HOUSTON -- Haunted by the cases they couldn’t crack, cops in small towns across Texas used to call for help from one of the toughest prosecutors in Houston.
Kelly Siegler listened and sympathized, but usually she couldn’t do much else. After all, she was busy with her case load as an assistant district attorney in Harris County. Besides, she told them, she couldn’t really help out unless she traveled to see them and took the time to pore through their cases files.
"And the thing that they all say is, 'Look, I don't care who solves the case. I just want to clear the case. I want to catch the guy that did it.'” she said. “And oftentimes, they've always known in the back of their mind who did do it. They just don't know how to get there."
Now, at last, the big city prosecutor has the time to travel to rural counties and resurrect cold cases. And she plans to do it on prime time television.
Siegler will star in a reality TV series tentatively titled “Cold Justice.”
Each week, she’ll visit a small town and use her extensive experience investigating and prosecuting violent crimes in Houston to try to solve a cold case.
"This idea got started when I was in the DA's office, in Special Crimes (Division),” she said. “And it became apparent to me that there are rural law enforcement agencies all over the state that were always calling to ask us for help on their old murder cases."
But the genesis of the new television series actually traces back to Siegler’s most famous presentation before a jury, a demonstration of a murder that cemented her reputation as a prosecutor with a flair for courtroom theatrics.
In 2004, Siegler prosecuted Susan Wright, a woman who tied her husband to their bed, stabbed him nearly 200 times, then buried his body in her back yard. Siegler’s unique approach to the case yielded one of the most memorable moments in recent Harris County courthouse history. She brought the blood-stained bed into court, straddled one of her colleagues bound to the bedposts and demonstrated the savage stabbing.
Television images of the sexually charged incident caught the attention of television and movie producers. An agent scored a deal to produce a pilot starring a character based on Siegler, but the TV movie never became a series.
Nonetheless, the Hollywood connection gave her the chance to pitch her idea for a reality series in which she helps crack cold cases. The concept caught the fancy of Dick Wolf, the producer of “Law & Order,” the most successful crime drama in television history. He sold the idea to the TNT network, which has committed to eight episodes of the show.
"We went and worked on a case this summer for a week in Dewitt County, solved the case, filmed the pilot and hopefully that'll be one of the shows," she says.
Actually, the role Siegler’s playing on the series is one she’s played before, not on reality TV but in real life. Since leaving the Harris County DA’s office in 2008 after losing the primary in a campaign for district attorney, she’s worked as a freelance prosecutor tackling high profile cases in smaller counties.
"Yeah, since I left the DA's office, I did a death penalty case in Wharton County,” she said. “I worked on a case in Burleson County and Liberty County. And then Anthony Graves came up in 2010."
Graves spent 18 years on death row for allegedly assisting in the murders of a woman and five children in the Hempstead area. Siegler was hired to keep him on death row during an appeal, but she came to startling conclusion that the condemned killer was actually innocent. Graves was set free, and Siegler said she’s still stunned by the behavior of prosecutors working on the original case.
"I thought it happened on TV, not in the real world,” she said. “That was the biggest shock in that case."
Now she’s fielding phone calls and emails from investigators in small towns asking for her help, looking for cases she can solve in prime time.
"So if there are any law enforcement officers out there with those cases that have been haunting them their whole career and they want our help and they haven't been able to get around to working the case, let us know," she said.
The series is expected to premiere on TNT this fall.