DNA, bloodstain and firearms examiners' evidence places Kahler at shootings

Friday, August 19, 2011 | 9:27 p.m. CDT; updated 11:32 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, August 24, 2011

LYNDON, Kan. — DNA from blood found in the stairwell of Dorothy Wight’s home in Burlingame, Kan., matched that of James Kraig Kahler, a forensic DNA investigator with the Kansas Bureau of Investigation testified via videotaped deposition Friday.

Brittin McMahon, who worked for the KBI and now works with the military, testified in what was expected to be last full day of the prosecution's capital murder case against Kahler. She is stationed in Afghanistan and couldn’t be in court.


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Roger Butler, a bloodstain examiner from the KBI, walked the jury through Wight’s home using a PowerPoint with diagrams and photographs of the bloodstains in the kitchen, living room and bedrooms. He also showed that a bloodstain found on the stairwell wall was linked to Kraig Kahler.

“At some point in time, Mr. Kahler received an injury, most likely to the hand, and was moving up the stairway and deposited that blood on the wall and handrail,” Butler said. He referred to a picture taken the morning of Kahler’s arrest that shows just his handcuffed hands, scraped and scratched. That picture had been admitted into evidence Monday.

Kahler, 48, is charged with capital murder in the shootings 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.

Forensic pathologist Erik Mitchell confirmed that the shootings were homicides and that each woman had died as a result of her gunshot wounds. He told the court that .223-caliber rifles, the same type suspected to be used in the shootings, are designed in such a way that bullets are stable as they fly through the air but disintegrate once they hit their targets.

“It’s designed specifically to transfer all its energy to the target,” Mitchell said of the semi-automatic rifle. “I find, personally, that it does so very effectively.”

The pictures were graphic, as Chief Judge Phillip Fromme warned the jury, and a few spectators gasped and placed their hands over their mouths when they saw Wight’s wounds and evidence of the surgery she underwent in the three days she was alive after the shootings.

Mitchell said that though the women’s injuries would initially have had no effect on their cognitive function, rapid blood loss and damage to internal organs would have led to their deaths. Karen, Emily and Lauren Kahler were each shot twice, and Wight was shot once.

McMahon told the court that swabs she collected from the driver’s side center console, door handles and steering wheel in Kraig Kahler's SUV did not test positive for the presence of blood.

Butler told the court that Karen Kahler had been in the kitchen when she was shot from the back and that Wight was in a recliner in the living room when she was shot, leaving quite a bit of blood on the recliner.

He said that Emily Kahler was in the living room when she was shot. He also told the court that a bloodstain found on the second-floor landing, linked to Lauren Kahler, indicated that she wasn’t first shot in the room where emergency responders found her.

“Lauren was moving into the bedroom after she received at least one of the rounds,” Butler said.

Zachary Carr, a firearms examiner with the KBI, testified that seven cartridges that previous witnesses testified they found at Wight’s home were all fired by the same gun. Carr also said he couldn’t determine from his tests whether those cartridges were cycled through the rifle magazine found in the ditch where Kahler was arrested.

Carr told the court that the bullet fragments he received from the home were in the .22-caliber family, which he said includes bullets used in .223-caliber guns. The gun associated with the shootings was never recovered, but an empty gun box for a .223-caliber MAK-90 made by Chinese company Norinco was found in the back of Kahler’s SUV.

Carr used a similar model he picked up from a forensics lab in Iowa to show the jury how the rifle functions. Prosecuting attorney Brandon Jones asked Carr to fit the magazine found in the ditch into the gun, which Carr was able to do.

Carr also examined a plastic curtain with clear and orange flaps that hung in the stairwell of Wight’s home. Without having examined the curtain in his lab, Carr said a hole that went through two of the curtain’s flaps had distorted the surrounding plastic and had gray residue that was “very easy” to see. These marks, Carr said, were consistent with those found around bullet holes.

Defense attorney Amanda Vogelsberg asked Carr if a BB gun could have made the same hole. Carr responded that while he couldn’t determine the size of the bullet based on the size of the hole in the curtain, the stippling and gray residue caused him to believe it might have been a bullet that made the hole. Carr said he couldn’t be sure, though, because he hadn’t tested the curtain.

The court was expected to reconvene Monday morning, and the defense was to call its first witness after prosecuting attorneys Jones and Amy Hanley formally rest their case. Defense co-counsels Tom Haney and Vogelsberg were expected to begin calling witnesses Monday morning, when the Osage County District Court reconvenes at 9 a.m.

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Stephen Williams August 20, 2011 | 1:26 a.m.
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