Shawnee County judge agrees to change venue for new trial in double-murder case

Lower bond will allow Dana Chandler to leave jail for first time in 11 years, live with family in Olathe

By: - September 29, 2022 5:39 pm
Dana Chandler in court

Dana Chandler appears Aug. 29, 2022, during her trial for two first-degree murder charges in Shawnee County District Court. (Pool photo)

TOPEKA — Shawnee County District Judge Cheryl Rios agreed Thursday to lower Dana Chandler’s bond and change the venue for a new trial in her 20-year-old double murder case.

Last month’s trial ended in a hung jury, with the 12 members unable to agree on whether Chandler killed her ex-husband, Mike Sisco, and his fiancee, Karen Harkness, in 2002.

Rios said it became clear during last month’s trial, where prospective jurors inadvertently were exposed to information about the case, that it would be “extremely difficult” to conduct another fair trial in Topeka.

“We got through the trial by the skin of our teeth,” Rios said.

She said the media attention given to the trial was unlike any other case she has had and would make it nearly impossible to find jurors who didn’t already have opinions about the case.

Defense attorney Tom Bath argued for the case to be dismissed based on the evidence presented at the trial and the jury’s unwillingness to convict. But the judge agreed with prosecutor Charles Kitt’s request to order a new trial on the basis that seven of the jurors concluded Chandler was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Chandler was arrested in 2011 after a “48 Hours” broadcast revealed she was the prime suspect in the killings. The Kansas Supreme Court overturned her conviction at a 2012 trial because of the misconduct by former prosecutor Jacqie Spradling. As Rios described it during Thursday’s hearing, the jurors in 2012 “were given false evidence to consider.”

Shirley Riegel
Shirley Riegel, left, says she plans to take her sister, Dana Chandler, out for a decent meal after she is released on bond. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

Rios granted Bath’s request to lower Chandler’s bond to $350,000, an amount that would allow Chandler to leave incarceration for the first time in 11 years. Under the conditions set by Rios, Chandler would be monitored by GPS and barred from speaking to witnesses or any family aside from her nephew and siblings.

“She gets to come home,” said Shirley Riegel, Chandler’s sister, as she cried outside the courtroom after the hearing.

Riegel said she planned to “take her out for a decent meal and give her a decent bed to sleep in.”

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Sherman Smith
Sherman Smith

Sherman Smith is the editor in chief of Kansas Reflector. He writes about things that powerful people don't want you to know. A two-time Kansas Press Association journalist of the year, his award-winning reporting includes stories about education, technology, foster care, voting, COVID-19, sex abuse, and access to reproductive health care. Before founding Kansas Reflector in 2020, he spent 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal. He graduated from Emporia State University in 2004, back when the school still valued English and journalism. He was raised in the country at the end of a dead end road in Lyon County.