LYNDON, Kan. – A man accused of killing his estranged wife and their two daughters was depressed over his crumbling marriage and his wife’s lesbian affair and weeks before the slayings said he might “go out in a blaze of glory,” family members testified in court.
Prosecutors called James Kraig Kahler’s parents and brother as witnesses Thursday in his capital murder trial. Kahler, 48, a former city utilities administrator in two states, is charged with shooting his wife, daughters and wife’s grandmother the weekend after Thanksgiving 2009 in the grandmother’s home outside Burlingame, about 20 miles south of Topeka.
Defense attorneys contend Kahler snapped mentally because his wife was having a sexual relationship with a Weatherford, Texas, woman and pursuing a divorce. Prosecutors argue the killings were premeditated and are seeking the death penalty in Osage County District Court.
Kahler was utilities director in Weatherford before taking a similar position in Columbia, Mo., in 2008, and he lost that job in 2009 amid his contentious divorce, something his attorneys attribute to his deteriorating mental health. He moved back to Kansas to live with his parents outside Topeka.
Brother Kris Kahler testified that he helped the defendant, who often went by his middle name, move out of his large home in Columbia six to eight weeks before the slayings. Kris Kahler described his brother as “agitated” during the move.
Kris Kahler testified that Kraig Kahler talked then about going out “in a blaze of glory.”
The defendant’s father, Wayne Kahler, testified that during a phone call in late September or early October, Kraig Kahler told him about having “terrible thoughts” and sounded depressed. The father said the call prompted family members to go to Columbia to pick Kraig Kahler up and move him to Kansas.
The father said he worried that his son was suicidal. But during questioning, Osage County prosecutor Brandon Jones read parts of an interview the father had with Kansas Bureau of Investigation Agent Bill Halverson, in which the father told the agent that Kraig Kahler’s wife and daughters had “trashed” the Columbia home.
Also in that interview, the father recounted that his son told him he was so bitter, he could “just do away with both of them.”
The father testified Thursday that he thought his son was referring to Karen Kahler and the woman with whom she was involved, Sunny Reese.
The victims of the shootings were: Karen Kahler, 44; her grandmother, Dorothy Wight, 89, and the Kahlers’ daughters, Emily, 18, and Lauren, 16. Prosecutors have presented statements from law enforcement officers and emergency medical personnel that Wight and Lauren Kahler identified Kraig Kahler as the gunman before dying.
Also, the Kahlers’ son, Sean, now 12, was at the scene at the time but escaped without physical injury. He testified Monday that he saw his father shoot his mother.
Also Thursday, prosecutors played a videotape of an interview in May with Halverson, who’s since retired from the KBI and couldn’t be present for Kraig Kahler’s trial because he’s working with the U.S. Army in Afghanistan.
Halverson testified that Kraig Kahler acknowledged allowing his wife to have a sexual relationship with Reese but later regretted it.
Reese testified Wednesday that Kraig Kahler was pleased with her relationship with his wife and even once suggested a three-way sexual relationship- something defense attorneys dispute. Reese described Kraig Kahler as abusive, but his attorneys have portrayed him as a loving husband ultimately undone by the extramarital affair and divorce.
Later, the former KBI agent quoted Kahler as saying, “I messed up. I messed up.”
The case is State of Kansas v. James Kraig Kahler, No. 09-CR-270 in Osage County District Court.