The Kansas Supreme Court reversed premeditated first-degree murder convictions of a former Topeka woman in the 2002 killings of her ex-husband and his fiancee.
On Friday, the court found former Shawnee County Chief Deputy District Attorney Jacqie Spradling, the lead prosecutor in the case, falsely told the jury that Dana L. Chandler had violated a nonexistent protection from abuse order in her divorce case.
The court unanimously said Chandler’s prosecutor used this false claim as a judicial endorsement for its theory that Chandler was dangerous.
“Taken as a whole, this prosecution unfortunately illustrates how a desire to win can eclipse the State’s responsibility to safeguard the fundamental constitutional right to a fair trial owed to any defendant facing criminal prosecution in a Kansas courtroom,” wrote Justice Dan Biles on the court’s behalf.
A Shawnee County District Court jury convicted Chandler in 2012 of killing Mike Sisco and Karen Harkness on July 7, 2002. They were found dead in Harkness’ Topeka home. Both were shot at least five times. Authorities said they were in bed as the shooting began. Their murders launched a nine-year criminal investigation that culminated in Chandler’s arrest in 2011.
The case now returns to the district court.
In its opinion, the court noted the State’s case relied on limited circumstantial evidence consisting of Chandler’s inconsistent statements concerning her whereabouts when the murders occurred, her gas purchases at that time, her obsessive behavior toward Sisco and Harkness, and two post-arrest jailhouse phone calls the State argued were incriminating. The court found there was no physical evidence linking Chandler, who lived in Denver at the time of the killings, to the crime.
During the trial, the prosecutor claimed there was a protection from abuse order issued by the Douglas County District Court in Chandler’s divorce proceedings requiring Chandler to stay away from Sisco and that Chandler violated that order. The court observed, “All agree there is no protection from abuse order in the trial record.” The opinion then laid out multiple efforts by the State to claim on appeal the order existed until it more recently acknowledged the prosecutor was wrong.
“But that concession,” Justice Biles wrote, “while laudable, was a long time coming—even though we would expect the State never to shield something so obviously indefensible.”
Chandler’s appeal was first argued to the court on January 27, 2016. Later, the court granted Chandler’s unopposed motion for new counsel and additional briefing. New counsel was appointed and additional briefing permitted. “We took these unusual steps because the circumstances indicated they were necessary to serve the ends of justice,” the court said.
Shawnee County District Attorney Mike Kagay told KSNT News he read the decision and issued a statement:
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