Crime & Courts

Slain wife's lover testifies in murder case

LYNDON — A Texas woman testified Wednesday that a man accused of killing his estranged wife and their children had encouraged the two women to have a sexual relationship but also was abusive toward his wife.

Prosecutors called Sunny Reese of Weatherford, Texas, as a witness against James Kraig Kahler, who is charged in the shooting deaths of his wife, their two teenage daughters and his wife's grandmother. He could face the death penalty if convicted of the slayings, which occurred in November 2009 in the grandmother's home just outside Burlingame, south of Topeka.

Defense attorneys contend that Kahler snapped mentally because his wife was having an affair with Reese and was pursuing a divorce. Kahler, 48, was a utilities director in Weatherford, Texas, before becoming water department director in Columbia, Mo., in 2008, though he lived outside Topeka at the time of the killings.

But Reese testified that Kahler, who often went by his middle name, was told by his wife, Karen, about their relationship and consented to the affair before it began. Shortly after it began, Reese said, he sent the two women flowers.

"He agreed to everything," Reese testified. "He was very pleased."

Most of the questions about Reese's relationship with Karen Kahler came from Thomas Haney, a Topeka attorney representing Kraig Kahler.

Haney said Reese had sent Karen Kahler an e-mail in January 2009 about "how to divorce a narcissist," and had Reese read a text message she sent to Kahler around that time, telling him, "She doesn't love you, Kraig, not like you think she does."

As for Kahler consenting to the lesbian affair, Haney said, "To keep his marriage alive, he was willing to consent to a sexual relationship between her and you."

But Reese testified that Kahler wanted to bring her into his sexual relations with his wife, proposing it in a text message as the women's relationship started. Haney noted that no copy of such a text message exists and asked her if she had anything other than her testimony to support that claim. Reese replied, "No sir. It's my word."

The victims of the shootings were: Karen Kahler, 44; her grandmother, Dorothy Wight, 89; and the Kahlers' daughters, Emily, 18, and Lauren, 16.

The Kahlers also had a son, Sean, now 12, who was at the home but fled without being injured. He testified Monday, the trial's first day, that he saw his father shoot his mother.

Reese described Kahler as abusive toward his wife and said the women grew close — and then had a sexual relationship — because Karen Kahler confided her problems. But she acknowledged that she didn't witness any abusive behavior and only heard accounts through Karen Kahler.