Former Shawnee County prosecutor Jacqie Spradling admitted during a disciplinary hearing in this Topeka office building on charges of ethical misconduct that she denied fair trials to a Shawnee County murder defendant and a Jackson County rape defendant. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)
TOPEKA — Kansas attorney Jacqie Spradling told a disciplinary panel Thursday she accepted decisions issued by the Kansas Supreme Court and Kansas Court of Appeals outlining her prosecutorial misconduct that led to overturning a double-homicide conviction in Shawnee County and a guilty verdict in a sensationalized sex-crime case in Jackson County.
Spradling, who now works as Bourbon County attorney and assistant Allen County attorney, took the witness stand in her defense before a three-attorney panel considering whether she should be punished for misleading juries in the trial of Dana Chandler, convicted in 2012 of gunning down her ex-husband and his girlfriend, and at the trial of Jacob Ewing, found guilty in 2017 of rape and other offenses.
Spradling faces sanctions ranging from admonishment to disbarment for allegedly violating boundaries as a prosecutor to attain convictions in the two cases reversed on appeal.
Spradling had previously deflected criticism of her courtroom actions in the high-profile cases, but took a different approach under questioning by a lawyer with the disciplinary administrator’s office and when directly questioned by a member of the hearing panel.
“No prosecutor wants their case overturned,” Spradling said. “When it happens, every one of us, including me, feels bad. When these cases were overturned, it was very difficult because I had let the system down, I had let the victims down and I had denied the defendants a fair trial.”
She said her responsibility as a prosecutor was to protect people, but she had “failed in these cases” to uphold that duty. Reading the Court of Appeals and Supreme Court decisions reversing the convictions thrust her through stages of disbelief, anger, grief and acceptance, she said. Initially, she said, it was shocking anyone could believe she would “go into the courtroom and lie.”
Spradling, who became emotional during portions of her testimony, urged the attorneys hearing her disciplinary case to accept that her personality was anchored in a “protectiveness, a loyalty and a belief in justice.”
She repeated during her testimony that one role of appellate courts was to make prosecutors better in the same way defense attorneys could make law enforcement officers better by holding them accountable.
“If the appellate courts said I did wrong, then I respect their opinion, and I did it wrong,” she said.
Spradling is accused of a lack of fairness, candor and competence while working in the Shawnee County district attorney’s office on the Chandler case and as a special prosecutor in Jackson County for prosecution of Ewing.
In 2018, the Kansas Supreme Court overturned Chandler’s murder convictions and remanded the case to Shawnee County District Court. She is scheduled to stand trial in 2021. The justices said Spradling’s prosecution of Chandler illustrated how a desire to win could eclipse the state’s responsibility to safeguard the fundamental constitutional right to a fair trial.
At trial in Shawnee County a decade after the murders, Spradling falsely told the jury a protection from abuse order was issued against Chandler prior to the 2002 slaying of Mike Sisco, her ex-husband, and his fiancee, Karen Harkness. Spradling said she was told by a police officer and Sisco’s family a protection order existed, but didn’t confirm that with court records.
Spradling said it was only during preparation for the disciplinary hearing that she accepted the fact no protection from abuse order had been issued against Chandler. Sisco requested a temporary restraining order four years before his death while going through a divorce from Chandler, but the court record doesn’t show one was granted by a judge.
“I was wrong. Dead wrong,” Spradling said. “So, for a person who wants to be right, strives to be right, being wrong is embarrassing, humbling. You get angry at yourself.”
Spradling also was challenged by the disciplinary board’s attorney for offering the jury a series of theories, without evidence, that Chandler could have returned to Colorado after the Topeka murders by driving through Nebraska, that computer searches falsely attributed to Chandler about other murders could imply guilt and how speculation about Sisco’s secret plan to remarry was the motive for murder.
In the combined disciplinary case, most of the testimony Thursday centered on the Chandler case. But the ethics spotlight on Spradling was broadened because the Court of Appeals concluded she made a half-dozen errors during the Ewing trial and made unsubstantiated claims to the jury during her closing arguments. Last year, the Ewing case was remanded to district court for likely retrial.
LJ Leatherman, a Topeka attorney representing Spradling at the disciplinary hearing, called several character witnesses. Jerry Hathaway, the Allen County attorney, said Spradling was a “fantastic prosecutor.” He said she had a reputation as being one of the most knowledgeable and prepared prosecutors in the state.
Joel Meinecke, who worked with Spradling and for five Shawnee County district attorneys, said Spradling was a mentor to young prosecutors and shared a love of books. He said if prosecuting a murder case Spradling would be on a list of people he would want at his side.
In addition, Olathe criminal defense attorney Carl Cornwell said Spradling was a “tough prosecutor” and a professional in the courtroom.
“She would regularly irritate the crap out of me at trial,” Cornwell said. “She knows what she’s doing.”
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