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Archive for Friday, December 16, 2011

Judge to decide if Topeka slayings case goes trial

December 16, 2011

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— A Kansas judge is expected to decide next week whether a 51-year-old woman will go on trial for the 2002 killings of her ex-husband and his fiancee as they slept in a Topeka home.

Shawnee County District Judge Nancy Parrish will hear closing arguments Monday from county prosecutors and Dana Chandler's defense lawyer, The Topeka Capital-Journal reported (http://bit.ly/sldyyb).

Chandler faces two counts of premeditated first-degree murder in the shooting deaths of her ex-husband, Mike Sisco, 47, and his fiancee, Karen Harkness, 53. Chandler lived in Denver at the time but was staying in a tiny Oklahoma trailer when she was arrested in July — nine years and three weeks after relatives discovered the victims' bullet-riddled bodies.

During a four-day preliminary hearing that recessed Thursday, the two sides presented testimony that no physical evidence has been found to link Chandler to the crimes but also that she harassed and stalked Sisco and Harkness, was evasive about her movements the weekend of the killings and spoke in the following years of having wanted Sisco dead.

FBI crime analyst Alice Casey testified that Chandler called the victims' telephones 645 times in the six months before they were killed. Those totals include 22 calls in 31 minutes on Feb. 27, 2002, and 20 calls in 38 minutes on March 22, 2002, Casey said.

Hailey Sisco, Chandler and Sisco's 26-year-old daughter, has said publicly that she was sure her mother was involved in the killings. She testified this week that her mother enlisted her and her younger brother to watch their father after the divorce.

"You can be my little helpers," Hailey Sisco recalled her mother saying. She said she changed her cellphone number several times to avoid her mother's calls checking on Mike Sisco's activities, but Chandler would get her number from friends.

The younger Siscos as well as Harkness' relatives and colleagues also described Chandler showing up without notice in Topeka, berating Harkness and Mike Sisco in foul language and entering her ex-husband's home without permission.

Hailey Sisco said her mother gave her two versions of where she was on the July weekend when Harkness and Mike Sisco were killed. In the first, she was home alone in Denver and had hiked in the mountains, the daughter said. In the second, Chandler said she stayed overnight in the mountains and didn't have a cellphone signal.

Chandler's movements that weekend have been a key part of the cold-case investigation. Part of an October 2009 episode of "48 Hours Mystery" devoted to the case focused on how long it would take to drive from Denver to Topeka, commit the killings and return to Denver.

Denver businessman Jeffrey Bailey testified Chandler asked him for $50,000 in August 2002 to hire an attorney because law enforcement officers were about to arrest her for the killings.

"I asked if she did it," Bailey said. "She denied it."

But Bailey became suspicious, he said, when Chandler described driving around Colorado the weekend of the killings, sleeping in her car, making no purchases and failing to see smoke visible in much of the state from a spate of forest fires.

"I instructed her never to call again," Bailey said.

Defense lawyer Mark Bennett grilled investigators Thursday on their failure to find any physical evidence that Chandler was in or around the crime scene when the victims were killed.

Topeka police Sgt. Richard Volle, who has been the lead investigator in the case, agreed under questioning that authorities have never determined that Chandler owned, bought, possessed or registered a firearm of any kind.

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