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Chandler wants new judge; would be fourth judge if granted

Dana Chandler (WIBW)
Dana Chandler (WIBW)(WIBW)
Published: Jun. 29, 2020 at 2:51 PM CDT
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - Dana Lynn Chandler’s motion seeking a new judge to hear her double-murder re-trial was filed Friday in Shawnee County District Court.

Chandler wants a new judge to be appointed to hear her re-trial alleging she fatally shot her former husband and his fiancee in 2002 in southwest Topeka.

Earlier in June, Chandler had sought that Shawnee County District Court Judge Cheryl Rios be removed as the judge hearing her re-trial. But Chandler withdrew that motion, saying she wanted Rios to first rule on Chandler's motion to remove her court-appointed defense attorneys -- Paul Oller and Cyndy Short -- rather than addressing removal of Rios as the judge hearing Chandler's re-trial.

On June 19, Chandler took over her own defense after telling Rios she didn't want Oller and Short, who are experienced in criminal law, to represent her.

But after Chandler, 60, made it clear she didn't want Oller and Short as her attorneys, Rios immediately instructed the two to remain on the case as Chandler's standby counsel,and the two moved from the defense counsel table to seats behind the bar.

Chandler shook her head no.

In a motion she filed on June 16, Chandler asked Shawnee County District Court Judge Cheryl Rios for an order "to remove court-appointed counsel" (Oller and Short) then she "unequivocally assert(ed) her right to self representation."

If Chandler decides to withdraw from representing herself, Oller and Short will step back into the Chandler case to represent her, the judge said. If Chandler decides to waive her right to act as pro se in her own defense, Oller and Short would be familiar with the case since they sat through it, the judge said.

"The court is going to direct that they will be standby counsel," Rios said. Chandler will sit at the defense counsel table, and Oller and Short will sit behind the bar in the gallery.

"You are the sole litigator of your case," Rios told Chandler.

When Chandler decided to proceed without legal counsel on June 19, Oller and Short moved away from the defense table. When Chandler asked the judge a question, the judge told her she couldn't be Chandler's counsel and answer the question.

Chandler then asked Rios to withdraw as judge from the case.

Rios refused.

Chandler said she intended to call Rios as a witness in a matter during the case, and Rios twice told Chandler she needed to file a written affidavit in the matter.

As of Monday, Chandler hadn't filed a written affidavit.

Oller and Short are the sixth and seventh standby counsel during the Chandler cases.

During the hearing, the judge said the minimum sentence for each murder count would be 25 years if Chandler was convicted.

Chandler is charged with two counts of first-degree murder in the July 7, 2002, double shooting deaths of her former husband, Mike Sisco, 47, and his fiancee, Karen Harkness, 53. 

The bodies of Harkness and Sisco, who were engaged, each bore a number of gunshot wounds when they were found in the basement of the Harkness home in west Topeka.

Following a lengthy trial in 2012, a Shawnee County jury convicted Chandler of two counts of first-degree murder, and she was sentenced to two consecutive terms.

But the Kansas Supreme Court overturned the convictions in 2018.

Rios is the third judge assigned to handle the Chandler re-trial. The first was Shawnee County District Court Judge Nancy Parrish, and the second was Senior District Court Judge Robert Fairchild, who had retired from Douglas County District Court.

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