Photo/Topeka Capital Journal
Wayne White and Catherine Faimon
LYNDON—Before jury selection got under way Monday in
a trial for a man accused of killing his wife, two teenage
daughters and his wife’s grandmother in Burlingame,
an Osage County District Court judge denied a defense request
to move the trial to another county or judicial district.
Thomas Haney, an attorney defending James Kraig Kahler, filed
a motion Friday for a change of venue in the case, saying
statistics garnered from questionnaires filled out by more
than 300 potential jurors on July 25 showed prejudice is so
great against the defendant he cannot obtain a fair trial
in Osage County.
Kahler, 48, is charged with capital murder for the deaths
of his wife, Karen, the couple’s teenage daughters,
Emily and Lauren, and Karen’s grandmother, Dorothy Wight.
All were shot in Wight’s Burlingame home Nov. 28, 2009.
In his motion, Haney cited information gleaned from 260 of
the questionnaires, saying 56 percent of the respondents stated
Kahler is guilty; 22 percent would automatically apply the
death penalty; and three percent claim they had not been exposed
to pretrial publicity.
“It is respectfully submitted that the overwhelming
prejudice against the defendant in Osage County is no longer
speculative,” Haney wrote in his motion, “but
there exists a real and strong likelihood of prejudice against
the defendant …”
In response to the defense motion, assistant attorney general
Amy Hanley said the state did not believe the statistics presented
were entirely accurate because they did not represent all
324 questionnaires submitted.
“The defendant chose to include only those percentages
he believes support his request,” Hanley wrote in the
“Even as presented by the defendant, the questionnaire
percentages show an adequate number of prospective jurors
who can be fair and impartial,” Hanley said.
The state said in its response that knowledge of the case
amongst community members did not automatically equal prejudice
nor warrant a change of venue; the defendant did not meet
the burden to show prejudice; and the defendant did not demonstrate
prejudicial pretrial publicity.
In his ruling, Osage County Chief Judge Phillip Fromme agreed
there had not been prejudicial pretrial publicity.
“It’s been my observation from reading the various
news accounts, and I think I’ve caught most of them,
that it’s all been fact based,” Fromme said. “And
I haven’t found the media in of itself made any proclamations
that the defendant was guilty, it has simply been factual
in their reporting.”
“It is clear there has been news media coverage, and
there are a lot of people who have heard of this case,”
but knowledge of the case among the community does not automatically
equal prejudice or warrant change of venue, Fromme said.
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