James Kraig Kahler
When people get divorced it is often said they are divorcing a different person than they married. Many times they are divorcing an even worse person than made them want to get a divorce in the first place, if in fact it was they who wanted the divorce. Often when a divorce occurs one of the parties is either surprised that things had gotten that far or for one reason or another does not want the divorce. There are a variety of reasons that people do not want to got through a divorce from anything from status in the community, reputation to finances or simply for companionship.
If we are to believe the stories that friends and family would later tell, Karen Kahler wanted out of her marriage for two reasons. First, she claimed to many that her husband, James, who went by his middle name of Kraig, was controlling and abusive. Secondly, Karen had found a new love in Sunny Reese. It would be the latter that defense attorneys would later say drove Kraig Kahler over the edge of insanity. Prosecutors would claim that it was not insanity that drove Kraig Kahler but anger, jealousy, and the need for revenge.
It was Saturday, November 28, 2009 in the home of eighty-nine year old Dorothy Wight in Burlingame Kansas where everything would change. Dorthy's granddaughter, Karen Kahler and her three children were visiting for Thanksgiving weekend. It is unclear where Dorothy or eighteen year old Emily or sixteen year old Lauren were in the home but Karen and ten year old Sean were in the kitchen. According to Sean, he and his mother were “cleaning coins” at the kitchen sink when he saw his father enter the home and shoot his mother as she stood by him. His father allowed him to leave the home unharmed, but he would be the only one. In the process it is believed that the gunshots had activated the “Life Alert” system in the home and it would audio record some of what happened over the next several minutes. By the time Kraig Kahler was done in the home his wife, his two teenage daughters and his wife's grandmother would all be shot. Only Dorothy would make it alive outside the home. Kraig Kahler would be found and arrested the following day and Dorothy Wight would succumb to her injuries on December 1st.
James Kraig Kahler would go on trial in August of 2011. The prosecution not only had Sean Kahler's eye witness testimony, they had audio recordings also. Kraig's daughter Lauren could be heard in two of them. In one she is heard screaming while her father was walking through the home and going after victims. In another she was being comforted by a police officer as she lay dying saying “I don't want to die.” Dorothy and Lauren both apparently also identified Kahler as the shooter before their deaths. The prosecution also found Kraig Kahler's blood inside the home and a jacket just outside that contained a business card with his name on it. Neighbors had also identified his SUV as being parked near the home, some even cited his license plates for extra leverage.
In late 2008 the family was living in Weatherford Texas where Kraig was the director of the city utility department. The marriage was apparently under strain and it was around this time that Karen had met Sunny Reese. It was said that when Kraig first became aware of the relationship between his wife and her new lover he had simply told her to get it out of her system because they were moving to Missouri anyway for his new job. Later it was said that he attempted to get Karen and Sunny to include him in their relationship, to which they denied.
On New Years Eve of 2008 there was apparently an incident between Karen and Kraig in which pushed Karen to file for divorce the following month. It was said that over the next several months not only did Kraig refuse to apparently sit back and allow Karen to move on with his life, he became “obsessed” at keeping his marriage and as he saw that was not likely a possibility he believed his daughters had taken Karen's side. Within weeks of the murder Kraig would lose his job with the City of Columbia Missouri and would be forced to move back in with his parents in Kansas. Just exactly where Karen and the kids were living at that point was not clear. The defense at his trial would argue that finances had already caused Kraig Kahler's mental health to deteriorate and that the the divorce and Karen's new relationship had all but made him “snap.”
Throughout the months after she filed for the divorce it was was alleged that Kraig stalked Karen through the Internet and in person. On March 16th an incident occurred in which caused Karen to seek a restraining order against Kraig and lead him to be charged with a misdemeanor domestic assault charge. In her complaint Karen alleged that Kraig had come up to her and asked (although apparently did not wait for an answer) to sit next to her. She claimed that she got up and he began following her repeatedly asking for a hug despite her saying no. At some point he had blocked her from leaving the room and then cornered her with his arms still reaching out to her. He then gave her what she described as a “bear hug” that left her with bruises and scrapes both from the force and from her attempts to get away. In her claim Karen had stated “I'm afraid it will escalate so far that someone is going to be seriously hurt.” After her murder the charges against Kraig in this case were dismissed.
It took the jury only two hours to come back with a guilty verdict. They convicted him on four counts of first degree murder and one count of aggravated burglary. Then it was time for the jury to decide on sentencing. The defense really pushed the idea that Kraig had been pushed to the edge mentally by the fact that his wife had left him for a lesbian lover. In fact, the media ate that up too. It seemed that every article mentioned it and even a few had it in the title. They obviously were no longer fighting against a conviction but now they were fighting against the death penalty. They would tell the jury that prior to this Kraig Kahler had no criminal history, well at least none that he had been convicted of. Even in the one incident he was charged in they would argue he was losing his grip on reality. Sean, who was now being raised by Karen's family, wrote two notes to the court. The first stated that he did not want his father to receive the death penalty because it would be too hard on his grandparents, Kraig's parents, Wayne and Patricia. The second simply stated that he did not want his entire family to be gone.
Two psychiatrists testified at the hearing, one for the defense and one for the prosecution. This is common, but what is less common is that these psychiatrists were partners in the same office. One stated that Kraig was not rational and could not control his behavior while the other said while he was a bit unstable it was not serious enough that he had not understood what he was doing.
It took the jury less than an hour to come back with a recommendation for death. It was said that neither Kraig, nor his parents showed any emotion to the verdict at either time. But, Kraig did show some emotion as he was led out of the room. He turned to his parents and said, “Take care of Sean so he's not raised by a bunch of freaks.” Obviously this was one last dig at Karen's family.
In February of 2018 James Kraig Kahler's conviction and sentence were upheld. I am uncertain as to why Kansas even bothers with death penalty cases. While they have the death penalty laws in their state only Kansas and New Hampshire has not executed anyone since the re-instatement of the death penalty in 1976 and yet they continue to sentence people to death row. Currently there looks to be ten inmates on Kansas Death Row.