Kansas man convicted of capital murder in 4 deaths

August 25, 2011 - 4:30 PM
Kansas Family Slain

Bill Watkins, former city manager for Columbia, Mo., testifies Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2011 as to why James Kraig Kahler was asked to resign as utility director of that city, at Osage County District Court in Lyndon, Kan . In the foreground is Kahler's defense attorney Amanda Vogelsberg. (AP Photo/The Topeka Capital Journal, Steve Fry)

LYNDON, Kan. (AP) — A jury convicted a Kansas man of capital murder on Thursday in the shooting deaths of his estranged wife, their two teenage daughters and his wife's grandmother — crimes his attorneys said he committed after his spouse took a lesbian lover and filed for divorce.

Attorneys for James Kraig Kahler had argued that his mental health deteriorated and he finally snapped because of his pending divorce and his wife's sexual relationship with another woman whom she met when they lived in Texas. But prosecutors painted a picture of man who coldly picked off his victims, one by one, at the home of his wife's grandmother, near Burlingame, a small town 20 miles south of Topeka, during the weekend after Thanksgiving 2009.

Jurors in Osage County District Court will next hear additional evidence and consider whether to recommend a death sentence, weighing issues such as the cruelty involved in the shootings against Kahler's previous lack of a criminal record and his mental state at the time of the crimes.

Kahler, who goes by his middle name, Kraig, was convicted of four counts of first-degree murder as well as a single count of capital murder — a charge that prosecutors could bring because Kansas law says multiple murders can qualify a defendant for the death penalty if they're part of "the same transaction" or "a common scheme." Kahler also was convicted of one count of aggravated burglary, with prosecutors contending he entered the grandmother's home without permission.

Kahler, 48, had directed city utility departments in Weatherford, Texas, and Columbia, Mo., but moved back to Kansas just weeks before the shootings to live with his parents. Witnesses testified that he lost the Missouri job after he became obsessed with keeping his marriage alive and that he believed his daughters had sided with his wife.

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

Law enforcement officers and emergency medical personnel said that before dying, Wight and Lauren Kahler identified James Kraig Kahler as the gunman. Also, the Kahlers' son, Sean, now 12, testified that he saw his father shoot his mother before he escaped the scene without physical injury.