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Kahler capable of premeditation despite depression, psychiatrist says

Wednesday, August 24, 2011 | 6:55 p.m. CDT
James Kraig Kahler leaves an Osage County courtroom at the end of the fifth day of testimony in his trial Friday in Lyndon, Kan. On Thursday, the jury found Kahler guilty of capital murder and four counts of first-degree murder in the slayings of his wife, two daughters and his wife's grandmother.

LYNDON, Kan. — Although he determined Kraig Kahler had depression, a psychiatrist testifying during the prosecution's rebuttal Wednesday morning said he thought Kahler was still capable of planning the crime he's accused of committing.

“He was very depressed, very unhappy, but that didn’t make him incapable of being able to do those things,” said William Logan, who, along with Stephen Peterson, is a partner in Kansas City-based psychiatry practice Logan & Peterson.

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Peterson testified Tuesday for the defense, describing Kahler as depressed and "mentally impaired."  

Defense attorney Tom Haney asked Logan whether it was unusual for him and Peterson to testify on opposite sides of a case and what protocol they followed to ensure that their independent  examinations of Kahler remained separate.

Logan said that while this was the first time he and Peterson had testified on opposing sides during a trial, they told attorneys they'd agreed not to share any information on their examinations of Kahler or any research they did on the case.

Logan was one of the last two witnesses to testify in Osage County District Court on Wednesday after the best man at Kahler’s wedding, Victor Holtorf, took the stand for the defense.

Chief Judge Phillip Fromme was expected to instruct the jury on Thursday about guidelines for their deliberations.

According to jury instructions that the attorneys and Fromme finalized Wednesday after testimony concluded, convicting Kahler of capital murder or first-degree murder will require the jury to find that the shootings were premeditated, that Kahler had the intent to kill or both.

The attorneys are scheduled to make their closing arguments on Thursday morning, after which the jury will begin deliberating.

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.

Logan said that while he agreed with Peterson’s diagnosis that Kahler had depression, he told the court that because Kahler had been active on his parents’ farm in Meriden, Kan., and hadn’t lost weight or suffered from sleep deprivation, he didn’t appear to have severe depression.

That testimony contradicted that of Peterson, who testified Tuesday that Kahler had “severe major depression” that caused him to be “severely mentally impaired” when the shootings occurred.

“Somebody who is severely depressed … (would) not (be) capable of doing things that he was doing at the time,” Logan said of Kahler.

Under direct examination by Assistant Attorney General Amy Hanley, Logan gave his interpretation of Kahler’s behavior the night of the shootings, saying that the roughly hour-long drive from his parents’ house in Meriden directly to Wight’s home in Burlingame, Kan., showed that “this wasn’t a random act.”

He said because Kahler waited outside Wight’s home, didn’t park in front of the house and spared his son, Sean, he concluded that Kahler was capable of decision making that night.

The question of whether Sean Kahler escaped the shootings or was spared by his father was not developed further during Logan's or any other witness' testimony.

Logan also said that if Kahler was “deranged” that night, he would have fired at Wight’s neighbors, who reported his car as a suspicious vehicle parked near their home and confronted him with a flashlight. The neighbors, Michelle Davidson and Trevor Gibson, testified Aug. 15.

Like multiple witnesses before him, Logan used the word “obsessed” to describe Kahler’s interest in Karen Kahler’s relationship with Sunny Reese, citing his monitoring of Karen Kahler's computer and questioning of those who spoke with her. Logan also called Kahler a cynical person, noting that he “doesn’t trust people” and “wants to maintain control.”

But under cross-examination by defense attorney Tom Haney, Logan said he met with Kahler once for a little over three hours, didn’t do any psychological tests and didn’t receive as much material to review as Peterson had. Haney contrasted this with the nearly 12 hours of interviews Peterson did with Kahler over a few months, along with the three psychological tests he gave Kahler during those interviews.

Haney pointed out factual discrepancies between Logan’s report — based partly on his interview with Kahler — and previous witness testimony in what seemed to be an attempt to discredit Logan’s interview findings.

The defense also called to the stand Victor Holtorf, who met Kahler when the two were chosen for a selective engineering program for undergraduate students during the summer of 1985 in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Holtorf said Kahler showed him pictures of his then-girlfriend, Karen, whom Holtorf would soon meet.

“They were young and in love,” he said.

Holtorf said he and Kahler were “great friends” who talked on the phone frequently. A few months after they met, Kahler asked him to be his best man.

Kahler “was always cool and levelheaded when we were drinking” and “never had a wandering eye,” Holtorf said. He said that during a visit to the Kahlers’ Weatherford, Texas home, Holtorf's girlfriend at the time came away impressed by the "perfect family."

“It just seemed like everything was wonderful,” he said.

Like previous witnesses, Holtorf said that perfect picture began to disintegrate in 2009. The friction was visible during a visit to the family's Columbia home in January of that year — the first time Holtorf said he “walked into a bad vibe in that family” or had seen the couple speak harshly to each other.

Holtorf said Kraig Kahler cited his wife's affair as the reason for his frustration and sadness.

Holtorf said the shootings were “unfathomable.”

“Kraig wouldn’t have done that,” he said. “The Kraig I knew, never.”

Court is expected to reconvene 8 a.m. Thursday.


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