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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 state’s response.

“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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