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UPDATE: Kansas AG files revised complaint in slayings of four

Thursday, December 10, 2009 | 6:32 p.m. CST

LYNDON, Kan. — Kansas' attorney general filed a revised capital murder complaint Thursday against a former Columbia, Mo., city official that now covers the shooting deaths in northeast Kansas of not only his estranged wife and their two daughters but her grandmother as well.

A magistrate also scheduled a March 18 preliminary hearing for James Kraig Kahler, 46, to determine whether he'll go to trial in Osage County District Court on one count of capital murder and one count of aggravated burglary. The attorney general's office also filed four alternative charges of first-degree murder in case Kahler isn't convicted of the capital charge.

Attorney General Steve Six hasn't decided whether to seek the death penalty or life in prison without parole, spokeswoman Ashley Anstaett said. Kansas law doesn't require such a decision until five days after a defendant has entered a plea, which happens after a preliminary hearing.

"At this point, all options are on the table," Anstaett said.

Kahler's wife, Karen, 44, sought a divorce following an altercation in March in Columbia that led to a domestic assault charge against him that is still pending. This fall, he was asked to resign as director of Columbia's Water & Light Department when a friend of his wife expressed concern to city officials about her safety.

In Kansas, Kahler is being represented by the state's death penalty defense team, and his attorney, Ron Evans, declined to comment after Kahler's brief hearing Thursday in district court. Kahler remains in the Osage County jail, with bail set at $10 million.

Kahler, who often went by his middle name Kraig, is charged with burglary because authorities believe he broke into the home where the Nov. 28 shootings occurred. The home, 21 miles southwest of Topeka, belonged to Dorothy Wight, 89, his wife's grandmother.

The capital murder charge originally filed against Kahler covered Karen Kahler's death and the shootings of Emily Kahler, 18, and Lauren Kahler, 16. Wight was wounded, and the attorney general office's first complaint included one count of attempted first-degree murder.

Wight died of her injuries last week. While Kansas law allows the death penalty for multiple murders arising from a single "scheme or course of conduct," its Supreme Court has said only one capital charge is allowed in such instances.

The Kahlers' 10-year-old son, Sean, also was at Wight's home Nov. 28, but he was not physically injured. Anstaett said he is staying with relatives.

Deputy Attorney General Barry Disney, the lead prosecutor in the case, said he anticipates no other charges being filed. District Magistrate Jon Stephen Jones set two days for the preliminary hearing.

"I would anticipate that this case eventually would be set for trial," Disney said. "We have filed what we anticipate to go to trial on."

 


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