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Thad Allton/The Topeka Capital-Journal
Kraig Kahler listens during his preliminary hearing in Lyndon Tuesday morning.

Wayne White
| Managing Editor

LYNDON—In a clear and unwavering voice, an 11-year-old boy testified Tuesday that he saw his father shoot his mother at his great grandmother’s Burlingame home.

Testifying by closed circuit video from the jury room in the Osage County Courthouse, with his father James Kraig Kahler sitting in the courtroom, Sean Kahler told about visiting his great grandmother with his mother and two sisters during the Thanksgiving holiday last year and the events that followed.

The boy’s testimony was presented at a preliminary hearing for Kraig Kahler, 46, who is charged with capital murder for the deaths of his wife, Karen Kahler, the couple’s teenage daughters, Emily and Lauren, and Karen Kahler’s grandmother, Dorothy Wight. All were shot in Wight’s Burlingame home Nov. 28, 2009.

Sean testified he had left his father’s parents’ home near Meriden, after spending Thanksgiving there and went with his mother and sisters to Wight’s home in Burlingame.

Questioned by assistant attorney general Amy Hanley, Sean said he was cleaning some old coins he and his mother had found at his grandmother’s house. He said as the two were standing at the kitchen sink, his father entered the home.

“My dad came through the door and shot my mom,” the boy said.

When asked if he saw what happened to his mother, he answered, “I just heard her collapse on the floor from the shot.

“I just caught a glimpse, I think she was holding her leg.”

Questioned by Kraig Kahler’s attorney, Thomas Haney, Sean said he then ran outside. “The first thing I did was duck down and then he went around the kitchen counter and that’s when I ran out the door,” Sean said.

He explained that after going outside, he went to the front of the house in an attempt to get back inside the house.

“My first thought was to go in and get a phone,” he said, “so I was trying to find a way to get back in. I started opening the door and saw my dad go by again, and then I closed it.”

He testified that he heard one or two more shots and then ran to a neighbor’s house, but no one was home. He then went to another nearby house in which he could see people inside.

When they answered the door, “I told them to call 911 because there had been a shooting across the street at Dorothy Wight’s house,” he said.

He said that once he calmed down, “I told them my dad had shot my mom, sisters and great grandma.”

He described the gun used by his father as a .223 caliber rifle that he had seen only once before, when the family lived in Texas. The boy said he knew about guns because his dad had given him a .223 caliber rifle, and he recently shot a deer with his grandfather’s .243 caliber rifle.

Also testifying at the hearing were two of Wight’s neighbors, Michelle Davidson and Trevor Gibson, who live a block and a half west of Wight’s home. The couple testified that on Nov. 28, 2009, they were inside their home when an unrecognized noisy vehicle drove by and parked nearby on Collins Street. They became suspicious and watched a person exit the vehicle and walk down the road.

“We thought the person was stealing,” Davidson said.

Gibson testified he went to the vehicle to investigate and noted a Missouri license tag number on the red Ford Explorer.

“First I called the Burlingame Police Department, but I couldn’t get a hold of anybody,” Davidson said.

Upon contacting Burlingame’s utility department, they were advised to call 911, she said. A 911 dispatcher told her that no deputies were in the area, but to keep watching the vehicle.

A while later, the couple saw a man come back to the vehicle, carrying an object they could not identify.

“Hey, you, stop right there,” Davidson said she yelled at the man as she shined a flashlight on him, but he placed the object in the back seat, got in the vehicle, and drove off as Gibson approached on foot.

Before the man came back to the vehicle, Davidson said, she thought she heard a gunshot and then heard sirens.

Osage County Sheriff’s Deputy Nathan Purling testified that he was the first law enforcement officer to arrive at Wight’s home, responding to a call of a suspicious vehicle. Then he was notified of a Life Alert call from Wight’s home.

“Shortly after that, I was told there was a shooting at that residence,” Purling said.

He said he grabbed a rifle and took a position behind a tree in the front yard to observe, and then went to the front porch and looked in a window. He said he saw Wight sitting in a chair in the living room and saw blood.

“I forced my way inside,” Purling said. “I stopped and looked at her injuries, and told dispatch we needed as much medical attention as we could get.”

He began searching the house to make sure it was safe and then found Karen Kahler in the kitchen still alive. He said he also noticed empty .223 caliber shell casings on the floor.

After hearing a voice crying for help from the second floor, Purling said he went up the stairs as another deputy covered him. There he found Lauren Kahler suffering from gunshots. He said she was writhing in pain and he tried to calm her. He asked who shot her and she said her father had.

“Don’t let me die,” the girl told him, he testified. “I don’t want to die.”

“I comforted her as best as I could,” Purling said.

Purling said he then went back downstairs to the living room where he found Emily Kahler dead on the living room floor.

Wallace Brannen, an emergency medical technician employed by American Medical Response, testified he responded to the emergency call and provided care to Wight as she was transported to Topeka. Brannen said Wight told him Kraig Kahler “came in and just started shooting.”

Brannen’s testimony about Wight’s statements drew an objection from the defense, but Osage County Magistrate Judge Stephen Jones overruled it due to Hanley citing “dying declaration” as the reason to admit the hearsay statements.

Shawnee County Sheriff’s Deputy Ed Nelson testified he was the first law enforcement officer to locate Kraig Kahler after an all night search of an area near the Osage-Shawnee county line. Nelson said he was not a participant in the search, but was patrolling in the area after he came on duty that Sunday morning and was notified by a person in a vehicle that the suspect was “just over the hill.” Upon driving a short distance, he encountered Kraig Kahler walking in the ditch along Auburn Road.

When he made contact with the individual, “He stated, ‘I’m the guy you’re looking for,’” Nelson said.

Nelson said Kraig Kahler was carrying a hunting knife and a handgun, but offered no resistance to his arrest.

Testimony indicated Kraig Kahler was located less than a half mile from where his vehicle was found.

“Thirteen hours after the shooting, Mr. Kahler was located four blocks away from his vehicle?” Haney asked Nelson.

Nelson confirmed Haney’s question. Haney also asked whether Nelson knew if a rifle had been recovered, but then withdrew the question.

Osage County Sheriff’s Deputy John Knapp testified that he was involved in a search of the area where Kraig Kahler had been located, and said a magazine for a .223 caliber rifle was found in the ditch.

Investigator Bob Beckham, of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, testified he searched Kraig Kahler’s vehicle after it had been impounded in an Osage County Sheriff’s Department garage. He said he discovered a long white box that had a label indicating it was for a .223 caliber Mac 90 rifle. He said further investigation revealed the box had contained a rifle sold in Texas to Kraig Kahler.

With testimony completed, Jones agreed with the prosecution that enough evidence had been presented to support the charges against Kraig Kahler: capital murder, or four counts of first degree murder in the alternative, and one charge of aggravated burglary.

“The court’s going to find the allegations of amended complaint filed Dec. 10, 2009, have been proved,” Jones said. “It does appear those felonies have been committed and there is probable cause to believe the defendant has committed them.”

Jones then bound Kraig Kahler over for trial before Osage County District Judge Phillip Fromme. Arraignment is set for 9:30 a.m. Feb. 7.

Earlier Tuesday, Fromme had been asked to rule on an appeal of Jones’ denial of the defense request to waive the preliminary hearing. Fromme ruled the court did not have jurisdiction to hear an appeal of Jones’ decision.