Cold Justice leads to mistrial, murder confession

The broadcast of the first episode of TNT’s new reality series Cold Justice led to a confession of murder from the suspect, but also affected potential jurors.

The first episode of the Dick Wolf- and Magical Elves-produced series, which follows a prosecutor and CSI as they examine cold cases, was about the 2001 death of Pamela Shelly, which was initially ruled a suicide. But on Tuesday, Ronnie Hendrick was sentenced to 22 years in prison Tuesday after pleading guilty to her murder and signing a confession.

Cold Justice prosecutor Kelly Siegler told the Houston Chronicle, “I’m surprised that it happened so quickly. I think for the first time Ronnie Hendrick was confronted by a world of his own people looking him in the face and telling him what they thought of his explanation.”

He was indicted last October, after the investigation documented in the episode, and trial was to begin Monday, but a mistrial was declared because more than a third of jurors had watched the show, and 20 of the 60 admitted to already having an opinion about the case.

The show’s ability to affect potential jurors is unlikely to happen again, Siegler said. “In every other case, the show will air way before any trial setting comes up, so there’s plenty of time and distance to minimize the effect of the show. This one was different, because it was the pilot. … In all circumstances, except the pilot, the show will air long before a local district attorney will be ready to go to trial.”

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about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.