Crime & Courts

Psychiatrist: Husband 'completely lost control'

LYNDON — A psychiatrist testified Tuesday that a man accused of killing his wife, their two teenage daughters and his wife's grandmother was so depressed after his wife took a female lover and sought a divorce that he couldn't control his behavior.

Attorneys for James Kraig Kahler, a former Weatherford, Texas, and Columbia, Mo., utilities official, called psychiatrist Stephen Peterson as a witness in Kahler's ongoing trial. The 48-year-old Kahler is charged with capital murder in the fatal shootings at the home of his wife's grandmother, just outside Burlingame.

Prosecutors argue the crimes were premeditated and are pursuing the death penalty in Osage County District Court. Defense attorneys contend Kahler snapped mentally. They say his deteriorating mental health also caused his work to suffer and led him to lose his job in 2009. Afterward, he moved to Kansas to live with his parents.

Peterson said Kahler's depression over the divorce was so severe that, in his opinion, Kahler couldn't avoid doing what he is accused of doing.

"For that moment, he had completely lost control," Peterson testified. "It wasn't rational thinking."

Peterson said Kahler had a rigid personality and was unsophisticated in his understanding of others' emotions. During the divorce, Peterson testified, Kahler became "obsessively focused" on publicly humiliating his wife to get her to come back to him.

Peterson said Kahler didn't understand what he was doing "would only kill the relationship."

"It consumed him that very serious depression," Peterson testified. "He lost a great deal of his judgment."

When a defendant's mental state is an issue in Kansas, jurors are not asked to consider whether they believe a defendant understood whether his alleged actions were criminal. Instead, they consider whether his mental state kept him from forming the intent to kill a specific victim or victims and from reflecting on actions he might take.

Prosecutors say Kahler killed 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 have said Wight and Lauren Kahler identified James Kraig Kahler as the gunman. The Kahlers' son, Sean, now 12, escaped without physical injury. He testified that he saw his father shoot his mother.

Earlier Tuesday, Kahler's administrative assistant when he worked as a city utilities director in Weatherford, Texas, told jurors that he seemed to have a perfect, conventional family there. He left that job for the posting in Columbia, Mo., in 2008.

Christine Williams testified that at that time Kahler was professional and efficient, and that his family was his top priority.

Former City Manager Bill Watkins, of Columbia, Mo., also testified Tuesday about how Kahler's work deteriorated because of the breakup stress and how he was asked to resign.