A judge sentenced a Kansas man 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.
James Kraig Kahler declined the opportunity to address the court during the brief hearing, and showed no emotion as his sentence was announced.
Kahler, 48, was convicted in August in the Thanksgiving 2009 killings in Burlingame, about 30 miles southwest of Topeka. Prosecutors said he 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 the 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.
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. The jury that convicted him recommended the death penalty.
"It was clearly anticipated. There's never been a judge in Kansas that's overturned a jury's recommendation," Kahler's attorney Thomas Haney said.
Haney 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 stared at walls and papers as the statements were read.
The Kahlers' son, Sean, was present during the shooting rampage but escaped unscathed. 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, a former utilities director in Weatherford, Texas, and Columbia, Mo., told his parents he has lost everything and exhorted them to take care of his son.
Under Kansas law, an appeal to the death sentence is automatically filed with the state Supreme Court. The death penalty was reinstated in 1994, although no one has been executed in the state since June 1965, mainly due to disagreements among the courts over provisions related to jury instructions.
Kahler is the ninth person on death row.
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.'"
The case is State of Kansas v. James Kraig Kahler, No. 09-CR-270 in Osage County District Court.
Kansas courts website for Kahler case: http://www.kscourts.org/State-v-Kahler