Dying declarations entered as evidence in Kraig Kahler hearing

Thursday, December 23, 2010 | 4:16 p.m. CST; updated 6:28 p.m. CST, Thursday, December 23, 2010

LYNDON, Kan. — Two victims of a mass murder gave officials the name of their killer before they died last year. 

In a preliminary hearing Tuesday, the victims' statements were presented as evidence against Kraig Kahler, who was in court on a capital murder charge. He is accused of killing his wife, Karen, her grandmother, Dorothy Wight, and his two daughters, Emily and Lauren.

The statements would typically be objected to as hearsay because they were provided by second-hand sources. Legally, the accused has a right in court to confront and cross-examine a witness under oath.

Dorothy Wight and Lauren Kahler did not survive long enough to testify on Tuesday. Their last words were submitted by the sheriff's deputy and emergency medical technician who attended them as they were dying.

When the defense objected to the testimony, Osage County Magistrate Judge Stephen Jones overruled it under the "dying declaration" exception.

Although Kansas law suppresses hearsay, it does allow second-hand testimony when a deceased victim's statement was made voluntarily and in good faith and if the individual knows he faces imminent death.

“The exception to the hearsay rule for dying declarations may be the oldest, grounded by necessity because the declarant is dead,” said MU Law School Professor Frank Bowman.

In court, the witness must lay the framework to prove that the person did believe  death was imminent, Bowman said.

In the case of Lauren Kahler, a sheriff's deputy recalled finding her on the floor of an upstairs bedroom.

Osage County Deputy Nathan Purling told the judge he then asked her to describe what happened.

“She said she had been shot twice,” Purling said.

“Who did this to you?” he replied.

“My dad,” the teenage girl told him.

“Don’t let me die. I don’t want to die. Please help me,” she said to Purling as she succumbed to gunshot wounds, he said.

The emergency medical technician who attended Dorothy Wight told the court during Tuesday's hearing that he talked to her in the back of an ambulance.

Wallace Brannen said he was providing life support during the ride to a Topeka hospital when he asked Wight if she knew the man who shot her.

Brannen said Wight told him, "Kraig Kahler came in and just started shooting.”

Wight died three days later at the hospital in Topeka.

The testimony of the two emergency workers was accepted under the dying declaration exception and should stand as evidence should the case go to trial after Kahler's arraignment in February.

“Even under the most restrictive forms of the rule, this is a situation where it would be allowed,” Bowman said. “It is a classic example of the dying declaration exception.”


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