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Chandler ‘drives her case,’ judge tells double murder defendant

Dana Chandler (WIBW)
Dana Chandler (WIBW)(WIBW)
Published: Sep. 28, 2020 at 3:43 PM CDT
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - Dana Lynn Chandler, defendant in the retrial of a two-victim murder case, will pick the defense expert witnesses and make other major decisions when she acts as her own defense attorney and faces jurors, a Shawnee County District Court judge told her Monday.

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

Sisco and Harkness were slain in the west Topeka home of Harkness.

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

While acting as her own defense attorney, she will pick the expert witnesses, not defense standby attorney Paul Oller “because she drives her case,” District Court Judge Cheryl Rios told Chandler.

“She needs to drive that process (of picking her expert witnesses),” the judge told Rios.

“You stand in the shoes of an attorney,” the judge told Chandler on Monday.

The judge told Chandler, the pro se lawyer in her own case, that Oller, as stand-by counsel, couldn’t direct Chandler how to handle her case because he would have to withdraw from the case.

At one point Monday, Oller asked the judge whether he should make parallel preparations to run the defense of Chandler.

It is Chandler’s constitutional right to proceed pro se, to act as her own attorney, the judge answered Oller.

Rios repeated to Chandler that the judge had “strong” reservations about Chandler’s ability to represent herself in the retrial. Rios had told Chandler the same thing earlier in the case.

On Monday, Chandler told the judge she was “concerned,” that Oller was “passive-aggressive” and had “sadistic behavior.”

The judge immediately halted Chandler and twice told Chandler to put her objections in writing.

Soon after on Monday, Lee Welch, court administrator for two years, was called as a witness to testify about inquisition documents tied to the Sisco-Harkness investigation in 2002.

Welch had located the 26 pages stored in a Shawnee County building, and the documents were dated July 8, 2002. That is one day after the slayings of Sisco and Harkness.

As court administrator, Welch was the custodian of the inquisition documents.

Welch found the records on the second day of a search and provided copies to Charles Kitt, chief of staff in the Shawnee County District Attorney’s Office, and Chandler.

Rios said Monday she would issue a ruling on the authenticity of the inquisition records.

At another point Monday during the hearing, Chandler told the judge she had had close contact to someone at the Shawnee County Jail, who tested positive for COVID-19. Chandler is housed at that jail.

Chandler said she was exposed to the virus on September 21.

“That puts me at high risk,” Chandler said, telling the judge she is 60 years old.

But the judge said, according to jail officials, Chandler wasn’t personally exposed to anyone at the jail who had COVID-19.

Earlier this month, the jail had confirmed that 18 inmates had tested positive for the virus.

Following a lengthy trial in 2012, a Shawnee County District Court 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.

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