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Kelly Siegler has a killer record. Or rather, a great record for finding killers.
Six years ago, the former Harris County, Texas, prosecutor left the courtroom — where she tried and won more than five dozen murder cases — and hit the road, traveling the country to help local law enforcement agencies investigate cold cases. To date, their work has resulted in 38 arrests and 19 convictions.
First on TNT and now Oxygen, Cold Justice returns for its sixth season on Feb. 16 with a two-part premiere, and it features not one, not two, but three mysterious deaths — all of which could be by suicide or accidental overdose, but also may have been at the hands of the same man. In the exclusive clip above, Siegler & Co. run the scenario where a woman’s 2003 death was by suicide, and in the clip below, they apply crime scene and medical examiner evidence to show how it could’ve been murder.
Watch both clips, and read on for EW’s conversation with Siegler about the premiere, how the nation’s rising drug epidemic is playing into cases both old and new, and which case she can’t stop thinking about.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: As you were diving into this investigation, where there’s more than one person potentially killed by the same man, the stakes are obviously higher than usual. How does change the game for you? What were the emotions you were feeling going into this?
KELLY SIEGLER: We like to know kind of what we’re setting ourselves up for and what we’re working on, so we generally have an idea of what the case looks like, and in Carbon County [Wyoming] it just kind of kept growing on us. In my old job in the real world, this would come up and you would just work the case because you aren’t limited by any time constraints. In our world, we don’t usually get to do this because we’re never there long enough to work more than one murder at a time, so that’s the other thing that sort of made this unusual. I mean, it was pretty fun, it was pretty exciting, and it was definitely very different.
Opioids and painkillers — states across the country are dealing with overdoses in record numbers, so it’s very easy to see why these deaths could, at first glance, be so easily regarded as overdoses, whether intentional or accidental. Because of your line of work, does it make you wonder how many situations there are out there where there’s more than meets the eye with some of these deaths?
Definitely, and I think this case epitomizes all of that. And that makes these cases even harder. Honestly, in the real world, I think a lot of people get away with committing murder because they do it just kind of like what happened in Carbon County — it’s just easier to do.
How much are you seeing the opioid epidemic come up in cases?
Can I tell you… so we’re in this new season and we’re almost done as far as working on the cases and being out on the road, and I can’t even tell you right now — I’d have to go back and count — how many times we’re actually having a conversation about the meth epidemic, the opioid epidemic. It’s everywhere! It’s horrible everywhere, and it’s in so many of our cases this season. It’s just crazy. It’s terrible. Some of the witnesses weren’t using opioids and meth that we’re dealing with now back when the case happened, but even now, even if they weren’t back then but got into it since the murder happened, then their memories are messed up. So it’s affecting cases everywhere we go.
As you’re investigating these cases, does it make you miss being a prosecutor? And I ask because there are times we see at the ends of episodes when a district attorney decides to not move forward with a case and the frustration and disappointment on your part is so evident.
Well, I think it’s made me decide two things. The first thing is, it’s very frustrating to not have the ultimate control over the case, because I would never say to move forward on a case if I didn’t believe that I would handle the case myself, if it were mine. So when you hear us say at the end, “We believe this case is strong,” we’re not just blowing smoke; it’s the kind of case we would take. I would take it tomorrow and take it to a jury. So that frustration is very, very real.
The second answer to your question is, I think what I don’t miss about the old job was the stress, the stress of having to go to trial and deal with all of the uncontrollable. I don’t miss that. But the other part, as far as making the decision to move forward, yeah that part is pretty frustrating.
How many people contact you, let’s say every year, with cases they hope you’ll look into?
Wow. I get emails from family members, probably 10 a day on my law firm account. And then [supervising producer] Ashley [Graybow]’s team in L.A. is on the phone cold-calling law enforcement agencies every day, all day long. I think she has six people working for her. And then I get other random text messages and Twitter notifications, things like that, all day long too. I used to try to respond to every single one that I got, and the first answer is, we can’t work on any case unless the local law enforcement agency invites us to, because we have to have their files. You know, you have all of these family members that want us to work their case, and they’ve maybe even hired a private investigator that’s done all this work, but unless we see the real file and we have the real witness statements and the evidence to test, there’s nothing we can do. All these family members, it just breaks your heart because I don’t even know what to tell all of them, there are so many out there.
Speaking of which, you visit with the families of victims a couple times during each episode, and it often becomes very emotional for you. Is that the hardest part of the job?
The hardest part of the job is when, at the end, we have to go tell them the news and the news is not a nice, firm, hard “Yes, [the district attorney] will take the case.” It’s terrible, and you always know at least a day ahead of time that it’s not going to turn out the way you wanted it to. It’s awful. You drive out there, you’re trying to think of what to say, you don’t sleep, you’re sick to your stomach because you got their hopes up even though you told them you couldn’t promise anything. There’s nothing fake about that. It’s horrible. We tell them when we first meet, “Try not to think about it. Don’t get your hopes up. We’re going to try our hardest.” But you know good and well it’s all they’re thinking about the whole time we’re working. It’s really awful.
It makes me think specifically of the episode where the young man died after he and his friends went to that lake. It was determined he really did die from an accidental drowning.
Well, there you go with drugs again. Drugs really did ruin that case. That one was awful. The mom, Kendra, she was never going to want to hear the news we had to give her. That was an awful day. Especially for her.
Is there a case you’ve investigated on the show that you can’t shake or stop thinking about?
Yeah. You remember Tenai Jones, the one from Paterson, New Jersey? She was the girl was going to go meet her parents on Thanksgiving and she never showed up. That one. That one just makes me flat angry that the D.A. never took the charges. It makes me angry. I don’t know what to do.
When you started the show, what did you expect going into the first season versus what it’s become?
I think this will amuse you: The idea for the show was my idea, and I always thought in the beginning that it would be hard to find cases because I thought the cops wouldn’t want to admit they needed help — they would hesitate in wanting to show their files and admitting they needed help or wanted another set of eyes to look at the case. Now we’re going on six years. It has never been the cops — except sometimes in the big cities, and I’m from a big city so I get it. But it’s not the cops; all they want is to solve their case — they’ll give you everything, they’re willing to take whatever criticism, they’ll do whatever needs to be done. It’s never been the cops that have been the problem. So I think that’s been the biggest surprise, and the biggest thing I was worried about in the beginning, but it’s not a problem at all anymore.
True crime has really taken on a life of its own the past several years, be it podcasts, TV series, movies. What do you attribute to that fascination?
I think people want to watch smart TV. I think people like to know why things happen the way they do and to figure it out. Some of these cases, I think a lot of people — maybe even mostly women — they like to appreciate all the little bitty pieces and try to put it together themselves, see if they could’ve figured it out sooner or the same way or in a better way. I think that’s the way of the future — smarter TV.
The new season of Cold Justice kicks off Saturday, Feb. 16, at 6 p.m. ET on Oxygen, with a two-part premiere that wraps up Feb. 23.
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