Kelly Siegler & Yolanda McClary Interview: Crime-Solving Duo Seeks Cold Case Closures on TNT's "Cold Justice"
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TNT’s fascinating real-life crime series Cold Justice follows former prosecutor Kelly Siegler and former crime-scene investigator Yolanda McClary as they dig into murder cases throughout towns in America that have lingered for years without answers or closure. Executive-produced by Emmy winners Dick Wolf (Law & Order, Chicago Fire), Dan Cutforth and Jane Lipsitz (Top Chef) and Tom Thayer (Hitchcock, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee), Cold Justice is slated to launch its second season Friday, January 17 at 8:00 p.m. ET.
In season one of Cold Justice, Siegler and McClary assisted local law enforcement in securing a total of five indictments and one guilty plea. Siegler is an attorney and former Texas prosecutor who successfully tried 68 murder cases in her 21 years on the job, and McClary is a former crime scene investigator who worked more than 7,000 cases in her 26 years with the Las Vegas Police Department.
“We get asked so much by victims’ families to please come look at a case. But people need to understand that unless we have access to the police report, the witness statements, the evidence and the crime scene photos, there’s no way we can look at a case truly and thoroughly. We have to have access to that, and they have to want us there. It’s their case. We just can’t horn in on a case because somebody asks us to. They have to invite us to do that.”
Taking on a different unsolved murder each week, Siegler and McClary work alongside law enforcement to carefully re-examine evidence, question suspects and witnesses and chase down leads in order to solve the cases, bring justice to the criminals and some closure for the victims’ families.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Kelly, how did you become involved with Cold Justice?
Kelly Siegler: I was a prosecutor forever and worked on cold cases for the last 10 years for the DA’s office and kind of came up with the idea then and there and talked it over with a couple of different people. They didn’t think it could be done and then ran into Dick Wolf. He loved the idea, got TNT on board, and here we are.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Yolanda?
Yolanda McClary: Actually I was contacted by Dick Wolf and his people, and they kind of threw the idea at me and asked, “How would you like to be a part of this?” I said, “Sure!” But knowing some stuff about the television business, I was like, “Yeah, well, when it’s not a roundtable meeting anymore, let me know.” Then three months later, sure enough, they said, “It’s a go.” Kelly and I flew into LA, and believe it or not, that was the first time we met.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): How long did it take for the two of you to click?
Kelly Siegler: They hooked us up first on a phone call, and they were spying on us and didn’t tell us because I don’t think that they thought two girls should get along (laughs). So we met over the phone first. Everything was good then, and it has been just better every day since.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Kelly, what’s the “secret” to winning 68 homicide cases?
Kelly Siegler: Well, you don’t get to choose all your cases. You kind of get them thrown at you, and you have to deal with what you get. But I think the key to that world and this world is preparation. We like to tease each other on our show. Yolanda, me and the detectives are all a bunch of nerds so we obsessively prepare before we ever get to a town so that everybody knows what they need to do and can focus on what their job will be. I think that’s why it all works.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Yolanda, you’re the real-life inspiration for Marg Helgenberger’s character, Catherine Willows, on CSI. How did that happen?
Yolanda McClary: Anthony Zuiker was in Las Vegas. That’s where he lived at the time, and he wanted to be a writer. He loved CSI work not that the rest of the world really knew what that was all about, so he came and rode with our lab, the CSI section, for about a week. I happened to be one of the people that they just kind of threw him with.
When he was all done and kind of building characters in his mind, he said, “I’m going to make a character after you!” I’m like, “Yeah. Sure, sure Anthony. Have a good time in Hollywood.” I guess they were doing auditions. Marg went in, and Anthony took one look at her and said, “Oh my God! She’s Yolanda! That’s it!” And that’s the way it went.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What is normally the time span when there are no longer traces of DNA on evidence?
Yolanda McClary: You can’t put a real time on something, but unfortunately as time goes on, it does degrade. It does end up having issues. That is hard for me because I’m used to working fresh cases. I mean, just get a call, and I go do my thing. The evidence is fresh and brand new, and DNA hits roll in and fingerprints roll in. Then I go work on these old, old cases, and it was a real eye opener. A lot of the evidence is simply not going to work anymore. By focusing on all the evidence, we see what we can still try to do, but the crime scenes are what really fascinate me as I’m looking over the pictures and reading the reports on what exactly happened out there.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Kelly, you say, “Most killers are stupid.” Is there such a thing as a perfect murder?
Kelly Siegler: (laughs) I think a perfect murder is any murder that a person got away with. I think they happen all the time, and I think in the real world where we live, it’s part of your life. There are murderers out there, and you know they committed murder, but you can’t figure out a way to get to them.
Cold cases are an extra special challenge, and it takes an extra special cop to want to work those cases because they’re harder. Like Yolanda just said about the DNA. She had no idea DNA wasn’t going to make all of these cases happen. I don’t think TNT thought it was going to be that way either, but in the real world, unlike CSI and all those shows, you don’t get DNA. You have to do it the hard way, the old timey way, with circumstantial evidence piece by piece to try and build cases.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I believe you work on a double homicide in Cottonwood, Arizona, this new season involving the 1997 murder of a teenage girl and her unborn son?
Kelly Siegler: Oh yes ma’am, we sure do. Actually there’s more than one double homicide. We’ve thought of two already.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): And there is a case in Camp Hill, Alabama, that was solved?
Kelly Siegler: Oh, what a great story!
Yolanda McClary: Yes it is.
Kelly Siegler: Can’t wait for y’all to see that one.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Can you tell me about it?
Kelly Siegler: We don’t want to tell you all the story, but we will tell you that Miss Willie Louise Kellum was about the most innocent, sweet victim that you could ever come across in all your years of law enforcement. Wanting to solve a case like hers is as much of a motivation as you can possibly get.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I’m reading a local article on the case talking about when y’all went to Camp Hill to work, and it does basically say that it was solved, but I won’t spoil the ending.
Yolanda McClary: This is one of the unusual ones. We will just say that forensics helped which was nice … unusually but nice (as Kelly would say). But the show itself obviously has a lot to say in that hour, so it will be an incredible episode to watch.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): How do you prepare yourselves to tell the victims’ families the horrible news that they will not have closure in cases involving the murder of their loved ones?
Kelly Siegler: There comes a point during the time we’re in a town where it becomes clear that we’re not going to be able to solve the case, and when that happens, I think that you just get sick to your stomach, you want to throw up, you dread it, and you just want to get it over with. You don’t know what you’re going to say, and you just get through it.
They cry and we cry. It’s horrible. There is no good way to get through it. There’s no way to spin it. It’s horrible because as much as we don’t want to get their hopes up by reopening the case, we know that we have, and then we’ve disappointed them, and we just have to tell them the truth.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Is there one particular cold case that was so horrible and emotional that it keeps you up nights?
Kelly Siegler: I think there’s something in all of them that kind of gets you. What do you think, Yo?
Yolanda McClary: Yeah. Every one of them. If you have to tell parents about their child, or if you’re not going to be able to help a brother or sister or a son solve their parent’s murder, they all weigh on us because we take them all on. We think that they’re all special. We work so hard for 8 days on them, and then it’s very disappointing when something just won’t break loose. Thank God, there’s not that many, but the few we’ve had to go do that on will probably weigh on us for a long time.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Is it correct that only law enforcement agencies can submit requests for you guys to investigate cold cases?
Kelly Siegler: Yeah. We get asked so much by victims’ families to please come look at a case. But people need to understand that unless we have access to the police report, the witness statements, the evidence and the crime scene photos, there’s no way we can look at a case truly and thoroughly. We have to have access to that, and they have to want us there. It’s their case. We just can’t horn in on a case because somebody asks us to. They have to invite us to do that.
Yolanda McClary: Not only that, we have no jurisdiction, so we can’t just walk in and say, “Oh, we’re just going to start interviewing witnesses and possible suspects and talk to people around the town about the case.” We don’t have jurisdiction and must have the local law enforcement with us to do anything.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Will the show ever branch out to include missing persons cold cases?
Kelly Siegler: God, we already have too many murders! I think there’s a show coming on after us that has to do with missing persons on TNT that’s also going to premiere its very first show right after us Friday night called Troy the Locator.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Kelly, you touched a little already on the TV show CSI. Yolanda, what do you think about CSI and Law & Order? Well, I suppose Dick Wolf has told you to like Law & Order (laughs).
Kelly Siegler: (laughs)
Yolanda McClary: (laughs) I think they make it exactly what it is … a lot of drama. It’s scripted television. Most of them always have this great outcome. They make it look like, in the perfect world, everything happens. Unfortunately, here comes this reality show that just tells the truth – good, bad or indifferent. I think that’s what sets us apart. But drama is drama when it’s scripted, and then there’s real.
We have to tell a lot of people that realistically, you’re not going to take someone to court in a few minutes like they show on Law & Order. That’s a great show, and I’ve been watching it for years. But you’re not going to arrest somebody and see him in court the next day. That’s not going to happen. It’s months, sometimes years later. It’s the same thing with CSI. Love it because obviously that’s my field.
I’m not going to say I didn’t get a lot of DNA hits in my career or a lot of fingerprints because I did, but it also is not set up like the show where you’ll get that information in five minutes. You could wait months on DNA. Fingerprints won’t happen by the next day. There are many cases in front of you, and nobody wants their case thrown out just so you can walk in and get it done.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Kelly, do you miss being a District Attorney in Texas?
Kelly Siegler: Every day, all day long. It’s the greatest job in the world.
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