LYNDON — A man accused of killing his estranged wife and their two teenage daughters said after his arrest in Kansas that he had "messed up" in his marriage and believed his daughters had sided with his wife in their pending divorce, according to testimony Thursday in his capital murder trial.
Prosecutors played a videotape of an interview in May with Bill Halverson, a former Kansas Bureau of Investigation agent, in presenting their case against James Kraig Kahler. Halverson wasn't present in Osage County District Court because he is working with the U.S. Army in Afghanistan.
Kahler, 48, a former city utilities administrator in two states, is charged with killing not only his wife and their daughters but also his wife's grandmother. All four were shot the weekend after Thanksgiving at the grandmother's home just outside Burlingame, a town of 930 residents about 20 miles south of Topeka.
Halverson said that Kahler acknowledged allowing his wife to have a sexual relationship with a Weatherford, Texas, woman but later regretted it. The former KBI agent said that after his arrest, Kahler didn't talk directly about the shootings but never asked why he was in custody.
Kahler was utilities director in Weatherford, Texas, before taking a job as the water department director in Columbia, Mo., in 2008. He lost that job in 2009, just months before the killings, and was living near Topeka when the shootings occurred. Halverson interviewed Kahler just after his arrest.
Halverson said Kahler told him, "I can't believe how fast you can lose everything."
Later, the former KBI agent quoted Kahler as saying: "I messed up. I messed up."
Kahler could face the death penalty if he's convicted, but defense attorneys contend he snapped mentally because his wife was having a lesbian affair and pursuing a divorce. They attribute the loss of his last municipal job to his deteriorating mental health — something Halverson said Kahler told him.
The victims of the shootings were Karen Kahler, 44; her grandmother, Dorothy Wight, 89, and the Kahlers' daughters, Emily, 18, and Lauren, 16.
Prosecutors contend the murders were premeditated, and they've presented evidence tying Kahler to the scene. They've presented statements from law enforcement officers and emergency medical personnel that Wight and Lauren Kahler identified him as the shooter before dying.
Also, the Kahlers' son, Sean, now 12, was at the scene but escaped without injury. He testified Monday that he saw his father shoot his mother.
While refusing to speak about the shootings, Halverson testified, Kahler talked about his wife's relationship with Sunny Reese of Weatherford, Texas, a fellow fitness trainer at a gym. Reese testified Wednesday that they had met in 2006, but their relationship turned sexual in mid-2008, after Karen Kahler confided in her.
Halverson said Kahler told him that because he had felt secure in his marriage of more than two decades, he had allowed his wife to experiment with another woman. Reese testified that Kahler consented and had even proposed a three-way sexual relationship, something defense attorneys dispute.
Halverson quoted Kahler as saying he told his wife that if she wanted to "try something," she should go ahead, following up with: "But I don't want to lose you in the process. Just be careful."
The former KBI agent said Kahler told him, "I was just trying to be nice."
Asked on the videotape by defense attorney Thomas Haney whether Kahler was obsessed with his marriage, Halverson replied, "I think that's a very good word to use."
Haney has repeatedly described Kahler as a loving husband and father and suggested Reese sought to break up his marriage to be with his wife. But in her testimony, Reese described Kahler as abusive and said she wanted to protect his wife.
Jurors have heard testimony that Kahler's divorce was contentious, and Halverson said Kahler told him he was frustrated with his daughters for siding with their mother.
Halverson said Kahler recalled that once, "Lauren said she is happy, and she can do what she wants."