An Interview with Kelly Siegler of Oxygen's 'Cold Justice'

Kelly Siegler
Kelly Siegler

If you watch true crime television as I do, you’ve probably seen Kelly Siegler’s prosecutorial and investigative work. The consummate professional, she is tough but also extremely compassionate as she dedicates her time to bringing justice for the families of murder victims. You may have seen her argue against the defense in a courtroom trial or you may have gotten to see what she is most passionate about, solving cold cases. Formerly part of the TNT lineup, new episodes of the show she is currently featured on, Cold Justice, will air on the “full time, true crime” revamped Oxygen channel beginning this Saturday.

In honor of the show’s upcoming fourth season and its new network home, I spoke with Siegler and also posed questions from fans. Special thanks to Nell K., Aliza S., Diane B. and Lara M.

It’s an honor to be speaking with you. I’ve not only seen you on Cold Justice, but on other shows giving commentary or prosecuting. What different things about Cold Justice should we expect to see now that it’s on Oxygen?

There are new members of the team and new detectives on board who are all excited to do what they can to work on these cases. We learned a lot during the first three seasons of the show about the best way to find better cases and the best places to focus on. It’s pretty devastating when we don’t solve a case, so now we want to work on a crime where we can see an ending.

I recently watched an episode about Mary Jane LeFlore who was murdered decades ago and another about Ben Cooper, which was ruled a suicide but seemed impossible because no one can reach a gun to the back of their head the way it was claimed that he did. There were resolutions for both cases, but it must be difficult when there’s no resolution.

The only ending I ever wanted was one in which we figure out who did it, have charges filed, a grand jury indictment, an arrest and we tell the family this kind of news…but in the TV world, an ending just might not be the ending I want. If it’s ‘we’ve done everything we can but this case can never be solved’ – which I had to say one time on the show, that’s really tough but it’s a reality. Off camera before we’re filming, I tell the family that we’ll do all we can but that they shouldn’t get their hopes up. You know that they do, so you do everything in your power to solve the case and bring it a resolution. For this show, we really look for cases that can move forward in the criminal justice system.

How do you find the cases for the show?

We have a group that has learned how all of this works over time and through trial and error. Their job is to be on the phone looking for cases all across the country and particularly focusing on rural areas where they need more of our help. They run it by me on the phone and then I have to get the case files - you ALWAYS have to get an entire case file and we can’t do a case unless the family wants it, the local cops have invited us and the DA has approved it, so we jump through a lot of hoops. That knocks out lots of cases.

You worked with Yolanda and what many viewers appreciated was the fact that the two of you were a bad-ass dynamic female duo. I heard from Oxygen that she’s not back for the fourth season (with the exception of an update episode)?

What happened was we had a 2-part season 3 and in the first part, Yolanda quit because it was so tiring being gone every month and never being home. She was being such a great sport agreeing to come in for one day for crime scene day, but eventually she just got tired of being gone all the time I think. She has three grandbabies that are growing up and she was missing birthday parties and all kinds of stuff.

One of our new members is Tonya Rider, a former homicide cop from Toledo PD in Ohio and we’re all excited and she’s on board. Yolanda was a crime scene analyst and now Tonya brings a different type of expertise to the table.

Tonya Rider
Tonya Rider

I know a lot of people want to see females, but it’s hard because to find a female homicide detective, you need the experience and this can happen when they’re right at the level of the career where they’re about to retire. It’s a difficult situation deciding to be on this type of show - You can’t retire early or you lose your pension and you also can’t be gone all the time or you lose your job. It was a lot harder than you think to replace Yolanda. A lot of the ladies that really wanted to be on TV aren’t necessarily the ones that we wanted. We keep it real and they need to be all about the case, the family and not about showing off on TV. The people jumping up and down to be on the show are the ones we’re scared of.

I notice that you really get invested in the cases. Some people (i.e. doctors) have to be stoic because of their profession, but you have a warmth you exude to the families. Does that take a toll?

Well this goes back to what I said earlier: Before we ever agree to come to a town, the family has to want us and they know we’re coming. I always tell the families beforehand not to get their hopes up because we can’t promise a resolution, but you know that they do. When you work every day and think about the idea of having to tell them bad news, you get sick to your stomach and the pressure and desire to bring justice is overwhelming. As a prosecutor in the DA’s office, I was taught that at trial ‘though shall not cry if you’re a girl lawyer.’ I would stick a paper clip in my hand and have my hand bleed to keep myself from crying. But in this environment, it’s hard to carry that over.

Well, people see you as more human and that’s what fans say they love about the show, your compassion.

Given your successful career as a prosecutor, which have been the most difficult cases to try?

Cold cases. I mean, I tried a lot of murder and death penalty cases, but cold cases always were the most complicated because of the least amount of evidence. You have to consider little bitty things and you have to make the story out of those little bitty things and piece the facts together so it makes the most sense. It’s the most challenging and the most rewarding work.

Are you confident in ‘circumstantial evidence’ in today’s CSI world?

All of the easy cold cases were solved by DNA and they’ve been knocked off by grant money given years ago. I want to shout to the heavens “’Circumstantial Evidence’ is not a bad word!” It just requires a little time and thought. People these days are lazy -They want the DNA, confession, forensics…and I’m here to say and scream that you don’t need to have all that and still, the case can be strong.

What do you think of the upcoming Robert Durst case? I know that you argued against his defense attorney Dick DeGuerin in the past.

I know all about it and I know John Lewin, the prosecutor. I’ve had three trials against DeGuerin and I know you did your research and are familiar with all the hate behind the David Temple case http://www.chron.com/news/houston-texas/houston/article/Kelly-Siegler-responds-to-allegations-in-Katy-6437951.php. John Lewin knows what he’s doing and he’s been doing cold case work for years. I can’t wait to watch the final argument!

Cold Justice premieres Saturday July 22nd at 8/7c on Oxygen.

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