Kelly Siegler Interview: "Cold Justice" Star and Producer Talks Season Six
Written by Marc Parker and Melissa Benefield Parker, Posted in Interviews Producers
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Raised in Blessing, Texas, Kelly Siegler received her law degree from South Texas College of Law in 1987. She fought for justice for Harris County, Texas, residents and crime victims for over 21 years until she resigned from the District Attorney’s office in 2008. She has prosecuted more than 200 cases before juries and is not only respected for her ability in the courtroom but by members of law enforcement agencies as well and is also sought out as a speaker and expert in effective courtroom advocacy.
Cold Justice is an investigative, unscripted true crime series that follows former prosecutor Siegler and her rotating team of seasoned detectives as they re-open unsolved murder cases with the consent and assistance of local law enforcement in small towns across the country. Cold Justice, originally broadcast on TNT, is produced by Wolf Entertainment and Magical Elves (one of the few unscripted production companies with women in the majority of leadership), and the show is currently in its sixth season on Oxygen.
"I would say my definition of circumstantial evidence is using your common sense with all of the little pieces of windows to the case or pieces of evidence that point you to the conclusion of who the killer is."
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Hi Kelly, are precautions being taken regarding COVID while filming season six of Cold Justice?
Kelly Siegler: Definitely. Plenty of precautions. Everybody’s being super careful. We were delayed getting back to work, but that was mostly just because we were greatly appreciating the fact that local law had so many other things to deal with in the past year and a half, we didn’t want to make them just able to focus with us on one case for so long. They’ve just been so crazy busy. So we’ve basically just been waiting on them to say, “Come on down.”
Smashing Interviews Magazine: The last time we spoke was also with Yolanda McClary back in 2014 to promo the second season. How is Yolanda?
Kelly Siegler: I don’t know. I haven’t talked to her in a while. She left in 2015, I think. She’s living in Las Vegas. She always loved living in Las Vegas. I think she just got tired of being on the road so much because we live on the road. But I haven’t talked to her in a while.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: I’m sure you have people writing the show all the time asking for help with unsolved cases, and you have to turn them down for one reason or another. What are the requirements that have to be met before you begin working on a cold case?
Kelly Siegler: The first one, and I think this is the one that really upsets people, is that we have to be invited by local law to work on any given case. I got three emails this morning from family members saying, “Please work on our case.” A lot of times, I can read the email and reach out to local law and see if they want our help. They have to invite us because we need to have access to their complete file. I’m not going to read a bunch of newspaper articles or take a private investigator’s word or a family’s word for what the crime is, what the witnesses say and what the evidence is. I need to see the real entire file. All those people that say they have access to the files, they’re just blowing smoke at people because that’s not really an investigation. We need to see the real entire file. That is the first step, and that’s a hard step, sometimes depending on the kind of case it is.
The family has to want us. Obviously, we’re not going to work on a case and break their hearts all over again because they don’t want to talk about it, which I’ve never seen that happen, by the way. The last one is that the elected prosecutor in that jurisdiction has to also be cooperative and want us because there would be no point of going through all the motions, getting the family’s hopes up with what we think is a case, then for the DA to go, “What the hell are you doing working on a case in my jurisdiction, and nobody’s told me? I’m not taking it. Get out of here.” So all three of those boxes have to be checked.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: What does your team (Steve Spingola, Tonya Rider and Abbey Abbondandolo) each bring to the table on a case?
Kelly Siegler: Steve is retired from the Milwaukee police department, and he was in charge of their detective investigative division for 10 years. He’s worked on lots and lots of murder cases, arson cases and all the kinds of cases that I worked on. He’s got a lot of experience, and he’s a great interrogator. He’s a big city cop just like the guys I worked with in my whole career.
Abbey is from my world. He was with the Houston police department. He was homicide for, I think, 20 years, and he was an undercover narc. We met each other when I was 25, and he was 26. Back then, he had long hair and a ponytail, and he was an undercover cop. So I’ve known him for 30 damn years. I’ve had him testify for me on the witness stand, so I’ve seen him in action working a case, pitching a case to me and testifying in the courtroom.
I got to know Tonya because the Magical Elves actually found her three years ago. She’s retired from the Toledo police department. She’s from a smaller agency, but she has worked on a lot of sexual assault cases and more victim-oriented cases, so she approaches things from more different angles than the guys do. But she’s very, very thorough and determined. Depending on where we are in the case, each of them is the best at what they do.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Will there be an appearance by retired homicide detective Johnny Bonds this season?
Kelly Siegler: No. When we finished last season, Johnny officially retired. But this is the third time though. He’s living in Arkansas. I emailed him a few days ago. Every time we watch a good show or read a good book, we tell each other. He’s loving life. He likes his retirement. He says, “That’s enough. I’m tired. I don’t want to do it anymore. Don’t be mad at me. You know I love you.” That’s kind of how we ended it. You know, I think if the right case came along, maybe I could talk him into doing one more. I don’t know. But for now, he says he’s tired.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: How is season six going in terms of arrests?
Kelly Siegler: It’s going very well. You know, the criminal justice system moves a lot slower than TV land, so it doesn’t move at warp speed like that does. But it’s going very well. I’m pretty excited about the results that we have so far. There’s some DNA that even comes back on a couple of cases, which is shocking because I don’t ever really rely on that. If I ever thought that I was tired of doing this or we couldn’t find cases anymore or maybe that’s enough, the results that we’ve had so far would be like, “Oh, no girl, you’re not done yet.” That’s what I’ll tell you.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: The season premiere looks at Jerry Humphrey who was murdered in his home in 2003 with no signs of forced entry, so could that automatically mean the intruder had a key or was someone the victim knew, and is that a good starting point in analyzing a case of that nature?
Kelly Siegler: Well, that’s kind of one thing you definitely have to put in your pot to start with, and that was definitely part of the original thought process in this case. That case is cool because it’s right here next to home, and Abbey and I both remember when it happened years ago. When it did happen, the detective that made the scene that day from Stafford (Texas) police department is now the Chief of Police. So he was very instrumental in finally getting us to work with his guys in his department, and the new DA got elected in Fort Bend county, so we could check that DA box.
We tried to work on this case years ago when a different DA was in office in Fort Bend county, and he actually shut us down. This time, the new DA, Brian Middleton, said, “Why would I tell you ‘No’”? If you think you can solve the case and help get one forward, get on down here.” So that’s the reason we’re finally getting to work on this Stafford PD case.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: You spoke of the fact that you really don’t rely DNA evidence to solve these cold cases. However, you do rely on circumstantial evidence in the majority of these cases.
Kelly Siegler: Yes.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: What is your definition of circumstantial evidence?
Kelly Siegler: I would say my definition of circumstantial evidence is using your common sense with all of the little pieces of windows to the case or pieces of evidence that point you to the conclusion of who the killer is. Use your common sense and be logical, look at it from all angles, and ask if it all consistently and logically point in the same direction. If all the pieces keep telling you the same story, that’s a circumstantial case.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Kelly, how did you come to develop such a strong interest in criminal law?
Kelly Siegler: I was in law school, and I went to work at a civil firm. They were very nice, but it was so damn boring, I thought I’d never be able to stand it if I had to do that for the rest of my life. A buddy of mine got me a job at the Harris County DA’s office as an intern in the Domestic Violence Division helping battered women. When I was very young at 23, I realized, “Man, this is really doing something. I’m helping these ladies. I’m convincing them to move forward and testify. I’m helping their kids get protection. What a great job.” So I just stayed there and never left.
I stayed there for 21 years and moved up in that office from being an intern to running the Special Crimes Division where all we did were high profile cases, capital murder cases and death penalty cases. I pretty much focused on cold cases for the last 10 years of my career, which was how I realized there were so many out there that could be solved if somebody would appreciate the beauty of circumstantial evidence cases.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: So you got the idea for the TV show Cold Justice?
Kelly Siegler: Exactly.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: How did you connect with producer Dick Wolf?
Kelly Siegler: One Friday night, my kids were having a slumber party. I went in my bedroom, shut the door and got on the phone with Dick Wolf, Tom Thayer and the Magical Elves and pitched them this idea. I said, “Hey, I can solve the cases. They’re everywhere. If we can focus on them and y’all can provide the resources, they’re all a beautiful story. How could they not be a great story? And y’all are all about the story. Why don’t we make a TV show?”
I remember Dick Wolf said, “That’s a great idea,” and told his partner, Tom Thayer, to sign me up. Tom said, “I don’t know about that, Dick, because she can’t promise a resolution,” which I’d heard so many dang times I wanted to scream. Dick said, “I don’t care. It’s a great idea. Sign that up.” That was the beginning of this journey.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: As a prosecutor and even now with Cold Justice, have you ever been stalked or received death threats?
Kelly Seigler: Yeah, a few times but nothing that’s terrible.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Is there one particular case that haunts you more than the others over the years?
Kelly Siegler: There are probably 10 or 20 that are at the top of the list because of different reasons. There’s one that’s a rape victim that I still worry about and family members that I dealt with because there were death penalty cases. Even after they get death, they’re on death row for years, for a decade minimum, and you get to know them. So there are so many for different reasons, and different memories stand out in your head. It’s hard to pick the main one or your most impactful one or your saddest one. They’re all heartbreaking, and you just want to do everything you can to help them.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: What do you do to get some of these cases out of your head in order to sleep at night and have some normalcy of a family life?
Kelly Siegler: I know shrinks say that it’s not healthy to compartmentalize. I would very much disagree. I think the only way to do this job is to compartmentalize. I know that when I would drive home from work in the middle of a trial, I would shift into mom mode, right? Then when I got up in the morning of the day I was to give jury arguments, and I’m upstairs practicing my argument and timing it out in the bathroom mirror and still in my pajamas practicing it, I would shift into prosecutor mode. I just had to go back and forth to one channel and the next because if you don’t, you’re going to make yourself crazy.
If I’m home with my girls, what’s the point of thinking, “I need to do this at work”? And if I’m at work, what’s the point of feeling bad that I’m not at school that day for a class party? You’ve just got to focus on what you can at the time and try to stay sane or you’ll make yourself crazy and wear yourself out even faster.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: You’ve got three beautiful kids. Have any of them chosen law as a career?
Kelly Siegler: Oh, thank you. Ah, the girls are both lawyers. One’s a lawyer, and the other one is a law student. She’s going to graduate from Tulane this time next year, I hope. But I don’t think they want to be prosecutors. I think they think there are easier ways to make a living (laughs).
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