LYNDON, Kan. — In his interview with a Kansas Bureau of Investigation agent the morning of his arrest, James Kraig Kahler said it “messed up (his) mind” to see the unraveling of his “perfect family” and “great marriage.”
“I’m so sorry I’m here. I just can’t believe I’m here,” he told Bill Halverson in a videotaped interview played for the jury in Osage County District Court on Thursday. “I can’t believe how fast you can lose everything.”
But Kahler showed no curiosity about the charges against him, or about the shootings, when Halverson told him about them.
“It was greatly surprising to me that he would never ask why he was in custody, how anybody was doing or anything,” Halverson said.
Halverson is serving in Afghanistan with the U.S. Army and couldn't be present in court to testify, so the jury saw his videotaped deposition, taken on May 17. Jurors also saw a video of Kahler recorded by Shawnee County Sheriff's deputies in an interview room at the sheriff's department the morning of Kahler's arrest.
Kahler, 48, is charged with capital murder in the Nov. 28, 2009, shootings of his wife, Karen Kahler, 44, daughters, Emily, 18, and Lauren, 16, and his wife’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.
Still dressed in the camouflage jacket and jeans in which he was arrested the day after the shootings, Kahler stared at his bare feet as Halverson asked him about his family and career.
Kahler refused to speak about the shootings but agreed to talk about events leading up to them. He told Halverson that because he felt secure in his marriage, he had allowed Karen Kahler to "experiment" when she told him she might be romantically interested in another woman, Sunny Reese, who testified Wednesday. That conversation happened just before the family moved to Columbia from Weatherford, Texas, Kahler said.
“If you want to try something, go ahead,” Kahler recalled telling his wife. “But I don’t want to lose you in the process. Just be careful."
“I was trying to be nice,” he told Halverson.
Kahler said he thought any fling his wife might have would be quick and that he didn’t want her “doing stuff behind my back” after the Kahlers left Weatherford, where Karen Kahler met Reese while working at Powerhouse Gym.
“It was a big mistake on my part,” he said.
Kahler was soft-spoken as he talked about his wife filing for divorce and moving out of the family’s Columbia home, as well as his firing from the position as director of the city’s Water and Light department.
“(Former City Manager Bill Watkins) just thought my head wasn’t in it,” he said. “I probably wasn’t concentrating as well as I should have been because I was in all this mess.”
Kahler also told Halverson he monitored his wife’s computer and found that she'd stayed with Reese in a hotel in Wichita. He said he watched Karen Kahler’s credit card statements and phone bills, printing out records of the hours she spent each day speaking with Reese.
In his cross examination of Halverson during the videotaped deposition, defense attorney Tom Haney sought to establish that the “stressors” in Kahler’s life had driven him to his breaking point. He asked Halverson whether he saw Kahler as a man “obsessed” with saving his marriage, citing Kahler’s hiring of a private detective to follow his wife and Reese, and monitoring of his wife’s computer.
“I think that’s a very good word to use,” Halverson said.
Haney also asked Halverson whether Kahler had been told during the interview why he had been arrested or what had happened after the slayings. Halverson said that at the end of their conversation, he told Kahler he was being held in connection with the shootings. He said he was perplexed by the fact that Kahler did not ask questions, except to check how his father was doing. Halverson told Kahler that he had spoken with Wayne Kahler earlier.
Testimony was scheduled to resume at 1 p.m. Kahler's parents were expected to take the stand.