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Retrial For Kansas Woman Previously Convicted In 2002 Double Murder Ends In Hung Jury
Dana Chandler's 2012 conviction for the murders of her ex-husband, Mike Sisco, and his fiancée, Karen Harkness, was thrown out by the appeals court in 2018. Her retrial in the case ended on Thursday with a hung jury.
A jury in Kansas came up empty-handed when trying to render its verdict in the retrial of a woman whose conviction for two murders was thrown out four years ago.
Dana Chandler, 62, was convicted in 2012 the double homicide of her ex-husband, Mike Sisco, 47, and his fiancée, Karen Harkness, 53, back in 2002. However, her conviction was overturned in 2018, and Chandler faced a retrial that began July 28 and ended on Aug. 25.
But after a week of deliberations, the result is a deadlocked jury, according to the Kansas City Star.
One of the Shawnee County jurors spoke with CBS Topeka affiliate WIBW-TV, claiming they were nearly split in their indecision: seven jurors voted to convict Chandler, while the remaining five were in favor of an acquittal.
Whether or not Chandler’s case will go to trial for the third time remains undecided.
The murders of Sisco and Harkness, which were not prosecuted for a decade, were featured in multiple TV specials with “48 Hours,” including episodes titled “Haunted” and “My Dad’s Killer,” according to CBS News.
On the night of July 6, 2002, Sisco and Harkness (who had been in a relationship for four years by that point) ate dinner and gambled at the Sac and Fox Casino in Powhattan, Kansas. They left sometime after midnight on July 7 and went to Harkness’s Westport Square duplex in west Topeka — about 50 miles south of the casino — according to the Topeka Capital-Journal.
Harkness’s parents and Sisco’s mother went to visit Harkness and Sisco on the afternoon of July 7, having been invited over for what relatives believed was to be an official announcement of the couple’s rumored-about engagement.
Instead, they found Sisco and Harkness naked and shot to death in the basement bedroom. Both were cold to the touch
Sisco was shot seven times, while Harkness was shot five. The Journal reported that only 11 shotgun shell casings were found on the scene.
Both victims were believed to have been sleeping when the shooting occurred, according to the Associated Press. Burglary was quickly ruled out as a motive since valuables in the home — including winnings from the casino the night before — were left untouched.
It didn’t take long for investigators to eye Dana Chandler, whose late-90s divorce from Sisco after 16 years of marriage had been acrimonious, according to the Topeka Capital-Journal. Sisco had been awarded custody of the couple’s two children, and he had accused Chandler of stalking him — even after she moved to Denver, Colorado, some 550 miles west of Topeka.
Chandler had been ordered to pay child support and had an alleged history of breaking into Sisco’s home.
Investigators, however, could find no physical evidence tying Chandler to the murders, and the case went cold.
Chandler was eventually arrested nine years later, after a renewed investigation was seemingly prompted by the publicity surrounding the 2009 “48 Hours” special on the case.
In 2011, Chandler pleaded not guilty to two counts of first-degree murder and went to trial.
Chandler and Sisco’s then-adult children — who were 15 and 17 at the time of the murder — publicly blamed their mother for the double homicide and testified against her in court. Their shackled mother cross-examined them on the stand.
Chandler was found guilty in 2012 and sentenced to two consecutive life sentences in prison, according to the Kansas City Star.
But in 2016, Chandler's attorney, Keen Umbehr, filed a complaint against prosecutor Jacqie Spradling, accusing her of prosecutorial misconduct. Umbehr said Spradling had alleged in closing arguments that Sisco had received protective order against Chandler that she violated.
The appeals courts found that no such order existed and that the mention of it had unfairly prejudiced the jury, CBS News reported. (The Kansas Supreme Court ultimately called Spradling’s behavior in Chandler’s murder trial an “intolerable pattern of deception” and disbarred her in May.)
Due to Spradling's misconduct, the Kansas Supreme Court overturned Chandler’s conviction, but decided she could be retried.
The second trial, like the first, was largely founded on circumstantial evidence, with prosecutors again accusing Chandler of “jealousy, rage, and obsession.”
Chandler did not testify during her second trial and continues to maintain her innocence.
Jury foreman Ben Alford spoke with Journal reporters after the hung jury, explaining they couldn’t arrive at a decision after more than 40 hours of deliberations. He agreed that Chandler had a motive but said the state failed to prove intent.
“It made it hard, knowing that the kids were hurt,” said Alford. “I think it was obvious, and you could see it, but the prosecution wasn’t there to put the whole case together.”
Chandler remains at the Shawnee County Jail and is scheduled for a status conference on Sept. 29.