Woman tried twice for 2002 double murder will face third trial
A woman accused in the 2002 double murder of her ex-husband and his fiancée is scheduled to face trial for a third time in February, but may be released from incarceration for the first time since her arrest in 2011.
Shawnee County Judge Cheryl Rios reduced Dana Chandler’s bond from $1 million to $350,000 on Sept. 29, four weeks after her second trial ended in a hung jury. Chandler would need at least $35,000 in cash and collateral to cover the bond and be released from Shawnee County Jail, where she has been held since the Kansas Supreme Court overturned her first conviction in 2018.
Rios denied a defense motion seeking an acquittal in the case, which stems from the killings of Mike Sisco and Karen Harkness. The pair were found gunned down in Harkness’ Topeka home 20 years ago.
Rios agreed to allow Chandler to live with her nephew about 50 miles away, in Olathe, Kansas, if she pays the bond. Chandler, who will be subject to GPS monitoring, is barred from contacting or discussing the case with potential witnesses.
Chandler’s defense attorneys declined to comment on the developments.
Rios also granted a change of venue, which would move the new trial from Shawnee County. Rios cited local news coverage the case has received when making her decision.
“Given the excessive amount of media coverage from all of the local media, I think it would be difficult, if not almost extremely difficult, if not impossible, to select a jury that doesn’t have an opinion about whether or not Ms. Chandler is guilty or innocent in this case in Shawnee County,” Rios said.
The new trial has been tentatively scheduled for February 6 and is expected to last four weeks. In the previous trial, held in August, the prosecution presented a case focused on circumstantial evidence, arguing “jealousy, rage and obsession” led Chandler to kill.
Chandler’s defense alleged police bias and incompetence, which it summed up as tunnel vision, missed opportunities and failure to adequately test the limited forensic evidence. They also contended that whatever physical evidence existed excluded Chandler.
Sisco, 47, and his fiancée, Harkness, 53, were each shot multiple times with a 9 mm weapon on July 7, 2002. Chandler, now 62, was questioned in the immediate aftermath, but wasn’t charged at first.
For the next seven years the case received publicity as investigators sought information from the public. “48 Hours” broadcast the show “Haunted” in October 2009, which looked at the cold case, including a 2007 report commissioned by law enforcement that concluded that Chandler was, in the view of law enforcement, the “primary suspect.”
She was arrested and entered not guilty pleas to two counts of first-degree murder in 2011. She had been held on a million dollars bail until Rios reduced it. In 2012, after a trial in which her children testified against her, a Shawnee County jury convicted her on both counts and she was sentenced to life in prison. “48 Hours” broadcast a second show, “My Dad’s Killer,” in September 2012, reporting on the case and Chandler’s trial and conviction.
Chandler’s conviction was overturned in 2018, when the Kansas Supreme Court ruled that evidence presented by prosecutor Jacqie Spradling was, in at least one instance, “made-up” and “misleading.”
Spradling was disbarred in May for what the court called “intolerable acts of deception.”
But the Kansas Supreme Court did not dismiss Chandler’s case; instead, it ruled that there was sufficient evidence to retry Chandler. It held that she “had motive and opportunity and engaged in suspicious behavior after the murders.”