LYNDON, Kan. — James Kraig Kahler’s Columbia family practice doctor said Monday that while he prescribed antidepressant and anti-anxiety medication for Kahler, he never determined that Kahler had manic episodes, panic attacks, hallucinations or thoughts of death or suicide.
Siamac Vahabzadeh took the stand Monday afternoon on the first day of witness testimony for the defense during Kahler’s capital murder trial in Osage County District Court. Friends of the family and a former colleague of Kahler’s from the Columbia Water and Light department also testified that the family was just like any other before the Kahlers' marriage began to crumble.
Former City Manager Bill Watkins, who was Kahler's direct supervisor when Kahler was director of Columbia Water and Light, was scheduled to testify Tuesday. With the prosecution scheduled to call just four more witnesses in the next two days, it appeared the jury could begin deliberating on Wednesday, at the earliest.
Kahler, 48, is charged in the 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 one count of aggravated burglary in connection with the break-in at Wight’s home that night, Nov. 28, 2009.
Vahabzadeh said he saw Kraig Kahler twice for emotional and mental issues. Kahler reported on a patient information form in March of 2009 that he was having anxious and fearful thoughts, irritated moods and poor concentration, among other symptoms.
Vahabzadeh prescribed the antidepressant Zoloft and Klonopin, a drug to control seizures and panic attacks. He told the court that Kahler returned in June to modify his medication because of sexual side effects, which Vahabzadeh said were most likely caused by Zoloft.
But Vahabzadeh said under cross examination by Assistant Attorney General Amy Hanley that he saw no signs of Kahler being a threat to himself or others — signs that a patient needs for hospitalization — or exhibiting distress during the two appointments.
Don and Marina Coulter, who became friends with the Kahlers when they lived in Weatherford, Texas, testified that before his marriage began to fall apart, Kahler seemed to be a good father and husband.
Don Coulter smiled as he remembered the two families on camping and boating trips. He described Kahler’s close relationship with his son, Sean, and said that while Kahler’s interactions with his daughters were more “serious” and that he “kept them on a fairly tight rope,” he never observed animosity between him and the girls.
The couple said they began noticing tension between Kraig and Karen Kahler in late 2008 and early 2009. Marina Coulter said Karen Kahler told her that she was required to have sex with her husband every night. Marina Coulter added, however, that she “didn’t know if (Karen Kahler) was bragging or if she was complaining.”
The couple’s testimony centered on a New Year’s Eve party on Dec. 31, 2008, at which the Coulters said Karen Kahler and her friend, Sunny Reese, were intoxicated and affectionate.
“There had been some comments between my wife and other friends about whether something could be happening there,” Don Coulter said. “We kind of gave it the benefit of the doubt.”
Reese spent the night at the Kahlers’ empty house in Weatherford, which was still on the market. She came back to the Coulters’ home with Karen Kahler the following morning to return an afghan they’d borrowed, he recalled.
“Karen said something about how she was thinking of getting a divorce,” Don Coulter said. “I said to her, ‘You (and Sunny) really need to slow this down. You need to think very clearly about what you’re doing. You don’t want to break up your family.'”
Marina Coulter told the court that she and her husband spent the entirety of New Year’s Day counseling the couple after Kraig Kahler arrived, visibly upset.
“That was one of the worst New Year’s days of our lives,” she said.
She said she’d also asked Reese to leave.
“The matter was between a husband and wife,” she said. “She was just making matters worse.”
She said they continued to try to help the Kahlers after they moved to Columbia, advising both of them over the phone to take responsibility in working things out.
“I told him what’d happened was not only Karen’s fault, but there had to be some problems on his side that he needed to address,” Don Coulter said.
The Coulters said they didn’t remember talking to the Kahlers again after that.
Liz McAulay, another friend of the couple’s from Weatherford, also testified Karen Kahler told her at a mother’s support group meeting that her husband required her to have sex with him at 8 o’clock every night. She said Karen Kahler asked that she not call at that time, as it would “upset” Kraig Kahler.
Osage County Prosecutor Brandon Jones read McAulay related statements she’d made to Kansas Bureau of Investigation agents, including that Karen Kahler described the sex as “just one of her chores,” that “she had to give to get” and that it was “just something she did to make things run smoothly at the Kahler household.”
McAulay said she had been dating Reese, who would become Karen Kahler’s lover, for about a year when Reese ended the relationship. McAulay said she advised Reese to stop seeing a married woman.
“I was afraid for (Reese) and her son,” McAulay said, noting that she was worried that anyone in Kraig Kahler’s situation could be “unpredictable.”
Kraig Kahler’s demeanor at work seemed to follow the same pattern as his behavior in social settings. Former interim Columbia Water and Light director Michael Schmitz, who was the department’s chief engineer until he was appointed interim director in 2009, said Kahler, then his boss, was “easy to work for and easy to work with.”
Schmitz said Kahler was very polite and professional and never showed his temper. He talked about times he’d give up his chair to those who were late to department meetings.
“It was a comment I made jokingly that he was too thin and too nice, but if he would stay with me long enough, I could fix both of them,” Schmitz said.
But Schmitz said that as Kahler’s divorce proceedings wore on, he became distracted, texting excessively on his city-issued Blackberry and showing Schmitz albums filled with family photographs in his office.
“He was having a hard time accepting what was going on in his life,” Schmitz said. He agreed with Haney’s suggestion that Kahler was “obsessed” with keeping his family together.
Schmitz recalled a day when Kahler brought his family to the department.
“He seemed like a typical father, proud of them,” he said.
Schmitz said that he was “stunned” when he received word of the shootings from the department’s public relations person.
“I had to have her repeat it because it just surprised me,” he said.
Kraig Kahler’s father, Wayne Kahler, took the stand for the second time after having testified for the prosecution last Thursday.
He read to the court a preconception agreement that Karen Kahler had drawn up before Sean Kahler, the couple’s youngest child, was born.
The contract, dated March 30, 1998, stipulated that Karen Kahler would be entitled to “time off on a regular basis” and “reasonable freedom to purchase what I want for maternity clothing, home and nursery without scrutiny.”
“Don’t even think about leaving me with the baby while you and the older girls go out and do fun things like boating or camping,” states the contract, which was projected onto a large screen for the jury while Wayne Kahler read it aloud.
Wayne Kahler also spoke about his son as a boy, telling the court that he was an “excellent student” who was “very organized.”
Kraig Kahler’s mother, Patricia Kahler, also described Kraig as neat and orderly. She said he was hardworking, both on the family’s farm, at school and at jobs he held.
“He was never scared of work,” she said. “Never.”
Patricia Kahler recalled her son playing with his daughters when they were very young. She smiled and sometimes looked in her son’s direction as she tried to remember specific examples.
“He just always was playing with them and enjoying them,” she said of her son’s relationship with Emily and Lauren Kahler. “He was always with those kids.”
Patricia Kahler said she and her husband talked to their son and his family every one or two weeks. She said she’d never heard anything about physical or emotional abuse or seen bruises on Karen Kahler.
She said her son’s family and job came before all else and that the money he made was spent on everyone but himself.
“When he did spend money, he’d always go to Walmart,” Patricia Kahler said with a chuckle.
Testimony was expected to resume 9 a.m Tuesday.