LYNDON, Kan. — In the weeks before the shootings, James Kraig Kahler made statements about his emotional and mental state that frightened and disturbed his father and brother, the two men testified Thursday afternoon.
The statements from Wayne Kahler, his father, and Kris Kahler, his brother, followed the playing of a videotaped interview by Kansas Bureau of Investigation agent Bill Halverson conducted the morning Kraig Kahler was arrested. In the video, which was played for the Osage County District Court, Kahler says he “messed up” and couldn’t handle the situation he was in.
Kahler, 48, is charged with capital murder in the Nov. 28, 2009, shooting deaths of his wife, Karen Kahler, 44; daughters, Emily, 18, and Lauren Kahler, 16; and his wife's grandmother, Dorothy Wight, 89. He’s also charged with aggravated burglary in connection with the break-in at Wight’s home that night.
Kraig Kahler’s younger brother, Kris Kahler, told the court that about six to eight weeks before the shootings, his brother had called him to tell him that he “might go out in a blaze of glory.”
Kris Kahler, who is tall and lanky and has dark hair like his brother, said Kraig Kahler was “agitated” when he moved to Meriden, Kan., to be with his parents. When defense attorney Amanda Vogelsberg suggested that Kris Kahler had never seen his brother in such an emotional state, he said it was true.
For Wayne Kahler, it was a phone call from his son in late September or early October of 2009 that set off alarms.
“He just told me he had terrible thoughts,” Wayne Kahler said, describing Kraig Kahler as sounding “depressed.”
He said the call prompted him to drive to Columbia to pick up his son and move him to the family home in Meriden. Wayne Kahler testified that he was scared Kraig Kahler was going to take his own life.
In an interview just hours after the shootings, Wayne Kahler told Halverson that when he arrived at his son’s house in Columbia, he found that Karen, Emily and Lauren Kahler had “trashed the home” when they moved out in March of 2009.
It was one of a handful of direct quotes from the interview that Osage County Prosecutor Brandon Jones read to Wayne Kahler to jog his memory, as he struggled to recall what he’d told Halverson. Chief Judge Phillip Fromme allowed the prosecution to play Wayne Kahler, who is 70, segments of the interview on headphones for the same purpose.
Jones also asked him if he could remember a statement his son made to him about “the girls.” The prosecution and defense attorneys were at odds about whether Wayne Kahler was referring to Karen Kahler and her lover, Sunny Reese, or Emily and Lauren Kahler, so a portion of his interview with Halverson was played for the court.
“He said, ‘I was so bitter, I could just do away with both of them,’” Wayne Kahler says on the recording. He told the court he thought his son was referring to Karen Kahler and Reese.
Wayne Kahler did say that his son’s condition was improving as he stayed in Meriden.
“The longer he was there, the better he got,” Wayne Kahler said. “He kept busy.”
He choked up when a photograph of Kraig Kahler and his son, Sean Kahler, was placed before him. Taken the morning of the shootings, the picture shows the two holding up a trout for the camera.
“They were going fishing,” Wayne Kahler remembered. “They were happy.”
Patricia Kahler, Kraig Kahler's mother,described the picture for the court while wiping her eyes with a tissue. The picture shows Kraig Kahler wearing a camouflage jacket and blue jeans, the same clothing he was wearing when he was arrested the next morning.
Patricia Kahler testified that she didn’t see her son after he left his family’s Meriden home to buy concrete mix to fix a post on the front porch. Earlier that day, she had dropped off Sean Kahler with his mother and sisters so he could visit Wight in Burlingame. Meriden and Burlingame are less than 50 miles apart.
The court also heard from two other witnesses Thursday afternoon:
Bob Beckham: Beckham was the lead agent on the case from the Kansas Bureau of Investigation. He searched Kraig Kahler’s red Ford Explorer and took pictures of what was inside, including a briefcase that contained two maps. One of those maps, bearing a computer printer date of Oct. 7, 2009, was labeled with an address Beckham recognized as Sunny Reese’s home address in Weatherford, Texas. During his cross examination of Beckham, defense attorney Tom Haney said there was an “obvious reason” those maps had been pulled as evidence by the prosecution, though Jones simply asked Beckham to identify the two pieces of paper as maps during his direct examination and didn't revisit the exhibits during his redirect examination.
Kelly Woodward: Woodward, a fingerprint analyst with the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, collected prints from Wight’s home and other objects, including a jacket found near a shed on Wight’s property, rifle cartridges found in the home and a magazine with live rounds found in the ditch where Kraig Kahler was arrested. Woodward said the only fingerprint of value collected came from a screen door at the back of the house. After processing the print against those taken from the family members at the house that night, law enforcement officers and Kraig Kahler, Woodward said she was unable to determine the source of the print.