Are you ready for some Cold Justice? TNT Network hopes that you are. I’m pretty excited about this new real-life crime series that premieres Tuesday, September 3rd on TNT. The series is produced by Dick Wolf of Law & Order fame, and pairs former Texas prosecutor Kelly Siegler with former Las Vegas crime scene investigator Yolanda McClary. This could be considered a non-scripted reality show, and for true crime fans this looks like a refreshing change of pace. Although I haven’t seen the show and only know what’s been previewed in commercials – there are so many things I like about this show and it’s concept. Let’s start with the cast. I am a big fan of former Texas prosecutor Kelly Siegler. She racked up a 68-0 record prosecuting murder cases, pretty impressive! She may be most famous for her courtroom performance while prosecuting Susan Wright for the murder of her husband, Jeff Wright in 2003. Jeff Wright was reportedly stabbed 193 times by wife Susan, then buried in the backyard.
When Susan Wright took the stand at her trial, Siegler was in her face asking her “didn’t your arm get tired after the 37th stab, how about the 38th”? In a dramatic move, Siegler had the Wright’s bed reassembled in the courtroom, right in front of the jury box. She re enacted how she and the state of Texas believed Susan Wright tied her husband up under the pretense of wanting to have kinky sex – before stabbing him with two different knifes. This was the stuff movies are made of. Siegler is tough, some believe she was the toughest prosecutor in the state of Texas. With a 68-0 conviction rate on murder cases, I'd say she’s earned that title. The story of Jeff Wright’s murder and Susan Wright’s subsequent trial inspired a Lifetime movie called “Blue Eyed Butcher”. I know, no surprise there.
Siegler is no nonsense, tough yet fair and a true advocate for justice. Siegler, who was called in to handle the retrial of Anthony Graves, a man who had been convicted of murdering 6 people in Somerville Texas back in August of 1992. 45 year old Bobbie Joyce Davis was murdered along with her teenaged daughter and four of her grandchildren in her own home before the house was set on fire. A man named Robert Carter was arrested soon after drawing suspicion to himself after showing up at his 4 year old son’s funeral with bandages on his face and hands. Carter’s explanation for the burns to his face and hands were quickly discredited, and he eventually confessed to the murders of the 6 people, one of the youngest victims was his own son. Apparently he didn’t want to pay child support and decided to handle it by murdering his own child. Carter named Anthony Graves as his accomplice, and law enforcement locked onto Graves and never let go. Graves didn’t know the victims, had no motive to kill any of them and had a solid alibi. Both men were tried and convicted of murder in separate trials – and both were sentenced to death. In May of 2000 before his execution, Carter recanted his testimony about Anthony Graves, stating on the record that Graves was not present at the crime scene and he was the only person responsible for the murders. Carter claims he tried to recant his statements against Graves before Grave’s trial began, but the prosecutor threatened to arrest Carter’s wife if he didn’t cooperate in Grave’s trial.
Anthony Graves spent 12 years on Death Row, and maintained his innocence from day one. His plight caught the attention of the Innocence Project, who began looking into his original trial and found many glaring errors and inconsistencies – they worked on getting Graves convicted overturned for many years. In March of 2006 his conviction was overturned by a 3 judge panel who concluded the original prosecutor Charles Sebesta intentionally withheld crucial evidence that could have helped Graves. But the state of Texas wasn’t ready to let Graves off the hook. He spent the next 4 years in solitary confinement awaiting retrial. Kelly Siegler was to be the prosecutor this time. After reviewing the evidence, Siegler was convinced that Anthony Graves was wrongly convicted. She was critical of the previous prosecutor’s mishandling of the case, calling his actions unethical. Finally in October 27, 2011 Graves was released from jail, and all charges against him were dismissed by Burleson County Special Prosecutor Kelly Siegler who concluded early on that she could not prosecute an innocent man. She dared to call out the egregious and unethical behavior of Charles Sebesta, who still maintains he didn’t withhold anything. Graves won $1.4 million dollars from the state of Texas for the wrongful conviction. Good for him. Siegler was instrumental in helping the Innocence Project and Anthony Graves’ attorneys get to the truth once and for all. She wasn’t afraid to expose the former prosecutor who mishandled the original case. That’s what I love about Siegler. She’s the real deal.
Back to Cold Justice. Yolanda McClary is a former Las Vegas Crime Scene Investigator who is said to be the model/inspiration for the character Marg Halgenberer played on the hit show “CSI”. McClary has 26 years of experience and worked on more than 7,000 cases during her career in law enforcement. Pairing McClary with Siegler is a brilliant move – a “dream team” of sorts. Together, they are heading across the country in an attempt to help solve open homicide cases in many of the small or rural areas that may lack the resources of big city police forces. This should be good! This is advertised as real life crime solving, non-scripted stuff. In the premiere episode, Siegler and McCleary are headed to Cuero Texas to look at the 2001 death of a woman named Pam Shelley. Shelley was found with a gunshot to the head and her death was ruled a suicide, although police suspected her boyfriend Ronnie Hendrick of murdering her.
Hendrick says it was suicide, but Shelley was shot point blank in the head in front of her children. Siegler and McCleary retrieved the evidence and picked up veteran homicide detective Johnny Bonds and headed to Cuero to meet with Shelley’s now 23 year old daughter Kayla. Kayla was just 11 years old at the time of her mom’s death, but she has always pointed to Hendrick as the killer of her mom. Hendrick has always said it was a suicide. Hendrick was never arrested for this crime. I’m not sure how this episode will end, given they only have a one hour time slot! I was curious to see what may have come of the renewed investigation, knowing this was likely filmed awhile ago. According to a story posted on elpasotimes.com on October 4, 2012, Ronnie Hendricks was indicted for the murder of Pam Shelly. He is being jailed on $500,000 bond and awaiting trial in Texas. Looks like Siegler and McClary may have jump started the long road to justice for Pam Shelly and her children.
I’ll be interested to see how they format this show and how many cold cases they are able to actually get results on. The closest thing I can think of to this show would be something like “The First 48”. Real crimes, real detectives, real defendants and real victims. If you tune in to Cold Justice next Tuesday, please let me know what you think. I for one can’t wait!