler was angry and gunned down his family members because he believed he could fix his problems by getting rid of those he felt were responsible.

"The defendant had a plan," Hanley told jurors. "In his mind he had a problem to eliminate, and he knew how to do it."

Defense attorney Thomas Haney said Kahler was mentally "broken" because of his wife’s lesbian affair and her pursuit of a divorce.

"What happens when someone who’s rigid is put under too much pressure?" Haney said, breaking a pencil in front of jurors. "They snap."

Kahler was a city utilities director in Weatherford, Texas, and Columbia, Mo., but moved back to Kansas shortly before the shootings to live with his parents outside Topeka.

According to trial testimony, his wife began having a sexual relationship with the other woman in Texas in 2008, before Kahler took the job in Missouri. His wife filed for divorce in January 2009, and witnesses said Kahler became so obsessed with his failing marriage that his work suffered and he lost his job.

Partners in a Kansas City, Mo., psychiatric office testified on opposite sides of the case about Kahler’s mental health. One said Kahler was so severely depressed that he wasn’t thinking rationally and couldn’t control his behavior at the time of the killings. The other said Kahler’s depression wasn’t serious enough to prevent him from forming the intent to kill or making conscious decisions about what he did.

Kansas law says a mentally ill defendant still is legally responsible for a crime, unless his illness or mental defect prevented him forming an intent to commit the crime and, in the case of capital or first-degree murder, acting with premeditation.


Stories of abuse take larger role in Kahler trial testimony

By Brennan David -

August 22, 2011

Prosecutors rested their case this morning against former Columbia Water and Light Director Kraig Kahler after a full week of testimony focused mostly on the events surrounding his alleged slaying of family members.

But there is more to the story than murder: Allegations of abuse in Kahler’s relationship with his wife, one of the four victims of the 2009 shootings, might be the focus of more testimony this week as the defense attempts to show Kahler was gradually driven to a breaking point.

In a March 16, 2009, petition for an ex-parte order of protection against her husband, Karen Kahler wrote of why she was afraid of him: “Over time it has become apparent that Kraig is controlling. I have learned along the way that he is capable of using force. The issues vary, but I figured out how to keep things from becoming ugly. When money was a ‘problem,’ I wouldn’t tell him what things (groceries, clothing, etc.) cost. When it was about sex, I decided it was ‘easier’ to give him what he wanted every night, than to refuse. … On the occasions I would refuse, he has been known to be forceful and mean.”

Kansas Assistant Attorney General Amy Hanley and Osage County Attorney Brandon Jones presented little to the jury about abuse the defendant allegedly inflicted on his wife before the Nov. 28, 2009, shootings in Burlingame, Kan. Kraig Kahler is charged in the fatal shootings of his wife, daughters Emily and Lauren, and Dorothy Wight, Karen Kahler’s grandmother.

Although Kahler is not charged with battery or sexual assault, prosecutors touched on the topic Tuesday in testimony from Karen Kahler’s divorce attorney, Dan Pingelton. He noted Karen Kahler was involved in a relationship with another woman and that Kraig Kahler stalked her through the Internet during divorce proceedings and was charged with assault in relation to a March 16 incident.

But the prosecution only addressed the topic in depth after defense attorney Tom Haney dug into it. Haney is out to prove his client’s obsession with his wife’s relationship with Sunny Reese and their pending divorce drove him insane. The defense likely will highlight the order of protection this week to make its case.

“I’m afraid it will escalate so far that someone is going to be seriously hurt,” Karen Kahler wrote in the petition.

Last week, Osage County jurors heard Reese, 42, describe the Kahler marriage as “very abusive” but only after the defense questioned her about it. The abuse apparently was escalating to such a degree that Reese refused to remove herself from involvement with the Kahlers after friends asked her to do so after a New Year’s Eve 2008 party, Reese testified. That party led to an argument that Karen Kahler said became physically abusive, and she told her husband the next day that she was leaving him for Reese.

A few months later, she reported an altercation that led to a misdemeanor domestic assault charge against Kraig Kahler, which was dismissed after his wife’s death.

“He asked if he could sit beside me,” Karen Kahler wrote. “I got up and he followed me and asked for a hug. I told him no, but he kept asking, insisting, coming toward me with his arms reaching out to me. I continued to say ‘no’ and tried to leave the room. He blocked my exit attempts until I could shove past him. He continued to block my exit from the room, eventually cornering me against the cabinet. He held me from behind in a ‘bear hug’ and the struggle resulted in several scrapes and bruises."


Kahler begins calling witnesses on Monday

By Steve Fry -

August 21, 2011

LYNDON — The first witnesses capital murder defendant James Kraig Kahler will call Monday will be a Weatherford, Texas, couple who will testify about how Kahler's wife and her girlfriend began behaving inappropriately at a holiday party at their home, according to Kahler defense attorneys.

The Kahler defense contends the former Columbia, Mo., utility director snapped in November 2009 when his marriage, his family, and his career disintegrated, in part due to his wife's affair with a woman, humiliating him.

Defense attorney Tom Haney told jurors Kahler was overwhelmed and couldn't control himself, and Kahler was "mentally impaired to the point he was not responsible for his actions."

Once prosecutors formally rest their case early Monday, the defense will begin calling witnesses in Osage County District Court.

Don and Marina Coulter, the Texas couple, hosted a New Year's Eve party in 2008 in which Sunny Reese and Karen Kahler drank too much and kissed, Reese said this week.

Another defense witness will be Stephen Peterson, a Kansas City, Mo., psychiatrist, whom Kahler hired as his expert witness about the elements of mental disease or defect, excluding criminal responsibility of Kahler.

Another defense witness might be Reese, who testified this week after prosecutors subpoenaed her. Reese wasn't released from the court order to testify and remains under subpoena.

The unanswered question is whether Kahler will be sworn in to testify in his own case. A defendant doesn't have to testify in a criminal case, but if he does, he can be cross-examined by prosecutors.

The Kahler defense is expected to last two or three days.

If  Peterson testifies, prosecutors will call at least one rebuttal witness, William S. Logan, a forensic psychiatrist hired by the prosecutors to evaluate Kahler and to be the prosecution's expert witness.

It is unknown whether prosecutors might call other rebuttal witnesses.

When the rebuttal witnesses are done, the jury will hear instructions from Chief Judge Phillip Fromme and closing arguments from prosecutors and defense attorneys.

How long jurors deliberate on the case is up to them. If jurors convict Kahler of capital murder, they then must decide what punishment to recommend to the judge.

Their choices are the death penalty or life imprisonment without parole.

If they can't unanimously decide which penalty, it would be a prison sentence without parole.

Significant testimony during the prosecution case included:

■ Kraig Kahler's blood was found on a handrail and wall in the stairwell of the Wight home. Kansas Bureau of investigation witnesses conceded the Kahler could have left the blood during another visit over the years to the Wight home.

■ Lauren Kahler and Wight told rescuers that Kraig Kahler shot them, and Sean Kahler, 12, testified he saw his father shoot his mother, Karen Kahler.

■ Erik Mitchell, coroner and forensic pathologist, testified that of seven gunshot wounds suffered by the victims, six wounds were fatal shots, and one would have been survivable by itself. The Kahler women were shot twice each, and Wight was shot once. None of the wounds were immediately fatal, Mitchell said, and Wight died three days after being shot.

■  Reese, 42, said she didn't break up the marriage of the Kahlers so she could be with Karen. Reese said she encouraged Karen Kahler to divorce her husband for her own safety.

Kraig Kahler had suggested that the Kahlers and Reese have three-way sex, but they didn't, Reese said. Reese said Karen Kahler told her Kraig Kahler had physically abused her.

■ Jurors heard recordings of Lauren Kahler first screaming for help because a gunman was in the house, and the wounded teen telling an Osage County deputy that her father shot her.

■ Kahler had a bottle of prescription tablets for anxiety disorders, but didn't take any of the medication.

■ Officers recovered three magazines of .223-caliber ammunition, but the AK-47 style semiautomatic rifle purchased by Kahler wasn't recovered.

■ When a KBI investigator expressed concern the semiautomatic rifle might be found by a child, Kahler told him no child would find it.

Kraig Kahler is accused of fatally shooting his wife,  Karen Kahler, 44; the  couple’s daughters, Lauren, 16, and Emily, 18; and Wight, 89, Karen Kahler's grandmother.


Slain wife’s lesbian lover testifies at murder trial of former Weatherford, Texas utilities director

James Kraig Kahler allegedly arranged a threesome with his wife and another woman, then snapped after it led to full-fledged affair

By John Hanna - Associated Press

August 19, 2011

LYNDON, Kan. — A former city utilities administrator accused of killing his estranged wife and three other family members in Kansas had encouraged his spouse to have a sexual relationship with a Texas woman but also was an abusive husband, the murdered wife’s lover testified Wednesday in his capital murder trial.

Prosecutors called Sunny Reese, of Weatherford, Texas, as a witness against James Kraig Kahler, who’s charged in the shootings of his estranged wife, their two teenage daughters and his wife’s grandmother. He could face the death penalty if convicted of the slayings, which occurred the weekend after Thanksgiving 2009 in the grandmother’s home just outside Burlingame, a town of some 930 residents about 20 miles south of Topeka.

Defense attorneys contend that Kahler snapped mentally because his wife was having an affair with Reese and was pursuing a divorce. Kahler, 48, was utilities director in Weatherford, Texas, before becoming water department director in Columbia, Mo., in 2008, though he lived outside Topeka at the time of the killings.

But Reese testified that Kahler, who often went by his middle name, consented to her sexual relationship with his wife, Karen, before it began in 2008. She testified that he once gave the two women roses at the same time.

“Kraig knew for the get-go and was very accepting,” Reese testified. Later, she told jurors, “He agreed to everything. He was very pleased.”

Reese also has been subpoenaed as a witness by Kahler’s attorneys and could testify again when the defense presents its case. Kahler’s attorneys describe him as mentally ill for months before the shootings, suffering from hallucinations and becoming unable to function at work. The killings occurred several months after he lost his job in Columbia, Mo.

Most of the questions Wednesday in Osage County District Court about the two women’s relationship came from defense attorney Thomas Haney, who noted that Reese sent Karen Kahler an email in January 2009 about “how to divorce a narcissist.” Haney also had Reese read to jurors a text message she sent to Kahler around that time, telling him, “She doesn’t love you, Kraig, not like you think she does.”

As for Kahler consenting to the lesbian affair, Haney said, “To keep his marriage alive, he was willing to consent to a sexual relationship between her and you.”

Haney has repeatedly described the defendant as a loving father and husband. But Reese called the Kahler marriage “a very abusive relationship,” saying she’d heard of screaming matches between them. But Reese acknowledged during questioning by Haney that she’d not witnessed incidents herself but based her comments on what Karen Kahler had told her.

“I wanted to protect her,” Reese testified. “I thought I could.”

The victims of the shootings were: Karen Kahler, 44; her grandmother, Dorothy Wight, 89, and the Kahlers’ daughters, Emily, 18, and Lauren, 16. Emily died in the home, and the other three victims were transported to a Topeka hospital before dying.

The Kahlers also had a son, Sean, now 12, who was at the scene of the shootings but fled without being physically injured. He testified Monday, the trial’s first day, that he saw his father shoot his mother.

Law enforcement and emergency medical personnel have said that Wight and Lauren Kahler also identified Kraig Kahler as the gunman before they died. Prosecutors have spent much of their time presenting physical evidence tying him to the shootings.

Prosecutors played a recording for jurors Wednesday of an emergency call, triggered by an alarm to a private security and medical emergency monitoring system Wight had in her home. The recording, improved by a law enforcement technician, featured a young woman screaming, “Somebody’s going to kill us!” and, in answer to an operator’s statement, “He’s in the home!”

Reese identified the voice as Lauren Kahler’s and bowed her head as she listened to the half-minute recording, shaking at times. Reese appeared nervous throughout her testimony and was often wide-eyed.

But Reese testified that Kahler wanted to bring her into his sexual relations with his wife, proposing it in a text message as the lesbian relationship started.

Karen Kahler’s divorce attorney testified Tuesday that she had told him Kahler had proposed such an arrangement. The attorney, Dan Pingelton, of Columbia, said Karen Kahler told him that her husband had brought the two women together, but Reese said they’d known each other since 2006 from working as fitness trainers at a Weatherford, Texas, gym.

Haney noted that no one has produced a copy of a text message from Kahler to Reese, seeking a sexual relationship with the two women.

Haney asked Reese, “You don’t have anything other than your testimony today that Kraig Kahler suggested a threesome?”

Reese replied, “No sir. It’s my word."


Deputies detail capture of Kraig Khaler

When approached, he said, 'I’m the guy'

By Brennan David -

August 17, 2011

LYNDON, Kan. — When sheriff’s deputies searched Kraig Kahler’s red Ford Explorer the day after his family was killed, they found a rifle box with a caliber size engraved on its side — the same caliber of casing that was discovered at the murder scene.

Yesterday afternoon, testimony in Kahler’s murder trial focused on the aftermath of the killings, Kahler’s capture and evidence collection.

Testimony from several Osage and Shawnee county deputies, as well as investigators with the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, occupied the attention of the 15 Osage County jurors yesterday afternoon.

Defense attorney Tom Haney does not dispute that his client committed the Nov. 28, 2009, crime in Burlingame, Kan. Instead, Haney said his case will show his client was not sane at the time of the killings and will accuse a Texas woman, Sunny Reese, of wrecking the Kahler family home and driving him to his “tipping point.”

Columbia attorney Dan Pingelton represented Karen Kahler during her divorce from the defendant. He said yesterday that his client and Reese were in love. Reese was scheduled to testify today.

Kraig Kahler, former director of Columbia Water and Light, is charged with capital murder, four alternative counts of first-degree murder and aggravated burglary. He allegedly shot and killed his wife, Karen Kahler, 44, and daughters Emily, 18, and Lauren, 16. He also is accused of fatally shooting Karen Kahler’s grandmother, Dorothy Wight, 89.

On Monday, former Osage County sheriff’s Deputy Nathan Purling said that minutes before arriving at Wight’s home he had been dispatched to investigate a suspicious red Ford Explorer and heard over the police radio a report of a boy who said his dad shot his mom. Twelve-year-old Sean Kahler, who was 10 at the time of the killings, told the jury Monday he escaped the home when Kraig Kahler opened fire on his mother.

Purling discovered Wight when he entered the home. He said she was attempting to nurse a gunshot wound to the abdomen while sitting in a recliner. With the shooting confirmed, Purling said he immediately informed dispatch that the suspicious red vehicle must be involved. The call resulted in a manhunt.

The vehicle was later found abandoned on the county line just moments after it passed a deputy. The driver parked it in a driveway and fled the scene, and the vehicle was retrieved and processed for evidence. A perimeter, stretching two miles in all directions, was established around the vehicle to locate the driver.

Deputies searched for 7½ hours but did not locate the driver.

Around 7 the next morning, Shawnee County sheriff’s Deputy Ed Nelson testified to being stopped by another vehicle while patrolling the area. The man asked if a murder suspect was caught yet and informed the deputy that a man just ahead was walking along a ditch.

Nelson said he approached the man, who later was identified as Kraig Kahler. “I’m the guy you’re looking for,” Nelson said he was told.

Nelson said Kahler told him he was from Columbia and that his wife had filed for divorce and she was having an affair.

Kraig Kahler also told the deputy he was armed with a holstered revolver. Long pocket knives also were found on him as well as hundreds of dollars in cash, pliers, gloves, a flashlight and a mesh hunting bag. Sean Kahler testified Monday that his father left the Meriden, Kan., family home just hours before the killings to go to the bank.

“He appeared to be cold, tired,” Nelson said of Kraig Kahler.

A rifle box was found in Kraig Kahler’s red Ford Explorer with a caliber size engraved on its side, said Shawnee County sheriff’s crime scene Deputy Reanne Rice. The same caliber casing was discovered at the murder scene. The weapon never was recovered, but the rifle’s clip was found and collected.

Additional rifle clips were found in the vehicle, as well as a hiking backpack equipped with supplies such as soap, lotion, hand towels, toilet paper, cotton balls, beef jerky and trail mix. A large amount of canned goods also were found in the vehicle


Son testifies against father

11-year-old says dad shot his mother

Wayne White -

August 15, 2011

LYNDON—In a clear and unwavering voice, an 11-year-old boy testified Tuesday that he saw his father shoot his mother at his great grandmother’s Burlingame home.

Testifying by closed circuit video from the jury room in the Osage County Courthouse, with his father James Kraig Kahler sitting in the courtroom, Sean Kahler told about visiting his great grandmother with his mother and two sisters during the Thanksgiving holiday last year and the events that followed.

The boy’s testimony was presented at a preliminary hearing for Kraig Kahler, 46, who is charged with capital murder for the deaths of his wife, Karen Kahler, the couple’s teenage daughters, Emily and Lauren, and Karen Kahler’s grandmother, Dorothy Wight. All were shot in Wight’s Burlingame home Nov. 28, 2009.

Sean testified he had left his father’s parents’ home near Meriden, after spending Thanksgiving there and went with his mother and sisters to Wight’s home in Burlingame.

Questioned by assistant attorney general Amy Hanley, Sean said he was cleaning some old coins he and his mother had found at his grandmother’s house. He said as the two were standing at the kitchen sink, his father entered the home.

“My dad came through the door and shot my mom,” the boy said.

When asked if he saw what happened to his mother, he answered, “I just heard her collapse on the floor from the shot.

“I just caught a glimpse, I think she was holding her leg.”

Questioned by Kraig Kahler’s attorney, Thomas Haney, Sean said he then ran outside. “The first thing I did was duck down and then he went around the kitchen counter and that’s when I ran out the door,” Sean said.

He explained that after going outside, he went to the front of the house in an attempt to get back inside the house.

“My first thought was to go in and get a phone,” he said, “so I was trying to find a way to get back in. I started opening the door and saw my dad go by again, and then I closed it.”

He testified that he heard one or two more shots and then ran to a neighbor’s house, but no one was home. He then went to another nearby house in which he could see people inside.

When they answered the door, “I told them to call 911 because there had been a shooting across the street at Dorothy Wight’s house,” he said.

He said that once he calmed down, “I told them my dad had shot my mom, sisters and great grandma.”

He described the gun used by his father as a .223 caliber rifle that he had seen only once before, when the family lived in Texas. The boy said he knew about guns because his dad had given him a .223 caliber rifle, and he recently shot a deer with his grandfather’s .243 caliber rifle.

Also testifying at the hearing were two of Wight’s neighbors, Michelle Davidson and Trevor Gibson, who live a block and a half west of Wight’s home. The couple testified that on Nov. 28, 2009, they were inside their home when an unrecognized noisy vehicle drove by and parked nearby on Collins Street. They became suspicious and watched a person exit the vehicle and walk down the road.

“We thought the person was stealing,” Davidson said.

Gibson testified he went to the vehicle to investigate and noted a Missouri license tag number on the red Ford Explorer.

“First I called the Burlingame Police Department, but I couldn’t get a hold of anybody,” Davidson said.

Upon contacting Burlingame’s utility department, they were advised to call 911, she said. A 911 dispatcher told her that no deputies were in the area, but to keep watching the vehicle.

A while later, the couple saw a man come back to the vehicle, carrying an object they could not identify.

“Hey, you, stop right there,” Davidson said she yelled at the man as she shined a flashlight on him, but he placed the object in the back seat, got in the vehicle, and drove off as Gibson approached on foot.

Before the man came back to the vehicle, Davidson said, she thought she heard a gunshot and then heard sirens.

Osage County Sheriff’s Deputy Nathan Purling testified that he was the first law enforcement officer to arrive at Wight’s home, responding to a call of a suspicious vehicle. Then he was notified of a Life Alert call from Wight’s home.

“Shortly after that, I was told there was a shooting at that residence,” Purling said.

He said he grabbed a rifle and took a position behind a tree in the front yard to observe, and then went to the front porch and looked in a window. He said he saw Wight sitting in a chair in the living room and saw blood.

“I forced my way inside,” Purling said. “I stopped and looked at her injuries, and told dispatch we needed as much medical attention as we could get.”

He began searching the house to make sure it was safe and then found Karen Kahler in the kitchen still alive. He said he also noticed empty .223 caliber shell casings on the floor.

After hearing a voice crying for help from the second floor, Purling said he went up the stairs as another deputy covered him. There he found Lauren Kahler suffering from gunshots. He said she was writhing in pain and he tried to calm her. He asked who shot her and she said her father had.

“Don’t let me die,” the girl told him, he testified. “I don’t want to die.”

“I comforted her as best as I could,” Purling said.

Purling said he then went back downstairs to the living room where he found Emily Kahler dead on the living room floor.

Wallace Brannen, an emergency medical technician employed by American Medical Response, testified he responded to the emergency call and provided care to Wight as she was transported to Topeka. Brannen said Wight told him Kraig Kahler “came in and just started shooting.”

Brannen’s testimony about Wight’s statements drew an objection from the defense, but Osage County Magistrate Judge Stephen Jones overruled it due to Hanley citing “dying declaration” as the reason to admit the hearsay statements.

Shawnee County Sheriff’s Deputy Ed Nelson testified he was the first law enforcement officer to locate Kraig Kahler after an all night search of an area near the Osage-Shawnee county line. Nelson said he was not a participant in the search, but was patrolling in the area after he came on duty that Sunday morning and was notified by a person in a vehicle that the suspect was “just over the hill.” Upon driving a short distance, he encountered Kraig Kahler walking in the ditch along Auburn Road.

When he made contact with the individual, “He stated, ‘I’m the guy you’re looking for,’” Nelson said.

Nelson said Kraig Kahler was carrying a hunting knife and a handgun, but offered no resistance to his arrest.

Testimony indicated Kraig Kahler was located less than a half mile from where his vehicle was found.

“Thirteen hours after the shooting, Mr. Kahler was located four blocks away from his vehicle?” Haney asked Nelson.

Nelson confirmed Haney’s question. Haney also asked whether Nelson knew if a rifle had been recovered, but then withdrew the question.

Osage County Sheriff’s Deputy John Knapp testified that he was involved in a search of the area where Kraig Kahler had been located, and said a magazine for a .223 caliber rifle was found in the ditch.

Investigator Bob Beckham, of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, testified he searched Kraig Kahler’s vehicle after it had been impounded in an Osage County Sheriff’s Department garage. He said he discovered a long white box that had a label indicating it was for a .223 caliber Mac 90 rifle. He said further investigation revealed the box had contained a rifle sold in Texas to Kraig Kahler.

With testimony completed, Jones agreed with the prosecution that enough evidence had been presented to support the charges against Kraig Kahler: capital murder, or four counts of first degree murder in the alternative, and one charge of aggravated burglary.

“The court’s going to find the allegations of amended complaint filed Dec. 10, 2009, have been proved,” Jones said. “It does appear those felonies have been committed and there is probable cause to believe the defendant has committed them.”

Jones then bound Kraig Kahler over for trial before Osage County District Judge Phillip Fromme. Arraignment is set for 9:30 a.m. Feb. 7.

Earlier Tuesday, Fromme had been asked to rule on an appeal of Jones’ denial of the defense request to waive the preliminary hearing. Fromme ruled the court did not have jurisdiction to hear an appeal of Jones’ decision.



Kahler charged with capital murder

By James Carlson -

November 30, 2009

LYNDON -- Armored by a bulletproof vest, a wiry James Kraig Kahler was marched into the Osage County Courthouse on Monday morning where he was formally charged in the shooting deaths of his wife and two teenage daughters and the shooting of his wife's grandmother.

Count one, the judge read aloud, capital murder punishable by the death penalty.

Kahler didn't raise an eye from his size 10 jail slippers as four armed sheriff's deputies guided him into the courtroom. Once inside, the 46-year-old rarely looked up during his 15-minute first appearance.

In the alternative of capital murder, he was charged with three counts of first-degree murder, one count of attempted first-degree murder and one count of aggravated burglary.

In setting Kahler's bond at $10 million, District Judge Phillip M. Fromme said Kahler -- due to the nature of the crime and his out-of-state residence -- presented a flight risk.

Kahler said he had contacted Topeka attorney Jason Belveal but wasn't sure of Belveal's credentials. Asked about his participation, Belveal wouldn't comment Monday.

Fromme appointed the Kansas Death Penalty Defense Unit.

A preliminary hearing was set for 1:30 p.m. Dec. 10.

Following the proceeding, Deputy Attorney General Barry Disney, who will lead the prosecution, said Kahler is presumed innocent until proven guilty. The tragedy, he said, has been difficult on the residents of Osage County.

"I don't think if it happened a hundred times in a county people would be used to it," Disney said.

Deputies were called about 6:15 p.m. Saturday to 905 S. Topeka Ave. just outside Burlingame, where they found four people shot. One was pronounced dead at the scene and three others were transported to Stormont-Vail Regional Health Center in Topeka. Two of the three victims died shortly after arrival to the hospital.

Karen Kahler, 44; Emily Kahler, 18; and Lauren Kahler, 16, were identified as the deceased. Disney confirmed the couple's 10-year-old son was also present in the home at the time of the shootings. A neighbor on Sunday said the boy was able to notify another neighbor about assistance.

Dorothy Wight, 89, was still in critical condition, Disney said.

Kahler is the former director of the Water & Light Department in Columbia, Mo. In January of this year, Kahler's wife filed for divorce. In March, he was arrested and charged in Columbia with third-degree domestic assault after an altercation with his wife. By September, he was forced to resign due to his personal problems.

His domestic assault trial was set to begin Wednesday, and the court struggle for the couple's kids was to continue later this month.

For much of the proceedings on Monday, Kahler held his head in his hands and answered Fromme in short phrases.

Karen Kahler's brother and his wife sat in the second row of benches. Their gaze rarely veered from Kahler.


Man arrested in slayings

By James Carlson -

November 28, 2009

BURLINGAME -- A domestic dispute simmering 200 miles away boiled to the surface in this tiny Osage County town over the weekend as a former Columbia, Mo., city official was arrested Sunday in connection with capital murder in the shooting deaths of his wife and two teenage daughters.

James "Kraig" Kahler, 46, was booked into Osage County Jail on Sunday afternoon, just days before he was to stand trial in Columbia for a domestic assault charge related to an incident with his wife. Kahler's first appearance is scheduled for 11 a.m. today in the District Court of Osage County, where formal charges are expected to be filed.

The Kansas Attorney General's Office, leading the investigation, said Kahler also will face charges of attempted first-degree murder and aggravated burglary of Dorothy Wight, the owner of the home and Kahler's grandmother-in-law. As of Sunday, Wight remained in critical condition in a Topeka hospital.

Deputies were called about 6:15 p.m. Saturday to 905 S. Topeka Ave. just outside Burlingame, where they found four people shot. One was pronounced dead at the scene and three others were transported to Stormont-Vail Regional Health Center in Topeka. Two of the three victims died shortly after arrival to the hospital.

Karen Kahler, 44; Emily Kahler, 18; and Lauren Kahler, 16, were identified as the deceased.

Townspeople were stunned by the news as they smoked outside their apartment or walked into church Sunday morning.

"I'm just sick about the whole mess," said local resident George Masters, who has known Wight "for years and years."

The shootings came after a year-long slide for Kahler's marriage -- and consequently, his career.

Kahler told reporters he was looking for "larger opportunities" for his family when he became the director of the city water department in Columbia, Mo., in June 2008.

But a series of events changed that.

In January of this year, his wife, Karen, filed for divorce. On March 16, Kahler was arrested after an altercation with Karen. She filed for a court protective order against Kahler that same day, and Kahler was later charged with 3rd degree domestic assault.

By September, his personal life had bled into his professional life as he was forced to resign his city position due to "difficult family issues," according to a city news release.

Court records show the Kahlers' divorce trial was scheduled for Dec. 21. Court records also reveal the Kahlers had been sparring over their children and that a hearing was scheduled for January.

Kahler was to face a court trial Wednesday in Columbia, Mo., connected to the domestic assault charge. Instead, he sits in an Osage County jail cell.

Asked Sunday about a previous history of violence for Kahler, Kansas Attorney General spokeswoman Ashley Anstaett said, "There's been some talk about what was going on in Columbia."

After authorities were called to the scene Saturday, they initiated a multi-agency manhunt involving the Kansas Highway Patrol's helicopter unit, KHP ground units, the Shawnee and Osage County sheriff's offices, and police from Auburn and Topeka. Law enforcement blocked about 2 miles of Auburn Road between Auburn and Burlingame as air, ground and K-9 units searched the area.

Kahler was finally apprehended by Shawnee County sheriff's deputies in the area of 112th and Auburn Road at 7:27 a.m. Sunday, county dispatchers said.

Initial reports indicated a man was responsible for the incident at a home in the small Osage County town. Police radio traffic indicated a 10-year-old child at the house was able to run from the scene and call for help. A neighbor, who wished to remain anonymous, confirmed a boy at the scene of the crime had notified a neighbor about the shootings.

Everybody in town seemed to know Wight and her husband, George, who died a few years ago. Masters just shook his head Sunday morning.

"They are fine people, fine people," he said of the Wights.

Cathy Fagan, who lives across the street from the residence, remembered her children fishing in the Wights' pond.

"She is a wonderful lady," Fagan said.

LeeAnn Smiley, who lives next door to Wight, called her "one strong lady." She said she had seen the family members arrive for the holiday weekend.

The shootings were the second triple-homicide in Osage County this year. In January, Michael Shirley shot his three children before taking his own life in a Scranton residence.



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