Kelly Siegler became a prosecutor in Harris County in 1986. She was mentored by two of the country’s most overzealous and ethically challenged district attorneys, the late Johnny Holmes and Charles “Chuck” Rosenthal. During the nearly three decade reign of the two most reputed “law-and-order” district attorneys in the county’s history, more than 200 people were sent to Texas’s death row—some of whom were innocent and many others convicted because of the in-house policy established and maintained by the two prosecutors that exculpatory, mitigating and/or impeachment evidence did not have to be disclosed if the prosecutor did not believe it was true.
Siegler utilized this patently unfair, and now illegal (per the 2013 Michael Morton Act), policy to her advantage. The policy allowed her to pack a professional resume with two hundred jury trials (12 of which were “cold cases”), including 68 murder convictions without a loss and securing the death penalty in 19 out of 20 of the capital murder cases she tried. She relished the reputation she garnered as the “giant killer.” It encouraged her to engage in flamboyant trial tactics and make it a consistent habit to express her disrespect toward the criminal defense attorneys she faced in court.
One of the cold cases she tried was that of David Temple, a former Katy high school football coach who was convicted in 2007 for the 1999 murder of his pregnant wife. At the time of the crime, the local police and the Harris County DA’s office conducted exhaustive investigations without being able to implicate Temple in the murder. The district attorney’s office presented 30 witnesses before a grand jury that did not find sufficient evidence to indict Temple.
But in 2004, while she was floating the idea of a reality show to various television networks, Siegler managed to worm her way into the Temple case. She did what previous prosecutors had been unable to do: she secured a murder indictment against Temple in 2005 without calling a single witness. Following a four-week trial in 2007, Siegler obtained her conviction and Temple was sentenced to life in prison.
Immediately after the trial Temple’s famed trial lawyer, Dick DeGuerin, defiantly, and now prophetically, told the media gathered for comment that “Kelly Siegler has finally done what Richard Haynes predicted she would do. She’s convicted an innocent man. David Temple did not kill Belinda Temple. This is a tragedy. It’s a tragedy for David. It’s a tragedy for his family and it’s a tragedy for David and Belinda’s son, Evan.”
The trial had featured a gladiator-like duel between Siegler and Temple’s legendary criminal defense attorney Dick DeGuerin. In a July 9, 2015 ruling, Harris County District Court Judge Larry Gist described the trial this way: “The lead prosecutor and the Defendant’s lead attorney had a personal and contentious relationship and a professional battle of the highest degree. Both were famous and could not stand losing to the other. Of enormous significance was the prosecutor’s testimony at the habeas hearing that apparently favorable evidence did not need to be disclosed if the State did not believe it was true.”
The highly respected judge found 36 facts to support his ruling that Temple’s murder conviction should be reversed because Siegler “either intentionally, deliberately or negligently failed to disclose the  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.’”
Temple’s current defense lawyers Stanley Schneider and Casie Gotro, who continued the fight through appellate and post-conviction process, recently told Houston Chronicle and the assembled media what those of us who defend cases in Harris County already know, that the Harris District Attorney’s Office has a win at all costs mentality, justice and fairness be damned. “There’s a systemic problem in Harris County,” said Schneider. “We’ve been repeatedly told that things ‘don’t exist’ only to find out later that they do,” Gotro said. “And without fail, they either benefit the defense theory or undermine the state’s theory.” We agree with Schneider that the time has come for a special, independent investigator, or attorney pro tem, to be appointed to look into the policies and practices of the Harris County District Attorney’s Office, which have undoubtedly led to other wrongful convictions.
Should Siegler be disbarred?
The Temple decision has sent shock waves through the local legal community, and will could have national implications. According to some, Siegler used the “cold case” conviction of David Temple to help secure her current “Cold Justice” reality show on TNT. As a result, Temple paid the price of eight years of wrongful imprisonment.
Siegler’s misconduct in the Temple case is also interesting because of her role in the Anthony Graves case. Graves was convicted of capital murder for the 1992 murder of a family in Burleson County. He was sentenced to death. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed his conviction in 2006 for prosecutorial misconduct by District Attorney Charles Sebesta. Because of the high profile nature of the Graves case and its history of prosecutorial excess, Sebesta’s successor, DA Bill Parham, hired Siegler to serve as a “special prosecutor” in the case. She was charged with the specific responsibility to determining whether there was sufficient evidence to retry Graves for the multiple murders.
In 2010, the local legal community and a legion of Graves’s national and international supporters were stunned with Siegler submitted her written findings to D.A. Parham that found it would be “impossible” to make a case against Graves. Siegler specifically stated: “After months of investigation and talking to every witness who’s ever been involved in this case, and people who’ve never been talked to before, after looking under every rock we could find, we found not one piece of credible evidence that links Anthony Graves to the commission of this capital murder. This is not a case where the evidence went south with time or witnesses or we just couldn’t make the case anymore. He is an innocent man.”
As a partial result of the Siegler report and Graves’s ultimate exoneration, the Texas State Bar disbarred Sebesta last month because of his unethical role in the case.
A fair comparison can be made of Siegler’s role in the Temple case with Sebesta’s role in the Graves case. Just days after Gist reversed Temple’s conviction, local attorney Paul Looney, who previously worked on the case, told the Houston Press that Siegler used the Temple case “as leverage to get her own TV reality series.” The attorney further charged that not only did Siegler engage in prosecutorial misconduct, she committed a felony by obstructing justice.
“If Kelly Siegler’s a lawyer in five years, I’ll be shocked,” Looney told the newspaper. “And if she’s not a felon in five years, it’ll be because [District attorney] Devon Anderson decided to protect her own friend.”
Whether Siegler will be either disciplined or disbarred by the State Bar and whether she is indicted for obstruction of justice remains to be seen. But there is more than an ample basis to call for one or both of the sanctions. At a minimum, we believe the State Bar should begin a thorough investigation into this serious professional misconduct. In addition, TNT should have the moral courage to ax the former prosecutor from its “Cold Justice” reality series because part of her notoriety was secured at the expense of a fair trial for David Temple, who now appears to be an innocent man. Bottom line, Kelly Siegler is not a role model for justice, even if that justice is “cold.”