Tuesday, December 8, 2009

What triggered alleged killer? Man in Burlingame Kansas deaths had court dates scheduled

Note: Cross posted from [wp angelfury] A Human Rights Issue-Custodial Justice.



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What triggered alleged killer?



Man suspected in Burlingame deaths had court dates scheduled



Created December 5, 2009 at 9:38pm

Updated December 5, 2009 at 10:35pm

COLUMBIA, Mo. — In the week after his arrest on suspicion of a murder spree in Burlingame, Kan., Kraig Kahler was scheduled to make three appearances in the Boone County Courthouse.

These appearances likely would have required him to pay a hefty sum in alimony, face domestic assault charges that might have been reduced or dropped and participate in a settlement conference in front of a judge with his estranged wife, Karen.

The slayings of his wife, two daughters and their 89-year-old grandmother last weekend in Burlingame made the court dates unnecessary.

But were mounting legal troubles enough to push Kahler over the edge?

Dan Pingelton, Karen Kahler's divorce attorney, said there was nothing about the scheduled proceedings that would have been unusually harsh for the man being held on $10 million bond in Osage County, Kan.

"It wasn't like he was facing D-Day. That wasn't the situation here at all," Pingelton said.

Instead of feeling vindictive toward her estranged husband, Pingelton said, his client's greatest concern was that Kahler take an active interest in the lives of his daughters.

"I have letters in my file to" Kraig Kahler's "lawyer saying, 'We're disheartened that your client won't see his daughters,' " Pingelton said. "We very much wanted him to see his daughters when he saw his son."

In addition, Karen Kahler and the parents of Kraig Kahler had become increasingly concerned over his depression. If any further protective legal action was sought, Pingelton said, it likely would have been on behalf of Kraig Kahler's safety. "We were wondering what, if anything, could be done regarding his welfare," he said.

Digging deeper into the legal issues surrounding the Kahler homicides raises questions about what was done to protect the victims and, legally, what might have been done. For instance, why did Karen Kahler have only a court's restraining order instead of a full order of protection against her husband at the time of her death?

Women and divorce

Colleen Coble, chief executive officer of the Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, said it is an all-too-common occurrence with women going through divorce.

"I think our humanity is in question if this isn't a wake-up call," she said, referring to the Kahler case.

On March 16, Karen Kahler filed an adult abuse complaint in Boone County Circuit Court, petitioning for and receiving a temporary ex parte order that barred any contact between Kraig Kahler and his wife and their three children. However, on April 9, Karen Kahler dropped the ex parte order, leaving in place a restraining order that a judge had granted in the Kahlers' divorce case. Karen Kahler filed for divorce on Jan. 28.

In her experience, Coble said if an abuser is found violating a restraining order he is typically told by police to go home. If he is found violating an order of protection, however, he is hauled off to jail.

"The reason we have orders of protection is because restraining orders don't work," Coble said.

Pingelton said it is common in divorce cases to consolidate two cases under one case file to make sure everything can be heard before the same judge at the same time.

"It makes for easier case management," he said.

Pingelton insisted that if police could ever prove Kraig Kahler had violated the restraining order, the attorney would have immediately filed for a full ex parte order of protection and asked a judge to hold Kraig Kahler in contempt for violating the restraining order.

Despite two suspicious break-ins in May and August at Karen Kahler's home on West Oak Drive, as well as slashed tires on her vehicle and her suspicion that he was cyberstalking her, police couldn't prove Kraig Kahler had violated the restraining order.

Still, Coble strongly believes that victims shouldn't give up the stronger protection of an ex parte order to simplify case load management.

"From my perspective, it's just common sense that the system needs to accommodate the needs of those in danger," she said. "It's not those in danger who need to accommodate the needs of the court."

Gun access

Why did Kraig Kahler have access to a firearm? Anyone who is the subject of a full order of protection in an adult abuse case is prohibited by federal law from possessing a firearm. That prohibition doesn't, however, apply to someone bound by a restraining order, meaning Kraig Kahler could legally carry a gun.

Coble said that because Missouri lacks an enacting law, local police don't have the authority to confiscate firearms even if they encounter a gun-toting person who is named as the aggressor in a court order of protection. A bill prefiled by Sen. Joan Bray, D-St. Louis, aims to give state and local police that power. Coble said this will mark the 10th effort to get the General Assembly to act on the issue.

Pingelton cautioned against placing too much emphasis on the law. When someone is deranged and violent, he said, no statute or court order is sufficient to protect someone.

"You know what? A guy comes after you and shoots you, your tools for protection are a bulletproof vest or a gun," he said. "If you become of the mind-set that you're going to murder your wife and your children, I don't care what order you have. I don't care what's out there."

T.J. Greaney is a reporter for the Columbia (Mo.) Daily Tribune.

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