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Capital murder trial for Kraig Kahler begins in Kansas today

Sunday, August 7, 2011 | 3:58 p.m. CDT; updated 12:15 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, August 9, 2011

TOPEKA, Kan. — Jury selection begins Monday in Lyndon in the case of a former Missouri city official charged with the shooting death of his wife, two of his children and his wife's grandmother in 2009.

The trial of James Kraig Kahler of Meriden is scheduled to last at least three weeks in Osage County District Court. If convicted, Kahler could receive the death penalty, which is by lethal injection under Kansas law.

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Kahler, 48, is charged with four counts of capital murder for the shooting deaths on Nov. 28, 2010, in Burlingame of his wife, Karen Kahler, 44; their two daughters, Emily, 18, and Lauren, 16; and Karen Kahler's grandmother, Dorothy Wight. The couple's son, Sean Kahler, who was 10 at the time, was not injured and fled from his great-grandmother's home where the shootings took place.

A jury of 12 and three alternates will be chosen from a pool of 300 people starting Monday in Lyndon. Prosecutors are scheduled to begin their arguments Aug. 15, followed the next week by the defense. A preliminary witness list filed with the court has close to 150 names of potential people to testify over the three-week trial.

In June, Osage County District Judge Phillip Fromme denied a defense motion to suppress statements Kahler made to officers when they questioned him about the deaths. Fromme said Kahler had waived his Miranda rights to remain silent and to have an attorney present during the questioning.

Fromme noted at the time that Kahler was educated with a college degree and capable of understanding his rights and the process of the police interview.

The couple's son testified during a December 2010 hearing that his father shot his mother. Court records show that Kahler complained of financial pressures and that the couple had been fighting over their children. The boy is expected to take the stand during the trial, but he might be allowed to appear from another room through closed-circuit television, should the testimony become difficult, as he did during the preliminary hearing.

Karen Kahler had filed for divorce in January 2009. Karen Kahler, the two daughters and the son lived in Columbia, Mo. The defendant was living in Meriden at the time of the killings.

According to court records, the defense intends to present evidence that Karen Kahler was involved in a relationship with another woman that led to Kahler suffering a mental breakdown before his wife's death.

The defense argues that Karen Kahler was involved in a relationship with Sunny Reese, who the defense says "gives the appearance of a serial home wrecker." The attorneys state that Reese destroyed her own marriage, that of another witness, Elizabeth McAuley, and that of the Kahlers.

"The defense is not concerned with the character of Sunny Reese. The defense is concerned with the specific acts and action of Sunny Reese in the instant manner," defense attorneys wrote in court documents, saying questions were relevant in Kahler's defense.

Assistant Attorney General Amy Hanley argued for the prosecution that the evidence about Reese has no bearing on the charges Kahler faces and that rules of evidence prevent character attacks on a witness.

Kahler previously was the director of Columbia's Water and Light Department and, with a $150,000 salary, the city's highest-paid employee. He and his family had moved to Missouri from Parker County, Texas, in July 2008, after he'd been utilities director for the city of Weatherford for nine years.

Kahler was asked to resign in September 2009 from his Columbia post after a friend of his wife told three City Council members that she feared for his wife's safety. Court records show that Kahler moved to Meriden by late October.

Prosecutors in Missouri dropped a pending third-degree domestic assault charge against Kahler in 2010 because the case depended heavily on the testimony of Karen Kahler.

 


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