Television
2:04 pm
Sun September 1, 2013

'Cold Justice' Is Coming To A Small Town (And TV) Near You

Originally published on Sun September 1, 2013 3:18 pm

Television has served up sass and brass with its female crime solvers for decades: Angie Dickenson in Police Woman, in the 1970s, Cagney and Lacey in the 80s, and the modern duo Rizzoli and Isles on TNT.

This fall, that network has decided to forget the script. It has two more sleuths who've already cracked thousands of real crime scenes and racked up dozens of victories in court.

Each week on TNT's new reality show, Cold Justice, former prosecutor Kelly Siegler and former crime scene investigator Yolanda McClary will travel to small towns across the country, digging into unsolved murder cases.

Siegler, who has successfully tried 68 murder cases, pitched the idea to Law & Order creator Dick Wolf, who is now the show's executive producer. "We went to television and told them that there was this need and opportunity out there for all of these unsolved murder cases in little towns all across the country, that we had the experience to solve," Siegler tells NPR's Jacki Lyden.

For the last 10 years of Siegler's career as a prosecutor in the Harris County District Attorney's office in Houston, Texas, she mostly focused on cold cases. She recognized that she had something to share.

"We would get calls from little departments all over Texas saying, 'Hey, what do you think about this case? Can you look it over? Do you have any pointers?' " Siegler says. "And it became apparent that there were a lot of them out there where the cops were really, really close, and they just needed some guidance and expertise from people that were more used to dealing with the old cases."

Siegler and McClary had never met before the series, but now they combine their skills to shed new light on cases that have gone dark. The premiere episode takes the women to the town of Cuero, Texas, to investigate the 2001 death of a woman that had been ruled a suicide. One local law enforcement officer said the case had been eating at him for 12 years.

"He never, in his gut, felt that was correctly handled," McClary says. "We broke that case apart and built it back up and got everything overturned from the ruling on it — from being a suicide to a homicide."

In order to begin an investigation for the show, local law enforcement must invite them to examine the cases, and the victim's family has to be on board, as well. Siegler and McClary work with local authorities to interview families, reconstruct crime scenes and question suspects. The cameras capture the drama for TV, but the interviews and crime scene investigations can also be used as evidence for the district attorney. Every person they question must sign a release.

McClary says that they were surprised how many suspects agreed to be questioned on camera. "It shocked us to no end every time someone will say something, and we're shaking our heads, going, 'They're never gonna do it.' And they go, 'Sure. Why not?' They think they're going to beat it again."

With cold cases like these, much of the physical evidence is gone and DNA can't always clear things up. Siegler says that's not a bad thing.

"Honestly, if you just have an eyewitness, or you just have a confession, or you just have one fingerprint — those cases are weaker to me than a circumstantial case with all these little bitty things that come together to tell a story," she says.

"In the real world on cold cases, we're very seldom gonna get DNA back on anything," she says. "This is all about starting the puzzle from the beginning and putting it back together again."

The oldest case they examine on the show was a case from Siegler's home county in Texas that had gone cold for 31 years. Siegler and McClary wouldn't give any hints about the outcome of this case. "You need to watch the show," Siegler says.

The show premieres Tuesday at 10 p.m. ET.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

JACKI LYDEN, HOST:

It's WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Jacki Lyden.

Television has served up sass and brass in its female crime solvers for decades: Think Angie Dickenson in "Police Woman," in the '70s, "Cagney & Lacey" in the 1980s and the current duo "Rizzoli & Isles" on TNT. This fall, TNT has decided to forget the script. It's got two new sleuths who've already cracked thousands of crime scenes and racked up strings of victories in court. Meet the women who are the real deal.

KELLY SIEGLER: My name is Kelly Siegler, and I've been a prosecutor since I was 23 years old. I tried over 200 cases.

YOLANDA MCCLARY: My name is Yolanda McClary. I'm a retired crime scene investigator from the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department. I was with the department for 26 years and handled over 7,000 crime scenes in my career.

LYDEN: Each week on the new reality drama "Cold Justice," Siegler and McClary use their heads and guts in the kind of byway, out of the way, under-resourced towns where hopes tend to languish and the murders of loved ones go cold.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "COLD JUSTICE")

MCCLARY: Kelly and I are up to speed. We know the case history.

SIEGLER: We're here to look at this nearly seven-year-old case and hope that we can bring some closure to this family.

MCCLARY: Maybe there's just some little point that we can open that maybe would make a difference.

LYDEN: The women had never met before the series. Kelly Siegler pitched the idea to "Law & Order" creator Dick Wolf when she recognized that she had something to offer small police departments across the country.

SIEGLER: When I was at the DA's office in the last 10 years, I pretty much mostly just worked on cold cases. And in the course of that, we would get calls from little departments all over Texas saying, hey, what do you think about this case? Can you look it over? Do you have any pointers?

And it became apparent that there were a lot of them out there where the cops were really, really close and they just needed some guidance and expertise from people that were more used to dealing with the old cases.

LYDEN: In the series, do you question suspects on camera, and do people have to sign releases about that?

SIEGLER: We try to document every single thing that we do on camera for purposes of the DA having access to that information and also for the show but mostly for the purposes of the case. And yes, we do have to get everyone to sign releases. If they don't, then we can't use it.

LYDEN: It's astonishing to me that someone who is a suspect would agree to appear on TV like this.

MCCLARY: Trust me. It's shocked us to no end. Every time someone will do something, we're shaking our heads, going: They're never going to do it. They're never going to do it. And they go: Sure, why not? It happens all the time. It's actually shocking.

LYDEN: So they just think they're going to get away with it, I guess.

SIEGLER: They think they're smart.

MCCLARY: Exactly. They do. They think they're going to beat it again.

LYDEN: In order to go into these towns for the show, they have to be invited by local law enforcement. The district attorney also must be onboard and the families want the case reopened.

SIEGLER: The biggest pressure every time we go into a town is when we meet that family the first day and we tell them, you know, we're going to do everything that we can. We're going to use the latest technology. We have all the experience you could want, but we might not get there. And then in those instances where we disappoint them and we have to go back and tell them that we didn't get there, that's the pressure. That's the horrible part of all of it, because you take that risk every time you go work on a case again.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "COLD JUSTICE")

SIEGLER: Have you ever been to Collins in Louisiana before?

MCCLARY: No. Small town. What, like, 300-something population?

SIEGLER: I guarantee you everybody there knows everybody else and their business and everything about them.

On August 27, 2006, 67-year-old Mattie Williams was not answering her telephone, and that caused her children to call the police.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "COLD JUSTICE")

SIEGLER: Mattie Williams...

MCCLARY: ...got the name Mother because she was like a mom to so many kids, let alone her 13 kids.

LYDEN: Talk to me about meeting the family of the second episode. I was moved. The first thing you do is assemble them, and you talk to them about what you're going to do in a - looks like a church.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "COLD JUSTICE")

SIEGLER: Where do you all think the killers first confronted her?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: At the front door. She let them in.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Mom wouldn't open the door for anybody. It had to be somebody she know.

SIEGLER: Usually we don't have that many family members to meet. But in this case, it was such a big family. And everybody was so excited we were coming to town, and they were also fact witnesses. So we did that that day, and I think we got some really good information.

LYDEN: And, Yolanda, what were you looking at in that case? What were you revisiting that became pivotal?

MCCLARY: Forensics being my end, there's nothing I'm not going to do. Anything and everything will be looked at one way or another. One of the most important things, though, is the crime scene itself. There are so many things about your crime scene that you need to be able to understand that give you your clues and tell you what directions maybe you need to go in or what questions you need to ask from your witnesses and possibly your suspects.

So that's what I'm finding more fascinating in these cases is not even so much the lab work but the actual crime scenes themselves and explaining them.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "COLD JUSTICE")

SIEGLER: They grab her purse, turn her purse inside out. Where's the rest of the money? Where is it, because she doesn't have much on her.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: No.

SIEGLER: There's some blood drops as I'm holding my head...

LYDEN: In the episode around Mattie Williams, you have a setback in the investigation. You have several suspects. You're hoping DNA evidence will clear it up, but it doesn't.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "COLD JUSTICE")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: I just got off the phone with the crime lab.

MCCLARY: Oh, man.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: Nothing on our suspects. All profiles are consistent with Ms. Williams is their exact wording.

SIEGLER: Dang.

MCCLARY: That's a lot of pieces.

SIEGLER: You all perk up, man.

LYDEN: Kelly, you say something really interesting after this. You say circumstantial evidence cases are beautiful. We all think DNA's going to solve everything. What is it about circumstantial cases that are so beautiful?

SIEGLER: I think if I could wear a T-shirt every day on the show that said circumstantial is not a bad word, I would. It's always made me crazy as a prosecutor when somebody would say: Oh, it's just a circumstantial case, like that's a bad thing.

I mean, honestly, if you just have an eyewitness or you just have a confession or you just have one fingerprint, those cases are weaker to me than a circumstantial case with all these little bitty things that come together to tell a story. In the real world on cold cases, we're very seldom going to get DNA back on anything. This is all about starting the puzzle from the very beginning and putting it back together again and seeing what we can come out with this time to see if we get any farther.

LYDEN: Were there any you weren't able to solve?

SIEGLER: Again, it's real. Everything about the show is real. And in the real world, you're always going to have those cases that you just can't solve. Even when you know who did it, you just can't solve them. And the show shows that aspect also.

LYDEN: And, Kelly, you were saying there were cases you wanted to return to, cases you wished hadn't gone cold.

SIEGLER: In my other life as a prosecutor, you know, I actually had a drawer that I called my waiting-on-God drawer. And it was filled with cold cases where we knew who did it. And I was a pretty aggressive prosecutor. And I said we didn't have enough evidence, and it was very frustrating.

But it's funny how - I swear, in the real world, you'll have these cases, and all of a sudden, one day, something will happen in somebody's life that makes them come forward or they tell or they talk or something happens. And you're like, oh, my God. I can't believe that just happened.

LYDEN: What was the oldest case that you looked at in the series?

MCCLARY: Thirty-one years old.

LYDEN: Thirty-one years. Can you tell me a little bit about that case?

SIEGLER: Well, it was from my home county, Matagorda County, Texas. And when the show started happening, my people said: Kelly, what about this case? And I'm like, oh, I forgot about it. And we looked into it and decided that it was another one worth checking into.

LYDEN: And you were able to get justice?

SIEGLER: You need to watch the show.

MCCLARY: Yeah. We can't give it all away.

(LAUGHTER)

LYDEN: Former prosecutor Kelly Siegler and crime scene investigator Yolanda McClary are appearing in TNT's new crime investigation drama "Cold Justice," a reality show. The show premieres September 3. Thank you so much for being with us.

SIEGLER: Thank you.

MCCLARY: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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