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staff reporter Attorney: Kelly R. Siegler organization Harris County District Attorney’s Office, Houston caseTexas v. John Bradford Crow, No. 735352 (Harris Co., Texas, Dist. Ct.) “i don’t think any lawyer likes to retry a case,” said Kelly R. Siegler, an assistant district attorney in Houston. “Especially when you’re doing it for the third time. Especially when it’s your fault.” Twice Siegler has convicted Brad Crow of the 1996 shooting death of his girlfriend, Teri Nelson, when he was a 24-year-old high school football coach and she was a 20-year-old waitress. And Siegler wasn’t even the original prosecutor. Crow’s first go-round ended in a mistrial after the prosecutor slapped Crow on the back during closing arguments. Siegler feels responsible for the third trial, she explained, because the conviction she won in the second was overturned as a result of testimony she elicited. Still, she called the case one of the five hardest she’s tried-of about 150 felony trials. She doubted she would have won as a new assistant district attorney, 16 years ago. “I don’t think I would have known then how to pick apart all the inconsistencies in the stories that Brad told over time,” Siegler said. She also had a lot to learn, she added, about juries. The evidence suggests she’s a fast learner. The 41-year-old prosecutor was included last year in The National Law Journal‘s feature on 40 successful litigators under age 40. She was also named one of her state’s top lawyers by Texas Lawyer, a sister publication of the NLJ. In 2001, she appeared in another NLJ special section, “America’s Top 50 Women Litigators.” If this was heady stuff for a woman from Blessing, Texas, (pop. 900) who was the first person in her family to attend college, she conceals it well. She seems to take victories against well-known lawyers like Dick DeGuerin and Richard “Racehorse” Haynes in stride. And her insistence that the key is “obsessive, crazy preparation” bespeaks a lawyer whose feet remain firmly on the ground. Siegler’s first crack at Crow was in 1999. Following a week-and-a-half trial, the jury returned a murder conviction and a 16-year prison sentence along with a $10,000 fine-the same punishment (without the fine) that the judge imposed after the third trial, which ran a week longer. But on appeal, the defense complained Siegler had introduced hearsay testimony suggesting Crow beat Nelson. Siegler had asked two of Nelson’s friends to recount occasions when they saw her with “a busted lip” and “a black eye.” She asked what they told Nelson. Each had advised her to break off her relationship with Crow. The inference, the appeals court ruled, was that Crow had inflicted the injuries, unfairly buttressing the prosecution’s case, and undercutting Crow’s defense, with what the court called “backdoor” hearsay. The conviction was overturned in August 2001. Last July, Siegler faced the same challenges the case presented from the beginning, as well as new ones. Before the shooting, Crow had never been in trouble. His father had been a prominent defense lawyer and, aside from his volatile relationship with Nelson, Crow was, in Siegler’s words, “a good guy.” Nelson had been an intense, often insecure, young woman. She’d been adopted at birth, and her adoptive father later abandoned the family. She’d been hospitalized for psychiatric treatment for a month when she was 14. The night before she died, Nelson stayed in Crow’s apartment and they argued much of the night. According to the defense, Nelson grabbed Crow’s gun from his nightstand and threatened to kill herself. Crow wrested the gun away, but in the morning, Nelson tried to grab it again. That was why Crow was holding the gun when Nelson picked up an iron from an ironing board and swung it at his head. Crow raised his arms and the iron hit the gun, which discharged. There were many problems with this account, Siegler said, but the largest was the horizontal trajectory of the bullet, which passed through Nelson’s head and straight through the bedroom wall. “They couldn’t get around it,” she said. Not that they didn’t try. One defense expert was a retired Houston police officer who brought in a life-sized diagram of Crow’s room depicting the positions of the couple during the scuffle. During cross, the witness and Siegler assumed the roles of Crow and Nelson. From their re-enactment, Siegler said, it was clear Crow’s arm had been extended straight, not angled toward the ceiling as the expert had described. “Their diagram was the best evidence against Brad,” Siegler said jurors told her after the trial. But the defense didn’t go quietly. Defense lawyer George McCall Secrest Jr. of Houston’s Bennett & Secrest was “meticulous” in exposing gaps in the police investigation and inconsistencies in her witnesses’ testimony, Siegler said. One challenge, she added, is that witnesses who have testified before are never completely consistent. Two key witnesses were Crow’s roommate, Mario Villarreal, who was in the apartment at the time of the shooting, and Nelson’s mother, Marilyn Roberts. Villarreal had heard the couple arguing and testified that Nelson was pleading to use the phone before the shot, not threatening to hurt herself or Crow. But on the stand, he sometimes fumbled the details. Roberts “felt so guilty about what happened to Teri,” said Siegler, “that there was always the fear that she would break down and give in on cross just to get it over with.” Siegler’s solution: preparation. She made sure they reviewed past testimony and practiced. At trial, Siegler said, the trick is to appear calm even when-or especially when-your witness is pummeled. She squirmed internally while Villarreal was cross-examined, but resisted the temptation to scribble notes, which gives the impression that the testimony is important. Secrest, who was trying the case for the first time, seemed obsessive himself. On cross, Crow acknowledged he’d practiced 40 times. And, in Siegler’s view, it helped. But there were too many holes, she said. He wasn’t able to demonstrate how he could fire a straight shot while warding off a blow any better than his expert had. He also had trouble explaining why, if Nelson was really threatening suicide, he hadn’t locked the gun away, or removed the bullets, or picked it up with his finger off the trigger. And though he told the jury that Nelson swung the iron, he’d told a friend she threw it. In her closing statement, Siegler did what she says she does best. The self-described “hick” from Blessing talked to jurors in their own language. Calling the expert who’d brought in the diagram a “liar for hire,” she said: “Didn’t you think it was a little disingenuous?” She paused. “That’s a lawyer’s word. How about slick?” She ended the way she knew she would when she wrote her opening statement. She focused on the woman who wasn’t there: “She died at the hand of the man that she loved the most in the whole wide world, Brad Crow. And she did not deserve to die that way . . . .And when you look at those pictures, you see that blood, you want to talk about blood spatter and blood pools and directionality of blood. You know what that blood is? That’s the blood from Marilyn Roberts’ baby daughter.”

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