Former D.A. faces ethics complaint for failing to stop misconduct in Topeka murder trial

By: - August 4, 2021 3:35 pm

Jacqie Spradling, left, arrives for a disciplinary hearing Dec. 7, 2020, in Topeka. A new complaint alleges former Shawnee County District Attorney Chad Taylor shares responsibility for her mistakes. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — Former Shawnee County District Attorney Chad Taylor faces an ethics complaint for prosecutorial misconduct by his assistant during the 2012 murder trial of Dana Chandler.

The complaint filed Wednesday by Alma attorney Keen Umbehr is based on a panel’s conclusion that Jacqie Spradling should be disbarred for a deliberate pattern of misconduct, including false statements she made to the jury in the Chandler trial and unrelated case in Jackson County. As Spradling’s supervisor, Umbehr argues, Taylor was responsible for her misconduct and failed to intervene.

“Taylor violated his duties to the citizens of Shawnee County, to the legal system, to the legal profession, and to the public at large, and he did so knowingly and intentionally,” Umbehr said.

Taylor, whose law office is based in Silver Lake, currently works as the assistant county attorney in Bourbon County, according to the complaint. Spradling resigned as the Bourbon County attorney in June after a disciplinary panel determined she should be disbarred.

The complaint says former Shawnee County District Attorney Robert Hecht refused to bring charges against Chandler in the July 2002 double-murder of her ex-husband, Mike Sisco, and his fiancee, Karen Harkness, in their Topeka home. Shortly after Taylor took office in January 2009, he orchestrated interviews between Topeka police Det. Richard Volle and producers of CBS’ “48 Hours.”

Later in 2009, CBS aired an episode about the unsolved murders and identified Chandler as the main suspect. In 2011, Taylor brought a film crew and news reporters with him to arrest Chandler in Duncan, Oklahoma.

Spradling repeatedly made references during the 2012 trial to a nonexistent protection from abuse order Sisco had obtained against Chandler. She asked Volle about the order during the trial, talked about it in closing arguments, and referenced it in briefs she filed when the case was appealed.

Spradling also fabricated the subject of a five-minute phone call between Chandler and Sisco shortly before the murders, talked about Chandler’s supposed escape route through Nebraska, and claimed Chandler had researched articles on how to get away with murder. There was no evidence to support any of those arguments.

In closing remarks before the jury, Spradling violated a judge’s order by pointing to Chandler’s sister in the courtroom. The prosecutor also said Chandler had robbed Sisco’s children of their father, despite knowing it is improper for a prosecutor to comment on the impact a crime has on a victim’s family.

The Kansas Supreme Court in 2018 overturned Chandler’s convictions on the basis of prosecutorial misconduct.

Umbehr, who has advocated for Chandler throughout her appeal, also filed the disciplinary complaint against Spradling. The Office of the Disciplinary Administrator initially determined Spradling did nothing wrong, then reopened the complaint following the Kansas Supreme Court decision.

Spradling conceded mistakes during her disciplinary hearing in December.

Umbehr said Taylor allowed Spradling’s misconduct to go unchecked because he had a “win at all cost” attitude.

“Such abuse cannot be tolerated in Shawnee County,” Umbehr  said. “But the sad fact is that it is tolerated because not a single Shawnee County District Court judge has spoken out or condemned the prosecutorial misconduct occurring in their courtrooms.”

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Sherman Smith
Sherman Smith

Sherman Smith is the 2021 and 2022 Kansas Press Association’s journalist of the year. He has written award-winning news stories about the instability of the Kansas foster care system, misconduct by government officials, sexual abuse, technology, education, and the Legislature. He previously spent 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal. He is a lifelong Kansan.