LYNDON, Kan. — After getting off to a slow start Monday, jury selection in the capital murder trial of former Columbia Water and Light director James Kraig Kahler sped to an early conclusion Tuesday despite widespread prior knowledge of the case among prospective jurors.
The Osage County District Court was adjourned with 52 prospective jurors chosen, seven more than necessary, after attorneys interviewed two panels with 19 and 21 members, respectively.
Jury selection, initially expected to take one week, was expedited by the fact that though nearly every juror had heard Kahler’s story, few who were interviewed Tuesday thought any prior opinions they held about the incident or the case would cause them to be unfair or partial to either the prosecution or defense.
Kahler is charged with four counts of capital murder in the Nov. 28, 2009, shooting deaths of his wife, Karen Kahler, 44; two daughters, Emily, 18, and Lauren Kahler, 16; and Karen Kahler’s grandmother, Dorothy Wight, 89. He’s also charged with one count of aggravated burglary in connection with the break-in of Wight’s home that night. Kahler’s son, Sean Kahler, who survived the shootings, is expected to testify during the trial.
Defense attorney Tom Haney and Osage County Prosecuting Attorney Brandon Jones interviewed jurors about their ability to base decisions solely on evidence presented in court and their willingness to impose the death penalty should Kahler be convicted of capital murder, the same questions asked of Monday’s jury panels. Jones is a co-counselor with Assistant Attorney General Amy Hanley, who handled jury selection proceedings for the prosecution Monday.
Unlike Monday's jury candidates, most jurors on Tuesday’s panels responded with only the word "yes" to most of the attorneys’ questions, reducing the number of potential jurors released from each panel. Some expressed reservations, especially when answering questions about the death penalty, but said that despite their hesitation, they’d be willing to follow Chief Judge Phillip Fromme’s orders.
"I’m a rule follower, so I would have to follow the rules, but it would be difficult," one juror said.
"I wouldn’t exactly want to send someone to death, but if I needed to, I would," said another.
"I hate to see anybody put to death, but at the same time, if he’s guilty, then that’s where he needs to be," said a juror on the second panel who knew Wight.
Another juror on Tuesday’s first panel also knew Wight, having cleaned her house. She was released after saying she would be unable to set aside what she knew about Wight to give Kahler a “fair and impartial” trial.
“I feel like he’s already guilty,” she said as the attorneys quickly cut her off to prevent her from saying anything more about the case. “I think I’m too close.”
Only seven jurors were released Tuesday, compared with the 17 cut Monday. Of those seven, just four were released because of their opinions about or knowledge of the case.
“I don’t think there’s anything you could present that would change my mind,” said a member of the day’s first panel who was released.
“It’s kind of hard not to have an opinion when you read all the newspapers and see all the news,” said another released juror.
After jury selection concluded, Fromme dismissed a motion filed by the defense to either disqualify prosecutors or dismiss the case against Kahler because of documents seized by the Kansas Bureau of Investigation from his vehicle and his father’s house. The defense, which filed the same motion June 7, 2010, argued that the prosecution’s review of those documents, which were were related to divorce proceedings between Kraig and Karen Kahler, constituted a violation of Kraig Kahler’s attorney-client relationship in his divorce proceedings.
Osage County Magistrate Judge Stephen Jones dismissed the motion June 22, 2010. Fromme followed suit Tuesday.
“Attorney-client privilege depends on the attorney-client relationship and doesn’t apply in every situation,” Fromme said. “You have to look at each situation individually to see if it applies.”
Fromme said the motion fell "short of any effort to intrude on the defendant’s attorney-client relationship” and that “most of the (documents in question) are not privileged or confidential.”
After a two-day recess, the court will reconvene at 1 p.m. Friday to narrow the group down to the 12 jurors and three alternates who will serve during the trial.