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Attorney testifies Kahler proposed 'threesome' with Sunny Reese

Tuesday, August 16, 2011 | 2:21 p.m. CDT; updated 3:45 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, August 16, 2011

LYNDON, Kan. — The Columbia attorney who represented Karen Kahler in her divorce from James Kraig Kahler testified on Tuesday that Kraig Kahler wanted to add another partner to his marriage, and that Sunny Reese was his choice.

“My understanding was that Mr. Kahler had introduced Sunny into the marriage and wanted Sunny to participate” with them, Dan Pingelton said on the second day of testimony in Osage County District Court.

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Pingelton said that though Kraig Kahler "introduced Sunny sexually to them" and that the three had been close, Karen Kahler told Pingelton she and Reese "broke away."

“Karen’s position was not that they were just friends,” Pingelton said. “She took the position that after Kraig introduced them, her and Sunny fell in love.”

Kraig Kahler, who had remained emotionless throughout Pingelton’s testimony, shook his head slightly as Pingelton related his conversation with Karen Kahler about the threesome. The testimony was at odds with the picture the defense has said it will paint of Karen Kahler's friend, Reese: a home wrecker who drove Kraig Kahler to madness and murder.

Kraig Kahler, former director of Columbia Water and Light, is charged with capital murder in the Nov. 28, 2009, shootings of his wife, Karen Kahler, 44, daughters, Emily, 18, and Lauren Kahler, 16, and his wife’s grandmother, Dorothy Wight, 89. He is also charged with aggravated burglary in connection with the break-in of Wight’s Burlingame home that night.

Under questioning from Assistant Attorney General Amy Hanley, Pingelton testified that the couple's divorce was “approaching what I would imagine to be the end” before the shootings.

“In a few months, it became fairly contentious, and it became worse as the divorce went on,” Pingelton said of what began as a “fairly unremarkable” separation.

In addition to the Dec. 21, 2009, divorce trial date that had been set, Pingelton said a settlement conference had been scheduled for Dec. 4.

Hanley asked Pingelton what kind of difficulties arose during the divorce proceedings.

“Everything,” Pingelton said. “Specifically money, maintenance, child support.

“There were several issues, two of which notably involved Mr. Kahler hacking into my client’s email account and then Mr. Kahler’s domestic violence charge,” Pingelton continued.

Pingelton also said during the defense’s cross examination that Karen Kahler had taken $50,000 from one of the couple’s joint accounts, though he said this was “not unusual,” and that her purchase of a red Mustang convertible from Reese's family for Emily Kahler, though not a legal issue in the divorce, “angered Mr. Kahler.”

Under cross examination, defense attorney Tom Haney sought to emphasize the  likelihood that Karen Kahler met Sunny Reese while the two were working at the same fitness club in Weatherford, Texas, where the Kahlers lived before they moved to Columbia. But Pingelton refused to speculate on that assertion.

The jury also heard testimony from emergency responders who tried to treat Emily Kahler and took Dorothy Wight to Stormont-Vail Regional Health Center in Topeka the night of the shootings. James Welch, one of the responders, said that though Dorothy Wight’s left elbow had been “pretty well shattered” and her left side wounded by a gunshot, “she was very calm.”

Paramedic Wallace Brannen recounted his ambulance ride with Wight and how she identified Kraig Kahler as the person who had shot her.

“I asked her if she knew who had shot her,” Brannen said. “She stated that Kraig Kahler came in and just started shooting.”

Wight died as the result of her injuries three days after she was shot.

Before the court recessed for lunch around noon, Shawnee County Sheriff’s Department deputies Dave Gowan and Ed Nelson testified. Dispatchers informed the law enforcement officers that night that they were looking for a white male named James Kraig Kahler, approximately 6 feet 2 inches with dark hair and a beard. Dispatchers said he was driving a red Ford Explorer.

Gowan, who was stationed at the Shawnee County-Osage County dividing line, testified that he pulled over a vehicle matching the description dispatchers gave him. He said the information about the 911 call from Wight’s home was described as a “domestic dispute where shots were fired.”

“It’s usually a family-related problem, usually verbal,” he said. “It can be physical violence, a shooting, a beating. It’s a family-related problem.”

Gowan said that though he turned on his emergency lights and announced himself over a public address system, the SUV was empty when backup officers searched it later. Gowan said he didn't see anyone leave the vehicle as he watched it.

Nelson said he, too, was stationed near the county line when a car pulled over and a driver told him about a man walking in a ditch on the Osage County side of the line. When Nelson found and approached the man, Kraig Kahler identified himself.

“I’m the guy you’re looking for,” he told Nelson, who recounted the conversation in his testimony.

Nelson held Kahler until backup officers arrived, and he said in court that Kahler told him he was from Columbia. Kahler said he’d recently been fired from his job and his wife was having an affair with a woman and had filed for divorce.

“He appeared to be cold, tired, and the morning temperatures were in about the 30s,” Nelson said.

Testimony was scheduled to continue around 1 p.m. Tuesday.


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