Chandler fires standby attorney in her murder re-trial

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TOPEKA, Kansas (WIBW) -- A nearly three-hour hearing was wrapping up Thursday when homicide defendant Dana Lynn Chandler blasted her stand-by counsel, then fired him in front of the judge, prosecutors and a handful of people sitting in the gallery.

Defendant Dana Chandler told a judge she no longer wanted standby counsel Jason Belveal (foreground) sitting at the defense during her murder retrial case. (WIBW/Steve Fry)

Chandler said she did not want a replacement lawyer to be her standby counsel.

Jason Belveal, a Holton lawyer, was the fifth standby attorney to be appointed to represent Chandler. Belveal was appointed on July 2.
Keen Umbehr, from Wabaunsee Co., is the remaining attorney aiding Chandler as a research attorney.

Chandler, 59, is charged in the July 7, 2002, shooting deaths of her former husband Mike Sisco, 47, and Karen Harkness, 53. The couple was found in Harkness' west Topeka home.

Thursday, prosecutors had called three witnesses to testify in response to Chandler's motion seeking to exclude prosecution evidence based on phone records and financial records obtained by prosecutors in 2002, 2003, 2010, 2011, 2018 and 2019.

A separate hearing, during which witnesses called by Chandler will testify, is set for Nov. 13. One witness might travel to Topeka from outside Kansas.

At the beginning of the Thursday hearing, which was scheduled two months ago, Chandler sought to halt the proceeding, saying she wasn't prepared. Senior District Court Judge Robert Fairchild turned aside Chandler's request.

Chandler's announcement she wanted to fire Belveal came as Fairchild reminded Chandler she didn't call any witnesses to support her motion to block prosecutors from using phone and financial records as evidence in the murder trial.

Chandler blurted her standby counsel "had done nothing" to serve subpoenas to defense witnesses so they could testify Thursday.
She asked Fairchild to remove Belveal as her stand-by counsel, "and I will not be requesting replacement" counsel.

"I absolutely don't want him at my defense table," Chandler said. "I face very serious charges. My life is on the line."

The first witness to testify Thursday was court administrator Lea Dawn Welch, who unearthed a July 2002 inquisition. Charles Kitt, chief of staff in the district attorney's office, had contacted Welch to locate the inquisition documents, Welch said.

Kitt had talked briefly to three judges to get leads on where the records might be.

Welch located a box containing search warrants and inquisitions from 1997 to 2003, Welch testified. The documents were stored in a secure facility.

Welch brought the documents to the courthouse and made photo copies of the records. At least one set of copies were sent to Chandler, Welch said.

It surfaced during the hearing that an inquisition had been conducted early in the investigation of the killings of Harkness and Sisco.

In 2012, a Shawnee County District Court jury convicted Chandler of two counts of first-degree murder and Chandler was sentenced to two 50-year prison terms, but the Kansas Supreme Court overturned the convictions in 2018. The justices cited prosecutorial misconduct.

A date for the re-trial hasn't been scheduled.

Chandler's retrial was scheduled to start September 16 - the fourth date that had been set for it. Fairfchild decided to postpone it indefinitely during a July 24 hearing, until Chandler agrees she has finished filing motions.

Chandler remains in Shawnee County Jail in lieu of a $1 million cash or surety bond.