The Kansas Supreme Court released the following published decisions today:
Appeal No. 108,625: State of Kansas v. Dana L. Chandler
The Kansas Supreme Court reversed the premeditated first-degree murder convictions of Dana L. Chandler for the 2002 killings of her ex-husband and his fiancée. The court held the prosecutor in the case falsely told the jury Chandler had violated a nonexistent protection from abuse order in her divorce case. The unanimous court said Chandler's prosecutor used this false claim as a judicial endorsement for its theory that Chandler was dangerous.
"Taken as a whole," wrote Justice Dan Biles on the court's behalf, "this 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."
A Shawnee County District Court jury convicted Chandler in 2012 of killing Mike Sisco and Karen Harkness on July 7, 2002. They were found dead in Karen's Topeka home. Both were shot at least five times. They were in bed as the shooting began. Their murders launched a nine-year criminal investigation that culminated in Chandler's arrest in 2011. The case now returns to the district court.
In its opinion, the court noted the State's case relied on limited circumstantial evidence consisting of Chandler's inconsistent statements concerning her whereabouts when the murders occurred, her gas purchases at that time, her obsessive behavior toward Sisco and Harkness, and two post-arrest jailhouse phone calls the State argued were incriminating. There was no physical evidence linking Chandler, who lived in Denver at the time of the killings, to the crime.
During the trial, the prosecutor claimed there was a protection from abuse order issued by the Douglas County District Court in Chandler's divorce proceedings requiring Chandler to stay away from Sisco and that Chandler violated that order. The court observed, "All agree there is no protection from abuse order in the trial record." The opinion then laid out multiple efforts by the State to claim on appeal the order existed until it more recently acknowledged the prosecutor was wrong.
"But that concession," Biles wrote, "while laudable, was a long time coming—even though we would expect the State never to shield something so obviously indefensible."
Chandler's appeal was first argued to the court on January 27, 2016. After that, the court granted Chandler's unopposed motion for new counsel and additional briefing. New counsel was appointed and additional briefing permitted. "We took these unusual steps because the circumstances indicated they were necessary to serve the ends of justice," the court said.
Appeal No. 114,890: Pamela Heimerman v. Zachary Rose and Payless Concrete Products
The Supreme Court affirmed a Court of Appeals decision upholding the Allen County District Court's dismissal of Pamela Heimerman's wrongful death suit stemming from the death of her husband Daniel Heimerman in a car accident. Pamela had filed suit against Zachary Rose, who was driving the other vehicle in the accident, and Payless Concrete Products, Rose's employer.
Because Daniel was killed while acting within the course and scope of his employment, Pamela received workers compensation death benefits. By operation of law, Daniel's employer received subrogation rights and a statutory lien on any recovery by Pamela that was duplicative of the death benefits. Pamela filed a wrongful death suit in Allen County and joined a wrongful death suit filed in federal court by Daniel's son, Lucas. Both suits were based on Kansas' wrongful death statute. Pamela and Lucas eventually settled their wrongful death claims, and the federal court approved the settlement and its apportionment between Pamela and Lucas.
After the federal case concluded, Pamela moved the Allen County court to rule that her share of the federal settlement was attributable to her damages for loss of consortium and loss of spousal services. Such losses are statutorily exempt from an employer's subrogation rights and statutory lien.
The Supreme Court held that Pamela could not seek categorization in state court of the damages recovered in the federal lawsuit because doing so would violate the one-action rule. Kansas law makes it clear that only one cause of action may be maintained based on the wrongful death of one person. For the claims stemming from the death of Daniel, that singular cause of action became the federal case once the federal court entered a judgment approving the parties' settlement agreement.
Appeal No. 118,527: In the Matter of Linda S. Trigg, Respondent
Trigg, former district magistrate judge in the 10th Judicial District, was found in violation of Canons 1 and 2 of the Kansas Code of Judicial Conduct governing compliance with the law; promoting confidence in the judiciary; impartiality and fairness; competence, diligence, and fairness; decorum, demeanor, and communication with jurors; and cooperation with disciplinary authorities.
Appeal No. 112,638: State of Kansas v. Henry SullivanKansas Court of Appeals decisions released today
The Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeals decision affirming Sullivan's Wyandotte County convictions for multiple counts of rape and aggravated criminal sodomy and one count of aggravated robbery. The court held no reversible error when, during its deliberations, the jury had access to an admitted exhibit that was not published in open court. The court also held that the use of Sullivan's prior convictions to enhance his sentence did not violate Sullivan's right to a jury trial.