Kahler murder trial: Afternoon testimony centers on physical evidence

Tuesday, August 16, 2011 | 9:13 p.m. CDT

LYNDON, Kan. — Paper bag after paper bag of items recovered from Dorothy Wight’s home, James Kraig Kahler’s red Ford Explorer and the defendant himself in the days after the Burlingame slayings were admitted into evidence Tuesday afternoon as witness testimony continued in Kahler’s capital murder trial.

Tuesday morning's testimony had focused mainly on the "chaos" surrounding the Nov. 28, 2009, shootings, as one witness described it, and the events leading up to them. Karen Kahler's Columbia divorce attorney, Dan Pingelton, told the court that Karen and Kraig Kahler had a very different relationship with Sunny Reese than the one defense attorney Tom Haney had sketched out in his opening statement to the jury — that of a serial home wrecker who broke up the Kahler marriage.


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Reese is expected to testify Wednesday.

Most of the prosecution’s witnesses Tuesday afternoon were law enforcement officers who took part in the cleanup and evidence collection effort after the shootings. Assistant Attorney General Amy Hanley and Osage County Prosecutor Brandon Jones called on Osage County Sheriff’s Office deputies and a Kansas Bureau of Investigation agent to describe that process.

Kahler, former director of Columbia Water and Light, is charged in the shooting deaths of his wife, Karen Kahler, 44; daughters, Emily, 18, and Lauren Kahler, 16; and his wife's grandmother, Wight, 89. He's also charged with aggravated burglary in connection with the break-in at Wight's home that night.

Osage County sheriff's deputy John Knapp worked at Wight's home the night of the shootings and was called to help by Shawnee County Sheriff's Department deputy Dave Gowan, who pulled over an SUV that 911 dispatchers described as Kahler's. Knapp also collected a rifle magazine and bullets found in the ditch where Kahler was walking when Shawnee County Sheriff's Department deputy Ed Nelson found him after a 12-hour search.

Another deputy, Reanne Rice, collected the clothes Kahler was wearing and the things he was carrying when he was arrested, including a revolver and a dagger-like knife with a wooden handle and a sheath. She also swabbed Kahler’s cheeks for DNA.

Kansas Bureau of Investigation agent Ryan Boyer collected evidence from Wight’s home. He said he thought eight shell casings were recovered from the home and said he used interviews with Sean Kahler, “blood evidence” and “things that were obviously strewn about the residence” to map Kraig Kahler’s movements through the house that night.

Boyer said it took until Dec. 3 to process the entire crime scene.

Tuesday morning's testimony began with Columbia attorney Dan Pingelton testifying 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," he said. 

Pingelton, Karen Kahler's divorce attorney, said that although 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 Reese. 

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

The trial is expected to resume 9 a.m. Wednesday.

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