Supreme Court rules in favor of KS in Kahler case

Published: Mar. 23, 2020 at 11:25 AM CDT
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In a Kansas case in which James Kraig Kahler was sentenced to death in the fatal shootings of four members of his family, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday that states can block defendants from making an insanity plea without violating the their rights.

The Supreme Court justices voted 6-3.

Kahler received the death penalty in the killings of his estranged wife, two teenage daughters, and his wife's grandmother.

Kahler was sentenced to death in Osage County District Court following a lengthy trial. Two shooting victims survived long enough to identify the man who used a rifle to shoot the victims. The two identified Kahler as the gunman.

Kahler had wanted to use a insanity defense, but Kansas is one of four states that eliminated a defendant's ability to plead not guilty by reason of insanity.

The other three states are Idaho, Montana and Utah, and Alaska limits the insanity defense.

The Supreme Court ruling could prompt states to toughen standards for defendants who wish to plead not guilty by reason of insanity.

"Kansas takes account of mental health at both trial and sentencing," Justice Elena Kagan wrote, upholding a Kansas Supreme Court ruling.

"That choice is for Kansas to make -- and, if it wishes, to remake and remake again as the future unfolds," Kagan wrote.

Kansas "has eliminated the core of a defense that has existed for centuries: that the defendant, due to mental illness, lacked the mental capaicity necessary for his conduct to be considered morally blameworthy," Justice Stephen Breyer wrote in opposition to the majority ruling.

Kahler was sentenced to death on October 11, 2011, which ordered that Kahler receive a lethal injection.

Kahler was convicted of capital murder of Karen Kahler, 44, the defendant's former estranged wife; daughters Emily, 18, and Lauren, 16; and Dorothy Wight, 89, Karen's grandmother.

Kahler's son, Sean, who was 10 at the time, was the sole survivor in the house where the other four were slain.

Kahler's defense attorneys asked that he receive a life sentence.

The four victims were fatally shot in November 2009 in Burlingame, which is about 30 miles southwest of Topeka.