Former Harris County prosecutor Kelly Siegler worked in the District Attorney’s Office between 1987 and 2008. During that two-decade prosecutorial career, Siegler prosecuted more than 200 cases before juries—68 of them were murder cases, and 20 of the murder cases involved capital offenses in which she secured the death penalty in 19 of them. She picked up the local courthouse moniker “Giant Killer” and proudly sported it through the halls of justice as though it was a million-dollar diamond.
Poster Child for Prosecutorial Misconduct
The problem is that Siegler was given that moniker because, as a prosecutor, she was corrupt, dishonest, unethical, and convicted innocent people through a pattern of prosecutorial misconduct. The Open File Blog on June 5, 2020 called Siegler a “Poster Child for Prosecutorial Misconduct.”
In a July 17, 2015 post, we pointed out that a respected criminal court judge, Larry Gist, found 36 irrefutable facts in a highly publicized capital murder case in which Siegler had “either intentionally or negligently failed to disclose facts to the defendant or disclosed facts during the actual trial that prevented the defendant from being able to timely investigate or effectively use the evidence ‘irrespective of the good faith or bad faith of the prosecutor.’”
In 2013, some five years after leaving the district attorney’s office, Siegler pandered her “Giant Killer” reputation to secure a crime-solving reality series called “Cold Justice.” The television format over the courtroom did not improve Siegler’s penchant for misconduct. The dishonest former prosecutor and her television show were the subjects of two misconduct lawsuits during its first two years of airing (here and here).
Legacy of Misconduct
Again, in 2020, Siegler’s history of misconduct came back to haunt her and the Texas criminal justice system.
U.S. District Court Judge Keith Ellison reversed the capital murder conviction of Ronald Jeffery Prible because of Siegler’s extensive prosecutorial misconduct during Prible’s 2002 prosecution in Harris County. The Court granted relief on six separate claims that Siegler hid exculpatory evidence from the defense, provided undisclosed favors to prison informants in exchange for them fabricating false confessions, and violated Prible’s right to representation by using prison informants as agents of the prosecution to illegally question him while he was in custody. Prible has been on death row since 2002.
In a statement following Judge Ellison’s ruling, Prible’s attorneys, Gretchen Scardino and James Rytting addressed Siegler’s prosecutorial misconduct:
“The case of Ronald Jeffery Prible should terrify people because it shows just how much power and discretion a prosecutor has and how little evidence a jury needs to convict an innocent person of capital murder and sentence him to death. False jailhouse informant testimony and prosecutorial misconduct are two of the most common causes of wrongful convictions in the United States, and there were plenty of both in this case, as the Court’s opinion makes clear.”
TNT, the original network to host Cold Justice, bailed out of the show after five seasons and a slew of misconduct charges. The Oxygen Network picked up the show for a sixth season, and the decision, as of May 14, 2021, is still out on whether the network will renew the show for a 7th season.
Kelly Siegler and the longevity of Cold Justice illustrate there is a market for misconduct and unscrupulous prosecutorial behavior. The “poster child” of prosecutorial misconduct has both enhanced her “giant killer” reputation and enlarged her bank account by profiting off a career of misconduct and sending innocent people to prison.
As noted by Scardino and Rytting, reputable studies show that more than two-thirds of all wrongful convictions in homicide cases are the result of “official misconduct,” especially prosecutorial misconduct.
In Texas, Article 2.01 of the Code of Criminal Procedure says prosecutors have a duty “not to convict, but to see that justice is done.” The Texas Rules of Professional Conduct note that a prosecutor has the responsibility to see that justice is done and not simply to be an advocate. These rules were in place when Kelly Siegler was a “giant killer” prosecutor in Harris County. Unfortunately, these legal duties did not deter her from using misconduct as the vehicle to earn the “giant killer” moniker—a horrific nickname she wore about town as a professional badge of honor.
It was always conviction before justice that drove Kelly Siegler to become the “poster child” of prosecutorial misconduct in the state of Texas.