KS Supreme Court upholds death penalty in Osage Co. quadruple murder

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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) — The Kansas Supreme Court has upheld the death penalty for an Osage Co. man who killed his wife, two daughters, and his wife's grandmother.

The majority of Justices upheld the convictions for capital murder and aggravated burglary against James Kraig Kahler.

“The decision today affirms the conviction and death sentence based on an Osage County jury’s findings and moves this case forward one more step,” Attorney General Derek Schmidt said. He noted Kahler's case is the fifth time a death sentence has been upheld since capital punishment was reinstated and 10 people are currently on death row.

The Justices ruled that, while prosecutors did make errors in the course of the trial, those mistakes would not have affected the verdicts nor his sentence. In addition, they concluded his crimes met the standard of "heinous, atrocious, or cruel" that justifies the death penalty.

Justices rejected Kahler's argument that the capital punishment of someone with severe mental illness when the crime occurred is unconstitutional. The decision upholds a Kansas statute that eliminates the insanity defense and, instead lets a jury consider the accused's mental disease or defect at the time of the crime, a spokesperson for the court explained.

It also reaffirms previous rulings the Eighth Amendment, barring cruel and unusual punishment, does not "categorically" prohibit the execution of someone with a mental illness.

In 2011, Kahler was convicted of Thanksgiving 2009 shooting and killing his wife Karen, his daughters Lauren and Emily, and his wife's grandmother Dorothy Wright while all four were were at Wright's home 20 miles south of Topeka.

His lawyers at the time argued his mental illness, though not an accepted defense, should be the prevailing mitigating factor. They claimed Kahler's pending divorce drove him insane.

The killings came less than three months after Kahler was asked to resign as water director in Columbia, Mo., because of issues related to his troubled marriage.

At one point during the trial, prosecutors alleged Kahler invited Sunny Reese to join in a three way relationship with him and Karen. His wife's defense attorney corroborated the story, saying he discussed the potential relationship with Karen as well.

In response, defense attorneys described Reese as a homewrecker and had engaged in a lesbian affair with Karen in front of the Kahlers' children. They affair made Kahler obsessive to the point monitored Karen's emails and phone records, even hired a detective to track her and Sunny.

The case was the first time in two years a jury handed down the ultimate punishment, when Justin Thurber was sentenced to death for the 2007 rape and murder of Cowley County Community College student Jodi Sanderholm.

Justice Lee Johnson dissented in the case, while Justice Daniel Biles filed a opinion that concurred in part and dissented in part with the majority opinion. He was joined by Justice Caleb Stegall. Justice Eric Rosen did not participate and was replaced by Senior Judge Michael Malone.