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Kahler sentenced to death for killing family

Tuesday, October 11, 2011 | 11:00 a.m. CDT; updated 4:11 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, October 11, 2011

LYNDON, Kan. — James Kraig Kahler was sentenced to death Tuesday for fatally shooting four family members on Thanksgiving weekend in 2009.

Osage County Judge Phillip Fromme on Tuesday sentenced Kahler, 48, for killing his estranged wife, their two daughters and his wife's grandmother in Burlingame, about 30 miles southwest of Topeka, Kan.

The jury that convicted Kahler in August had recommended the death penalty. Fromme could have sentenced Kahler to life in prison without parole.

The victims were 44-year-old Karen Kahler, her grandmother, 89-year-old Dorothy Wight, and the Kahlers' two daughters, 18-year-old Emily and 16-year-old Lauren.

A psychiatrist testified during Kahler's trial that he had been upset with his daughters for siding with their mother during the couple's divorce and that he believed Wight should have encouraged his wife to stay in their marriage.

Kahler, is a former director of Columbia Water and Light and utilities director in Weatherford, Texas. He moved to Kansas to live on his parents' farm outside Topeka after losing his job in Columbia in 2009.

According to testimony during Kahler's trial, the couple was divorcing, in part because his wife was having an affair with a woman from Weatherford, Texas. Kahler's attorneys contended that he was out of control emotionally and suffering deep depression when he went from room to room at Wight's home and shot the victims with an assault rifle.

The Kahlers' son, Sean, then 10 years old, was at the home but escaped without physical injury. He testified that he saw his father shoot his mother. Law enforcement officers and emergency medical personnel said Wight and Lauren Kahler identified James Kraig Kahler as the gunman before dying.

During the sentencing phase of the trial, Sean Kahler asked jurors to spare his father's life and not take his entire family from him.

Kahler's defense attorney, Thomas Haney, argued in a memo filed with the court Oct. 6 that Kahler should be sentenced to life without parole because he had no criminal history and suffered from mental illness brought on by his failing marriage.

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