Woman’s trial for 2 Kansas deaths ends with hung jury
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas jury announced Thursday that it could not reach a verdict in the trial of a woman accused of killing her ex-husband and his girlfriend 20 years ago.
Jurors deliberated for about 35 hours over six days in Dana Chandler’s trial. Chandler, now 62, was charged with two counts of first-degree murder in the shooting deaths of 47-year-old Mike Sisco and 53-year-old Karen Harkness in July 2002, in Topeka.
The jury foreman told Shawnee County District Court Judge Cheryl Rios that jurors were not able to reach a unanimous verdict in the case, The Topeka Capital-Journal reported.
Thursday’s proceedings lasted only a few moments. A status hearing to determine the next step in the long-running case was set for Sept. 29.
Chandler’s daughter Hailey Sisco, who testified that she believes her mother killed her father, cried while being hugged by prosecutor Charles Kitt.
Defense attorney Tom Bath hugged Chandler, who will remain in custody at least until the status hearing.
Juror Ben Alford told the Capital-Journal that the final vote was 7-5 to convict Chandler. He said votes taken throughout the lengthy deliberations were always close.
Prosecutors alleged Chandler killed the couple because she was jealous of their relationship after her acrimonious divorce from Sisco. Chandler always maintained her innocence, saying she was in Colorado when the victims were killed.
During closing arguments Aug. 25, prosecutor Kitt acknowledged there was little physical evidence linking Chandler to the crime. But he said obsessive behavior toward Sisco combined with circumstantial evidence should convince jurors that she killed the couple.
“This is not a case that science can solve,” he said. “This case is about jealousy of Mike Sisco. Jealousy that Mike Sisco was able to move on with his life. Jealousy about the new relationship that Mike Sisco had found.”
Investigators said Chandler spied on Sisco and Harkness, entered Sisco’s home without permission and tried to reconcile with him just weeks before the murders. Phone records shows Chandler called Sisco and Harkness nearly 700 times in the seven months before their deaths.
Bath argued that law enforcement missed the opportunity to investigate other suspects because they focused solely on her. He underlined the limited physical evidence found at the scene and questioned the way it was handled by investigators and forensic scientists.
“How many instances did we see where evidence was not followed up on, not collected or not tested?” Bath asked the jury.
He continued: “We see time and time again, the police ignored evidence. They didn’t follow evidence — they followed their bias.”
Prosecutors stunned court observers last week before closing arguments when they called a woman, Terri Anderson, who said she saw Chandler leaving Harkness’ home on the night the couple was killed — the first time in the two-decade-old case that anyone had placed Chandler at the scene.
Anderson, who lived across the street, testified that she called 911 after hearing gunshots that night, and that she talked to investigators the next day. However, she said she had not talked to police or investigators in the last two decades, and defense attorneys noted that no police records exist to confirm that she called police or that she talked to investigators.
On Thursday, defense attorneys called witnesses who undermined Anderson’s story. Topeka Police Det. Lance Green said Anderson’s testimony that Chandler was at the scene shortly before midnight on July 6, 2002, conflicts with other testimony that Sisco and Harkness were at a casino until at least 1:30 a.m. July 7.
Chandler was originally charged with the killings after a decade of investigation, and in 2012 was found guilty of two counts of murder. She was sentenced to two consecutive life sentences with no chance of parole for 50 years.
The second trial was delayed as Chandler and her attorneys filed numerous motions seeking to exclude evidence, a change of venue and dismissal of the case. The trial began Aug. 5.
According to court records, investigators said nothing was taken from the victims’ home. The gun was never recovered and no fingerprints were found on empty shell casings at the scene. Hairs later taken from Chandler did not match hair and fiber samples at the scene, and no evidence of the crime was found in her car.
However, some family members suspected Chandler, who they said was upset and angry after Sisco initiated their divorce in 1997 and was given full custody of their children.
Chandler was living in Denver, Colorado, when the couple died. She told investigators she was driving and hiking in Colorado when the murders occurred, but stories about her specific routes were inconsistent, with gaps in her credit card receipts and cellphone use, according to court records.
Prosecutors alleged Chandler drove from Denver to Topeka, killed the couple and returned home.
The investigation went cold until 2009. After CBS’ “48 Hours” aired an episode about the unsolved killings, then-Shawnee County District Attorney Chad Taylor appointed a team to investigate cold cases, including Chandler’s.
Chandler, who had moved to Duncan, Oklahoma, to live with her sister, was arrested in 2011 and charged with two counts of premeditated first-degree murder.