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Former Water and Light director due in court today

Monday, November 30, 2009 | 8:29 a.m. CST; updated 1:14 p.m. CST, Monday, November 30, 2009

Updated at 11:56 a.m.

BURLINGAME, Kan. — A former Columbia official who lost his job after he was charged with assaulting his wife was charged Monday with capital murder in her slaying and the slayings of their teenage daughters in eastern Kansas.

The Kansas attorney general's office said in a statement that James Kraig Kahler, 46, was arrested Sunday on suspicion of three counts of capital murder in the deaths of his 44-year-old wife, Karen, and their daughters, Emily, 18, and Lauren, 16.

He also is charged with attempted first-degree murder in the shooting of his wife's 89-year-old grandmother, Dorothy Wight, in whose home near Topeka the bodies were discovered on Saturday night.

Ashley Anstaett, a spokeswoman for the Kansas attorney general's office, said Wight remained in critical condition Sunday.

Kahler is accused of aggravated burglary because authorities suspect he broke into Wight's home to commit the crimes, the statement said.

Anstaett said she didn't know whether Kahler, who was arrested after a 12-hour manhunt, had an attorney.

She confirmed that Kahler used to be the director of the Water and Light department in Columbia, where he faced other charges. Online court records show Kahler was scheduled for trial in Columbia on Wednesday on a domestic assault charge that stemmed from an altercation with his wife in March.

Kahler's attorney in that case, Rusty Antel, said the couple was divorcing and his client had moved from Columbia to the Topeka area. Court records show the Kahlers' divorce trial was scheduled for Dec. 21.

Court records said the Kahlers had been sparring over their children, and a hearing was scheduled for January.

A neighbor of Karen Kahler said police were called to her home twice over the summer in response to reports that Kahler had slashed his wife's car tires and ripped out utility cables. Karen Kahler had shared the Columbia home with their teenage daughters and their other child, aged 10.

In Kansas, Anstaett would not comment on whether the third child had been at Wight's home in Burlingame, 21 miles southwest of Topeka, when the killings occurred.

The Topeka Capital-Journal reported that police radio traffic indicated a 10-year-old child fled the house to call for help.

Phone messages left by The Associated Press were not returned by Columbia Mayor Darwin Hindman; city council member Paul Sturtz; Kahler's successor, Michael Schmitz; and Daniel Pingelton, Karen Kahler's attorney in the divorce case.

 

Associated Press writers Alan Scher Zagier in Columbia, Mo., and Heather Hollingsworth in Kansas City, Mo., contributed to this report.


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