Shawnee County jury can’t reach decision in high-profile, double-homicide retrial
Case evolves from 2012 conviction, Supreme Court intervention to second trial
Dana Chandler, far right, sits with her lawyers Thursday while a Shawnee County District Court jury concludes deliberations without a verdict in her double-murder trial. Her first conviction was reversed by the Kansas Supreme Court due to prosecutorial misconduct. (Pool photo)
TOPEKA — A Shawnee County District Court jury reached an impasse Thursday on whether to convict Dana Chandler of first-degree murder in the shooting deaths of her ex-husband and his fiancee.
Judge Cheryl Rios brought deliberations to an end after six men and six women of the jury had met for six days without agreement on whether evidence proved Chandler was responsible for the shooting deaths of Mike Sisco and Karen Harkness. Rios dismissed the jury and set a status conference for Sept. 29.
Two jurors who spoke with reporters said the jury split 7-5 in favor of convicting Chandler.
“The prosecution never proved beyond a reasonable doubt that she committed the crime,” said juror Carrie Kimes. “I mean, that was the core for me.”
Ben Alford, who served as foreman and opposed conviction, said jurors thought a lot about Chandler and Sisco’s kids, who both testified for the prosecution.
“It made it hard, knowing that the kids were hurt,” Alford said. “I think it was obvious, that you could see it. But the prosecution wasn’t there to put the court case together.”
Shawnee County District Attorney Mike Kagay will have to decide whether to seek yet another trial in the 20-year-old case. Chandler’s first conviction was overturned by the Kansas Supreme Court due to prosecutorial misconduct.
Police and prosecutors fixated on Chandler since Sisco and Harkness were killed in July 2002 in the basement of a duplex in southwest Topeka. Chandler has been incarcerated for the past 11 years, but efforts to convict her have been complicated by the absence of evidence connecting her to the crime scene.
The district attorney at the time of the killings, Robert Hecht, declined to file charges because he believed lack of evidence would make it difficult to secure a conviction.
In 2009, newly elected District Attorney Chad Taylor welcomed CBS’ “48 Hours” to spotlight the unsolved case and publicly identify Chandler as the prime suspect. In 2011, Taylor brought a film crew and news reporters with him to arrest Chandler in Duncan, Oklahoma.
Chandler was convicted at a trial in 2012 after lead prosecutor Jacqie Spradling repeatedly lied to the jury about evidence, and lead Detective Richard Volley provided false testimony about a protection from abuse order that didn’t exist. The state Supreme Court set aside Chandler’s guilty verdict and subsequently disbarred Spradling for her misconduct.
The retrial at Kagay’s direction began with jury selection a month ago. That followed several years of arguments about evidence and frequent changes in defense counsel. The jury began deliberating Aug. 25.
Prosecutor Charles Kitt told jurors in opening and closing arguments that this case was about rage and jealousy.
“This is not a case that science can solve for us,” Kitt said. “This case is about obsession with Mike Sisco. Jealousy that Mike Sisco was able to move on with his life. Jealousy about the new relationship that Mike Sisco had formed. Jealousy about the relationship that Mike Sisco had with his kids. Rage because of all of that.”
Evidence showed Chandler was furious with her ex-husband, who won custody of their children and child support after a divorce in the late 1990s. Family and friends testified about Chandler’s extensive harassment in the years leading up to the killings. Police found no sign of theft at the duplex where Sisco and Harkness were shot a dozen times with a 9mm gun.
In a phone call with her daughter three months after the shootings, Chandler said she had thought about killing Sisco.
Defense attorney Tom Bath pointed to mistakes made by police during the investigation, and their refusal to consider any other suspects. They destroyed and ignored DNA evidence. DNA found on a shell casing at the scene didn’t match Chandler or the victims, and police never entered it into a database to see if there was a match.
There is no physical evidence that places Chandler in the state of Kansas at the time of the killings. Her alibi is that she was driving through the mountains of Colorado.
The trial ended with a controversial witness — a neighbor who emerged after 20 years of silence to claim that she heard gunshots from her apartment a block and a half away and saw Chandler leaving the crime scene.
Police reports show that an officer questioned the neighbor, Terri Anderson, after the victims were discovered. At the time, Anderson said she didn’t see or hear anything on the night of the shootings. On the stand, she claimed to hear gunshots around 11:30 p.m., when Sisco and Harkness were still at a casino north of Topeka. The waxing crescent moon and absence of a streetlight would have made it difficult to identify someone that night, and Chandler may have needed to scale four 6-foot-tall wooden fences to take the path Anderson described.
Bath said the eyewitness account was “insulting.”
“That should not happen in the United States of America,” Bath said. “It’s really like out of a movie. If it wasn’t so serious, it would be laughable.”
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