The Supreme Court affirms Kahler’s Osage County District Court jury trial convictions of aggravated burglary and capital murder for fatally shooting his wife, his wife’s grandmother, and his two daughters.
Kahler raised 10 issues on appeal, including allegations of misconduct by the prosecutor and trial judge, challenges to the instructions given to the jury, and an argument the death penalty is unconstitutional when applied to a person who has a severe mental illness at the time he or she committed a crime.
None of Kahler’s arguments convinced the majority of the court to overturn his convictions or death sentence.
The majority held that the prosecutor did not commit an error by raising an objection during Kahler’s attorney’s closing argument. Although the majority found that the trial judge committed errors during the trial, the majority held that none of the errors affected the trial’s outcome and, therefore, the errors did not justify reversing either the guilty verdict or the death sentence.
Furthermore, the majority reaffirmed the constitutionality of a Kansas statute that eliminated the insanity defense, and instead permits a jury to consider evidence of a person’s mental disease or defect solely to determine whether the person possessed the requisite mental state for the crime.
The majority also reaffirmed its prior decision that the Eighth Amendment does not categorically prohibit the execution of persons who were severely mentally ill when the person committed the murder.
Lastly, the majority concluded there was sufficient evidence that Kahler’s crime was committed in an especially heinous, atrocious, or cruel manner to justify a death sentence.
Justice Dan Biles wrote a concurring opinion, agreeing that Kahler’s conviction and sentence should be affirmed, but disagreeing with the majority that certain comments by the trial judge to the jury should be characterized as judicial misconduct.
Justice Lee Johnson wrote a dissenting opinion, contending that the majority inadequately analyzed whether the statute removing mental disease or defect as a defense is constitutional in a death penalty case.
Furthermore, the dissent agreed that the trial judge’s errors did not require reversal of Kahler’s guilty verdict, but they did warrant giving Kahler a new sentencing trial.
Additionally, the dissent rejected the majority’s conclusion that the Eighth Amendment allows for the execution of the mentally ill.
Lastly, the dissent argued the death penalty violates the Kansas Constitution’s prohibition against cruel or unusual punishment.