Defense in Dana Chandler case addresses right to speedy trial in Shawnee County District Court

Defense lawyers called five experts from the Kansas Bureau of Investigation to the witness stand Wednesday morning.
Published: Aug. 17, 2022 at 3:41 PM CDT
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - Defense lawyers in the Dana Chandler double-murder case on Wednesday afternoon addressed what they said was a violation of the defendant’s constitutional right to a speedy trial in Shawnee County District Court.

Defense lawyers addressed the issue during Chandler’s retrial before Shawnee County District Court Judge Cheryl Rios.

Chandler was arrested in 2011 and charged with the July 7, 2002, murders of her ex-husband Mike Sisco, 47, and his fiancé, Karen Harkness, 53, at a west Topeka residence

Chandler was convicted of the crimes in 2012.

However, in 2018, the Kansas Supreme Court overturned Chandler’s conviction, citing misconduct by former prosecutor Jacqie Spradling, who has since been disbarred.

Chandler, who has maintained her innocence, then was granted a retrial, which is ongoing.

The retrial began Friday, Aug. 5 in Shawnee County District Court and is expected to last up to three weeks.

Charles Kitt, chief of staff for the Shawnee County District Attorney’s Office, is prosecuting the case for the state.

Chandler, 62, is being represented by defense lawyers Tom Bath, Tricia Bath and Mark Hartman, of the Leawood-based firm Bath & Edmonds.

The defense addressed the speedy trial issue shortly after 2 p.m. Wednesday in Day 9 of the proceedings.

The speedy-trial issue that was brought up in court centered on information from video interviews Topeka police conducted with Terry Tignor regarding the passing of stolen checks belonging to Mike Sisco following his murder in 2002.

Tignor died June 20, 2020, after he was shot in the 1200 block of S.W. Garfield. Shawnee County District Attorney Mike Kagay determined the shooting was in self-defense and that no charges would be filed in Tignor’s death.

At the beginning of the Wednesday afternoon session, Judge Rios summarized information from a video interview conducted by Topeka police that indicated Tignor initially denied that he had “any involvement” in the passing of stolen checks that belonged to Sisco by a man identified as Walt Rogers.

Other information from a second video was “found not to be accurate” and was “hearsay,” Rios said. Because of that, it was not admissible as evidence, she said.

Chandler defense lawyer Tom Bath said some information related to Tignor’s interviews weren’t made available to the defense until December 2021, including details about a search warrant for Tignor’s house.

Kitt, representing the state, asked Judge Rios to deny the defense’s assertion that the right to a speedy trial had been violated.

Rios then asked both the defense and prosecution for written statements regarding the speedy trial issue and that she would take the matter “under advisement” before issuing a ruling.

Shortly after Tom Bath addressed the speedy trial issue before Rios, followed by a response by Kitt responded, Rogers -- who had just been alleged to have passed a stolen check belonging to Sisco in 2002 at a Topeka Kwik Shop -- was briefly on the witness stand.

Rios told Rogers he would be expected to answer all questions presented to him while he was on the witness stand. Rogers agreed with Rios that he would be held in contempt of court if he refused to answer any questions presented to him.

Rios also told Rogers the statute of limitations had expired regarding the stolen checks and that he couldn’t be implicated by his testimony.

Meanwhile, scientific evidence was presented during Wednesday’s session, which began at 9 a.m.

Tom Bath called five experts from the Kansas Bureau of Investigation and two experts from the Federal Bureau of Investigation to the witness stand on Wednesday.

The day’s first witness was Michael Van Stratton. a blood-stain analyst for the Kansas Bureau of Investigation. Van Stratton also was on the witness stand late Tuesday afternoon.

Van Stratton, who investigated the crime scene in 2002at the Harkness residence in the 2200 block of S.W. Westport Square, was questioned by Tom Bath at the outset of Wednesday morning’s session.

Around 9:15 a.m. Wednesday, Van Stratton was questioned by Kitt on his findings at the scene.

As they had been on Tuesday afternoon, crime-scene photos were shown to the jury on Wednesday morning.

The jury had 12 members and five alternates sworn in on the opening day of the trial on Friday, Aug. 5. However, three of the jurors have been excused, leaving only two alternates.

Wednesday’s second witness was Karen Osborn, a former fingerprint analyst with the KBI.

She testified she was unable to get fingerprints from spent shell casings from the crime scene because they had been handled previously by KBI firearms examiner Amy Coody, who Osborn said wasn’t wearing gloves at the time she was conducting her analysis.

The morning’s third witness was Lance Antle, a forensic biologist with the KBI.

Under questioning from both Tom Bath and Kitt, Antle described collecting DNA samples from spent shell casings.

Antle testified the KBI didn’t have a practice of collecting DNA evidence from spent shell casings in 2002 because of technology available at the time, and also because the heat of a fired bullet often eliminated any DNA that may have been on the shell casing.

However, under questioning from Tom Bath, Antle said the KBI in more recent years had collected “partial profiles” of DNA from spent shell casings.

Antle was dismissed and a recess began around 10:32 a.m.

The morning’s fourth witness was Jacqueline Hayworth, a latent-print supervisor with the KBI.

After Hayworth’s testimony, Alan Mattox, a former forensic scientist with the KBI, testified that a piece of chewing gum submitted for evidence in 2009 didn’t provide DNA that was consistent with that taken from Chandler.

“There was enough information obtained from that chewing gum to say that it was not consistent,” Mattox said. “Therefore, Dana Chandler could be excluded as a possible contributor.”

Testimony indicated the gum had been submitted to the KBI for evidence prior to a “48 Hours” program on the Harkness-Sisco double-homicide.

Under questioning from Kitt, Mattox said the gum that was examined was found on the patio at 2243 S.W. Westport Square, which was two houses south of the crime scene at Harkness’ residence at 2231 S.W. Westport Square.

Mattox said he also discovered a hair on a spent shell casing during a “visual examination.” The shell casing, like the others retrieved at the crime scene, were delivered to Mattox in a small film canister.

In his cross-examination of Mattox, Kitt noted two other KBI agents previously had handled the same shell casing.

The morning’s sixth witness was Karen Thiessen, a trace-evidence analyst with the Federal Bureau of Investigation laboratory in Quantico, Va., who in 2003 examined hair and fiber from Harkness, Sisco and Chandler.

Thiessen said she collected hair samples for Harkness and Sisco from hairbrushes and hats.

She testified she also analyzed hair samples from Chandler.

No hairs that were examined were consistent with Chandler, Harkness or Sisco, Thiessen said in questioning from Tom Bath.

The morning’s last witness was Linda Otterstatter, of the FBI.

Another witness from the FBI, John Stewart, took the witness stand around 2:25 p.m. Wednesday.

Ed McPheeters, a private investigator from Leawood, then took the stand and was questioned by Tom Bath before being cross-examined by Kitt.

The retrial was adjourned for the day around 3:40 p.m. and is to resume at 9 a.m. Thursday.

During the retrial’s first seven days, testimony was heard from approximately 42 different people, including: family members of Harkness and Sisco; Topeka police officers and detectives; a Federal Bureau of Investigation special agent; a former business acquaintance of Chandler’s from Denver; a friend of Chandler’s from Arizona; coworkers and friends of Harkness; and former neighbors of Harkness in the 2200 block of S.W. Westport Square in southwest Topeka, where the homicides occurred.

The retrial, like the first one in 2012, is garnering national media attention.

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