Woman representing self in murder case says judge is limiting the number of witnesses she can call

Dana Chandler
Dana Chandler(WIBW)
Published: Dec. 2, 2020 at 4:55 PM CST
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - Dana Lynn Chandler, who faces two charges of first-degree murder in 2002 and who is acting as her own lawyer, told Shawnee County District Court Judge Cheryl Rios on Wednesday that the judge was limiting the number of witnesses Chandler could call in an upcoming hearing.

Chandler said she couldn’t in one day question all the 20 witnesses she plans to call during a future hearing.

Chandler said the judge was limiting the number of witnesses she could call.

“I’m not limiting your witnesses,” Rios said. “There is a limited amount of time to conduct the hearing.”

The judge also said 20 witnesses can be handled in one day.

At one point Wednesday, the judge told Chandler she had taken on the task of a trial lawyer.

“You stand in the shoes of a lawyer, and you must decide what you need to do,” Rios said during a court hearing on Wednesday.

The judge told Chandler she wasn’t going to tell the defendant how to handle her case.

“You stand in the shoes of a lawyer, and you must decide what you need to do,” Rios said.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Chandler made a court appearance on Wednesday via a Zoom hookup.

Chandler objected Wednesday to the Zoom hookup, noting she had documents she wanted to present to the judge but couldn’t because the judge was at the courthouse, and Chandler was in the Shawnee County Jail several blocks away.

Just 24 hours before Chandler’s hearing on Wednesday, she declined to waive her right to be present inside the courtroom during the scheduled Tuesday hearing.

Chandler, who is charged with two counts of first-degree murder, is acting as her own attorney and at times, she files hand-written documents labeled as “letters” in order to address an issue.

At one point on Wednesday, the judge instructed Chandler on how to correctly communicate with the court.

A letter is an “inappropriate way” to file documents, Rios told Chandler.

The proper way for Chandler to communicate with the court is to file a motion addressing a specific request.

Then the prosecutor responds to the defense motion either opposing or accepting the motion, and the judge decides the motion, the judge said.

Charles Kitt, chief of staff in the district attorney’s office, said the district attorney’s office provided Chandler with audio recordings of statements made during the case, and Chandler could have copied the recordings and chose not to.

Prosecutors have gone “above and beyond” to allow Chandler to examine statements in the recordings, Kitt said Wednesday.

Chandler said she needed five types of audio recorders and players during an upcoming hearing.

The defendant will have “two full months” to review evidence and get witnesses here, the judge said.

Chandler, 60, is charged with two counts of first-degree murder in the double slaying of a couple on July 2, 2002.

Michael Sisco, 47, and Karen Harkness, 53, were fatally shot in Harkness’ southwest Topeka home.

Chandler was charged in 2011, then found guilty during Chandler’s first trial in 2012.

Chandler was sentenced to two consecutive 50-year prison terms.

The Kansas Supreme Court overturned the two murder convictions.

Chandler remains in Shawnee County Jail in lieu of bond.

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