LYNDON, Kan. — A judge sentenced James Kraig Kahler to death Tuesday for fatally shooting his estranged wife, their two daughters and his wife's grandmother, then ordered him to stay in court and listen to his victims' relatives talk about the pain he caused them.
Kahler was convicted in August in the Thanksgiving 2009 killings in Burlingame, Kan., about 30 miles southwest of Topeka, Kan. Kahler shot his 44-year-old wife Karen, her grandmother 89-year-old Dorothy Wight, and the Kahlers' two daughters, 18-year-old Emily and 16-year-old Lauren, as the couple struggled through a divorce.
A psychiatrist testified during Kahler's trial that he had been upset with his daughters for siding with their mother, who had instigated divorce, and that he believed Wight should have encouraged his wife to stay in their marriage. Karen Kahler had been having an affair with a woman from Weatherford, Texas.
At trial, Kahler's attorneys said he was unable to control his emotions and had been suffering from a deep depression when he went from room to room at Wight's home and shot the victims with an assault rifle.
Kahler's attorney asked Osage County Judge Phillip Fromme to allow his client to return to his jail cell before the victims' families read their statements, but the judge rejected that request. The relatives' statements were tributes to the victims and did not name Kahler or mention how they felt about his sentence.
Karen Kahler's mother, Patricia Hetrick, was too frail to attend Tuesday's hearing but said in a statement that was read on her behalf that she was upset her two granddaughters had been killed "just because they were guilty of loving their mom."
Kahler, who stared at walls and papers as the statements were read, declined to make a statement.
The Kahler's son, Sean, was present during the shooting rampage but escaped unscathed. Kahler's attorney, Thomas Haney, said Sean declined a request to appear in court Tuesday. The boy, who was 10 when his father shot the rest of family to death, testified that he did not want his father sentenced to death. Haney said the boy continued to believe his father should be spared.
As he was leaving the courtroom, Kahler, former director of Columbia Water and Light and former utilities director in Weatherford, Texas, told his parents he has lost everything and exhorted them to take care of his son.
Karen Kahler's sister, Lynn Denton, said the pain of losing her sister has never eased.
"I miss her every day, some days more than others," Denton told the hearing. "I still want to pick up the phone and call her. I hear the phone ring, I want to pick up the phone and say 'Hi sister.'"