LYNDON, Kan. – Blood from a man who’s charged with killing his estranged wife, their two teenage daughters and the wife’s grandmother was found inside the northeast Kansas home where they were shot, jurors in his capital murder trial heard Friday.
But another forensic scientist testified that fingerprints couldn’t be matched with those of defendant James Kraig Kahler.
Prosecutors played the videotaped testimony of a DNA analyst for the Kansas Bureau of Investigation as they neared the end of their case. If convicted, Kahler could face the death penalty for the four murders, which occurred the weekend after Thanksgiving at the home of his wife’s grandmother, just outside Burlingame, a town of about 930 residents some 20 miles south of Topeka.
Kahler, 48, is a former city utilities administrator in Weatherford, Texas, and Columbia, Mo., who returned to Kansas to live with his parents in 2009, having lost the Missouri job. Defense attorneys contend he snapped mentally because his wife was having a sexual relationship with a Weatherford, Texas, woman and was pursuing the divorce.
Prosecutors were expected to wrap up their case Monday, allowing defense attorneys to present evidence. The state argues the murders were premeditated and has presented evidence tying Kahler to the scene.
Part of that evidence was the videotaped testimony of Brittin McMahon, the DNA analyst for the KBI. She said a DNA sample taken from Kahler after his arrest allowed her to identify blood at the murder scene as belonging to Kahler, who had scratches on his hands when arrested. The blood was on a handrail for stairs from the first to the second floor of the grandmother’s home and on a wall nearby.
McMahon was questioned in May and couldn’t be at the trial in Osage County District Court because she is doing DNA analysis for the U.S. Army in Afghanistan.
A KBI colleague, forensic scientist Kelly Woodward, testified that several fingerprints at the scene couldn’t be matched definitively with Kahler’s.
Authorities also haven’t found the murder weapon, a .223-caliber assault rifle. They found seven casings for .223-caliber shells at the murder scene and a box for a .223-caliber rifle in the back of Kahler’s sports-utility vehicle after his capture.
The victims of the shootings were: Karen Kahler, 44; her grandmother, Dorothy Wight, 89, and the Kahlers’ daughters, Emily, 18, and Lauren, 16. Law enforcement officers and emergency medical personnel have said Wight and Lauren Kahler identified Kraig Kahler as the gunman before dying.
The Kahlers’ son, Sean, now 12, also was at the scene but escaped without physical injury. He testified earlier in the trial that he saw his father shoot his mother.
Jurors heard testimony Thursday from Kahler’s parents and brother about Kahler’s depression over his crumbling marriage and his wife’s extramarital lesbian relationship.
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.
Kahler testified that his brother talked then that he might “go 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.” The father said the call prompted family members to go to Missouri to get Kraig Kahler 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 that he thought his son was referring to Karen Kahler and the woman with whom she was involved, Sunny Reese.
But Reese testified Wednesday that when her relationship with his wife started in 2008 in Weatherford, Texas, Kraig Kahler was pleased and even once suggested three-way sex- 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.
The case is State of Kansas v. James Kraig Kahler, No. 09-CR-270 in Osage County District Court.