By SHERMAN SMITH
TOPEKA — Shawnee County District Judge Cheryl Rios agreed to lower Dana Chandler’s bond and change the venue for a new trial in her 20-year-old double murder case.
Last month’s trial ended in a hung jury, with the 12 members unable to agree on whether Chandler killed her ex-husband, Mike Sisco, and his fiancee, Karen Harkness, in 2002.
Rios said it became clear during last month’s trial, where prospective jurors inadvertently were exposed to information about the case, that it would be “extremely difficult” to conduct another fair trial in Topeka.
“We got through the trial by the skin of our teeth,” Rios said.
She said the media attention given to the trial was unlike any other case she has had and would make it nearly impossible to find jurors who didn’t already have opinions about the case.
Defense attorney Tom Bath argued for the case to be dismissed based on the evidence presented at the trial and the jury’s unwillingness to convict. But the judge agreed with prosecutor Charles Kitt’s request to order a new trial on the basis that seven of the jurors concluded Chandler was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
Chandler was arrested in 2011 after a “48 Hours” broadcast revealed she was the prime suspect in the killings. The Kansas Supreme Court overturned her conviction at a 2012 trial because of the misconduct by former prosecutor Jacqie Spradling. As Rios described it during Thursday’s hearing, the jurors in 2012 “were given false evidence to consider.”
Rios granted Bath’s request to lower Chandler’s bond to $350,000, an amount that would allow Chandler to leave incarceration for the first time in 11 years. Under the conditions set by Rios, Chandler would be monitored by GPS and barred from speaking to witnesses or any family aside from her nephew and siblings.
“She gets to come home,” said Shirley Riegel, Chandler’s sister, as she cried outside the courtroom after the hearing.
Riegel said she planned to “take her out for a decent meal and give her a decent bed to sleep in.”