National news briefs • 09.02.11

Judge puts trial on hold in case against Dan Choi

WASHINGTON — Dan Choi may be closer to having charges against him dropped after the judge in his case put the trial on hold this week.

Choi, a gay former Army lieutenant, was arrested for handcuffing himself to the White House fence in November 2010 to protest “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Choi was dismissed from the Army under the policy.

Choi was arrested two other times earlier in 2010 for similar White House protests. However, charges in those instances were brought against him in local court.

This case is being tried in federal court and he faces six months in jail and a fine. Choi’s attorney claims he is being treated differently and harshly prosecuted because is outspoken and gay.

In putting the trial on hold, the judge said that he believes Choi has shown — at least preliminarily — that he is being treated differently.

The government prosecutor, Angela George, said that she plans to have the judge’s actions reviewed by a higher court. She said that Choi is being treated no differently than the other protesters. Choi attorney Robert Feldman said that he believes the judge’s actions mean that his client has “effectively won the case” and charges will eventually be dismissed.
The trial is on hold for 10 days.

Others arrested in the case accepted a plea deal of no jail time in exchange for pleading guilty with the condition of no further arrest for four months. Choi rejected that deal.

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Death penalty recommended in case of man who murdered family

LYNDON, Kan. — A jury recommended the death penalty for James Kraig Kahler who was on trial in Kansas for killing four family members in November 2009. Final sentencing by the judge is set for Oct. 11.

Kahler is the former city utilities director in Weatherford.

After 23 years of marriage, his wife filed for divorce. She was a fitness trainer at a Weatherford gym and had been seeing another woman she worked with after Kahler tried to initiate a three-way sexual relationship with his wife and the other woman.

Kahler moved to his parent’s home outside Topeka weeks before the murder.

His son Sean, now 12, testified that he saw his father shoot his mother.

In addition to his wife, Kahler killed her grandmother and their two daughters, ages 18 and 16. Sean testified that he was not threatened during the shooting rampage.

The defense argued that the affair affected Kahler’s state of mind. They argued for life in prison because, they said, he was out of control emotionally and suffering deep depression when he committed the murders.

Under Kansas law, mental illness is only a defense if it prevents the defendant from forming the intent to kill or acting with premeditation.

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Jury unable to reach verdict in trial of teen accused of killing classmate

LOS ANGELES — A jury was unable to reach a verdict in deliberations that began on Monday, Aug. 29 in the murder case of Brandon McInerney, who is accused of shooting his gay classmate, Lawrence King, in their computer class in Oxnard, Calif., in February 2008. The judge declared a mistrial.

In closing arguments, the prosecution said that McInerney, whose attorneys claimed shot King in a panic after King repeatedly flirted with him, was lying in wait and planned the killing ahead of time. They claimed the defense was using gay panic as an excuse.

The defense said McInerney was in a dissociative state when he killed King. They claim he was not completely aware of what he was doing and said he grew up in a violent household and was sexually harassed by King.

One of the jurors is a college student who started classes this week. Ventura County Judge Charles Campbell is allowing the jury to deliberate around her schedule.
The trial was moved to Los Angeles because of pre-trial publicity.

The murder took place when McInerney was 14, but he is being tried as an adult. Now 17, he faces up to a 50-year prison term, although jurors may consider a conviction of voluntary manslaughter with a 14 to 21 year sentence.

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Prosecutors: Man filmed with Clementi should stay anonymous

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. — Prosecutors say the identity of a man recorded on a webcam in a gay intimate encounter with a New Jersey university student who killed himself should remain a secret.

The Middlesex County prosecutor’s office filed a motion Monday, Aug. 29, asking a judge to withhold the name of the man, identified only as M.B.

The Star-Ledger newspaper of Newark reports the request came in response to a motion filed by lawyers for Dharun Ravi, who is accused of spying on Rutgers University roommate Tyler Clementi and is charged with bias intimidation and invasion of privacy.

Clementi killed himself last September after his encounter with M.B. was transmitted online. His suicide sparked national discussion about bullying.

Ravi’s lawyers say they believe M.B. has information that could help their client’s case but they don’t know his name.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 31, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Jury recommends death for former Weatherford utilities director who killed 4 family members

James Kraig Kahler

James Kraig Kahler’s attorneys argued that his wife’s lesbian affair with a fellow fitness trainer contributed to his deteriorating mental state

JOHN MILBURN | Associated Press

LYNDON, Kan. A jury recommended Monday that a Kansas man be sentenced to death for killing four family members in November 2009.

The jury returned its recommendation after hearing more testimony about 48-year-old James Kraig Kahler and his state of mind at the time of the fatal shootings. The judge – who is not bound by the recommendation – set sentencing for Oct. 11 in Osage County District Court.

Kahler was convicted Thursday of four counts of capital murder in the killings of 44-year-old Karen Kahler; her grandmother, Dorothy Wight, 89; and the Kahlers’ daughters, Emily, 18, and Lauren, 16. The Kahlers’ son, Sean, now 12, was not threatened during the rampage and testified at trial that he saw his father shoot his mother.

The victims’ family members read a short statement outside the courthouse after the verdict, saying all relatives “still have a lot of healing to do” and that the trial didn’t restore their relatives’ lives.

“For the past year and a half, we’ve had a dark cloud around us that we associated with this trial,” said Lynn Denton, Karen Kahler’s sister. “Now that it’s over, the cloud is still there.

“The cloud wasn’t about the trial, it is about our loss.”

The defense argued for life in prison, saying Kahler was out of control emotionally and suffering deep depression when he went from room to room at Wight’s home in Burlingame, shooting the four victims with an assault rifle.

Defense attorney Thomas Haney declined to speak to reporters after the verdict was read. None of the jurors spoke as they left the courthouse.

Prosecutors said it was difficult to read anything into the speed at which jurors reached their decision, taking just 55 minutes to return. Osage County attorney Brandon Jones and Assistant Attorney General Amy Hanley said jurors had the evidence about the highly publicized murders “on their minds for several weeks now.”

“We believe it is the appropriate verdict,” Hanley said.

A former city utilities director in Weatherford, Texas, and Columbia, Mo., Kahler had lost the latter job after his deteriorating mental health caused his work to suffer. He moved back to Kansas just weeks before the killings to live with his parents outside Topeka.

Karen Kahler had filed for divorce in Columbia, Mo., in January 2009, after 23 years of marriage, amid her affair with Sunny Reese, who’d been a fellow fitness trainer at a gym in Weatherford, Texas. Reese testified in court, and the defense contended that the two women’s relationship also had contributed to Kahler’s mental state.

Under Kansas law, Kahler’s mental illness was a defense only if it prevented him from forming the intent to kill or acting with premeditation. Prosecutors presented evidence showing he had been upset with each of the victims and targeted them one by one on the Saturday night following Thanksgiving 2009.

Coroner Erik Mitchell testified during the trial that the four victims were alive after they were shot and that none had been shot in the head.

But prosecutors said Kahler, keeping with the stereotype of his profession, was solving what he perceived as a problem. In closing arguments, they told jurors that Kahler was depressed but was also fueled by anger and decided murder was the way to eliminate the problem of a no-longer-perfect life.

Before the jury began its 55 minutes of deliberation Monday on a sentence, the defense read the panel members two notes from Sean Kahler asking that his father be spared execution.

“I do not want my dad to receive the death penalty because it would be hard on my grandparents,” the first note said.

The second note said, “I do not want my whole family gone.”

Kahler did not speak after the jury’s recommendation was announced Monday. Bailiffs escorted him back to the jail where he was held during the trial. He will remain at the jail until the formal sentencing in October.

Karen Kahler’s brother, Bill Hetrick, said outside the courthouse, “This is not a day of winners.”
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—  John Wright