Supreme Court takes up murder case of Kansas father who killed his wife, daughters

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TOPEKA, Kan. (KSNT) – Four people were killed in the town of Burlingame nearly a decade ago. Now the nation’s top court is looking into the Kansas murder case.

In November 2009, James Kahler killed his two daughters, his wife, and his wife’s grandmother. He doesn’t dispute that, but his lawyers say Kahler wasn’t in the right state of mind.

Kansas is one of five states with different insanity laws than the rest of the country.

“It’s basically just a tougher version of the insanity defense that the person challenging it in the courts are saying really can amount to no defense at all,” said Washburn Law Professor Jeffrey Jackson.

The Kansas Legislature changed how insanity pleas can be used in trials. On Monday, the Supreme Court heard from both sides to determine if that should be allowed.

“They just really haven’t addressed the insanity defense in any meaningful way with regard to exactly what states can or can’t do,” said Jackson. “The fact that this Kansas case is before them is kind of a groundbreaking case in this area,” Jackson said.

“We’re actually hoping that’ll give us some really good law.”

If the court sides with the state, Kahler will continue to stay on death row. If the court sides with Kahler, the case could return to it’s beginning, having to use a new definition of insanity.

Jackson said a decision from the court could come around the beginning of the year.

The Supreme Court is also scheduled to take up two other Kansas court cases in the coming weeks. They include federal preemption involving immigration and identity theft, as well as a case about the legality of a traffic stop.

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