TOPEKA, Kan. — The Kansas Supreme Court on Friday overturned a former Topeka woman's convictions for killing her ex-husband and his fiancee in 2002, finding that prosecutors falsely claimed at trial that her former spouse had taken out a protection from abuse order against her.
The justices wrote that prosecutors used that false claim and circumstantial evidence to support their case that Dana Chandler was dangerous. Chandler had consistently said she did not fatally shoot the couple, and no physical evidence tied her to the crime, The Topeka Capital-Journal reported .
Chandler's prosecution "unfortunately illustrates how a desire to win can eclipse the state's responsibility to safeguard the fundamental constitutional right to a fair trial owed to any defendant facing criminal prosecution in a Kansas courtroom," the justices concluded.
The court wrote that no protection order existed but prosecutors had claimed several times that it did before recently acknowledging they were wrong.
"But that concession," Supreme Court Justice Dan Biles wrote, "while laudable, was a long time coming — even though we would expect the state never to shield something so obviously indefensible."
Attorney Stacey Schlimmer, who represented Chandler before the Supreme Court, said the opinion affirmed the Supreme Court's view that lawyers who engage in inappropriate behavior do so at their own peril.
"It's something that's more prevalent than people realize," Schlimmer said. "This needs to be a message to our district court judges."
Shawnee County District Attorney Mike Kagay must now decide whether to bring Chandler to trial again more than 15 years after the crimes.
Chandler, 58, was the focus of the investigation almost immediately after Michael Sisco and Karen Harkness were shot to death at Harkness' home in Topeka, although she lived in Denver at the time. She wasn't arrested until 2011 after a cold case unit set up by then-District Attorney Chad Taylor investigated. She was sentenced to 100 years in prison.
"I did not murder Mike or Karen," Chandler said at the sentencing hearing. "There was no evidence that I ever owned or possessed a weapon used to commit this crime, nor that there was any evidence that I was at the crime scene."
Jodi Litfin, assistant solicitor general for Kansas who took over the case for Shawnee County, conceded that then-Deputy District Attorney Jacqie Spradling falsely introduced evidence at trial. But she argued the mistake wasn't malicious and didn't justify reversing the convictions.