One Dynamic Duo

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Prosecutors Kelley Crisp and Lauren Richards both share a profound commitment to truth and justice.

by VICKI MELDE

 
photo by ALAMOND PHOTOGRAPHY

photo by ALAMOND PHOTOGRAPHY

When considering dynamic duos, several immediately come to mind ... Batman & Robin, Lucy & Ethel, Lennon & McCartney, Thelma & Louise, Lewis & Clark, and Mac & Cheese. Each of these pairs had a unique chemistry that simply made their partnership work – and often made it magical. Such is the case with two Texarkana prosecutors who have made quite a name for themselves as the “Dream Team” when it comes to fighting for justice and victims’ rights.

John and Kelley and Lauren and Chris during the Women for A&M-Texarkana’s 13th annual Gourmet Dinner and Auction on August 26, 2017.

John and Kelley and Lauren and Chris during the Women for A&M-Texarkana’s 13th annual Gourmet Dinner and Auction on August 26, 2017.

In some ways, Kelley Crisp and Lauren Richards might appear to be an unlikely pairing but their formidable strengths complement one another and both share a profound commitment to truth and justice. They both felt a strong calling to the practice of law at a very early age and never wavered from that path. For Kelley who grew up in Booneville, Arkansas, that meant earning her degrees – Bachelor’s in Advertising and Public Relations, Master’s in Journalism, and Juris Doctorate - from the University of Arkansas-Fayetteville. Lauren, a native of Texarkana, took a bit different educational path – earning a Bachelor’s degree in English from The University of Texas-Austin and her Juris Doctorate from Baylor School of Law.

District Judge John Tidwell with Kelley (First Assistant District Attorney) and Lauren (Assistant District Attorney) on January 3, 2019, after their swearing-in ceremonies.

District Judge John Tidwell with Kelley (First Assistant District Attorney) and Lauren (Assistant District Attorney) on January 3, 2019, after their swearing-in ceremonies.

Kelley’s career began with her mentor former prosecutor James Elliott who trained her in preparation for his retirement. “James left tremendous shoes to fill, but in trying big felony cases with him, I was trained by the best,” she said with obvious respect. “I hope to be as good as him one day!”

Lauren, on the other hand, vowed when she began law school that the one area of law she did not want to pursue was criminal law. However, when a friend arranged for her to watch an aggravated robbery trial one day in New Boston, it piqued her interest. She began working part-time on appeals in the District Attorney’s office and when those in the office realized her remarkable abilities, her position soon became full- time. The groundwork was in place for what would become an extremely successful and fulfilling professional and personal partnership for Kelley and Lauren.

The ladies are quick to insist that the “dream team” is much more than them. “We have an amazing support staff that enables us to be extremely well-prepared when we enter a trial,” Kelley stated. “The work starts with the agency that brought the case,” Lauren added. “The police investigators do an unbelievable job and simply don’t get the credit they deserve.”

Both Kelley and Lauren believe another vital component of their success is their boss, District Attorney Jerry Rochelle. Lauren stressed the importance of their relationship with Rochelle. “We have earned his trust in our judgement thru our proven track record. There is no micro-managing with Jerry.” Kelley expressed appreciation by saying, “He has faith in us to do what we were hired to do. He often asks, ‘What can I do to help?’ and really means it. He’s just terrific!”

On the evening of November 5, 2017, Lauren and Kelley prepare for the punishment phase of Billy Joel Tracy’s capital murder trial. A Bowie County jury found Tracy guilty of the capital murder of Timothy Davison, a correctional officer at the Barry Telford Unit on October 27. Tracy was sentenced to death on November 15, 2017, and is currently on death row awaiting execution.

On the evening of November 5, 2017, Lauren and Kelley prepare for the punishment phase of Billy Joel Tracy’s capital murder trial. A Bowie County jury found Tracy guilty of the capital murder of Timothy Davison, a correctional officer at the Barry Telford Unit on October 27. Tracy was sentenced to death on November 15, 2017, and is currently on death row awaiting execution.

The other part of the equation – which both women agree is the key to what enables them to immerse themselves so fully in their crucial work – is their husbands. Kelley and John recently celebrated their twelfth wedding anniversary and have a 5-year-old son. Lauren and Chris will be married six years in November and have one daughter who is 2. “We have the two most incredible and understanding husbands, and they are so proud of us,” Kelley noted. “They understand the gravity of our work and carry the load as we both have small children,” Lauren added. “They are selfless!”

Lauren and Kelley take a break from one of their jury trials on April 4, 2017, in the 5th District Courtroom of the Bowie County Courthouse in New Boston. In State of Texas v. Larry Webb, Webb (who was already a registered sex offender), was tried for two counts of aggravated sexual assault of a child. On April 5 (the day after this photo was taken), Webb was convicted and sentenced to two life sentences.

Lauren and Kelley take a break from one of their jury trials on April 4, 2017, in the 5th District Courtroom of the Bowie County Courthouse in New Boston. In State of Texas v. Larry Webb, Webb (who was already a registered sex offender), was tried for two counts of aggravated sexual assault of a child. On April 5 (the day after this photo was taken), Webb was convicted and sentenced to two life sentences.

Their husbands have been best friends since childhood and both as only children consider the other as a brother. Thru a chance meeting as dates for a wedding before either couple was married, Kelley and Lauren quickly became best friends, too. The couples are extremely close and are godparents to each other’s children.

Kelley and Lauren admit that their lives are quite intense and far from “normal” because of their chosen profession. “From our bizarre conversations to autopsy photos on the kitchen table and very rare ‘down time,’ we definitely live our work,” Lauren commented. “But I couldn’t do anything else – this is so rewarding.”

“It’s definitely our life – not our job,” Kelley insisted. She is quick, however, to recall words of wisdom given to her by someone she admires deeply, Judge Bobby Lockhart. “This job is not about you – it’s not your show. Always remember it is about the victims – they are the ones who suffered the wrong. You may not agree with their decision as to what to pursue, but you must respect their decisions.”

So what makes this partnership work so well under the intense pressure of their work – and what keeps them doing it? “We’re often referred to as ‘Fire and Ice,’” Kelley quipped. “Lauren is crazy wicked smart and fast on her feet – both qualities of a phenomenal trial lawyer,” she said with admiration. “She’s definitely more methodical and logical.”

“Kelley brings the fire and passion to every case,” Lauren stated. “I always ask myself, ‘What would Kelley do?’ I respect and admire her judgement and work ethic so much. If I can answer that question correctly, I’ll always make the right call.”

It is important to keep things in perspective and like the scales of justice, they constantly seek balance in their lives. They depend on the support of their close circle of friends who pray for them and often come to their trials to encourage them. And they depend heavily on each other both for professional judgement and emotional support. “This journey would be so hard without a partner,” Kelley shared. “I’ve never told anyone this, but sometimes at very intense times during a trial while awaiting a hard-fought verdict, the two of us hold hands under the table.” That seems a quite fitting symbol of the bond between these dynamic and committed colleagues and friends who often communicate without words.

The pride Kelley and Lauren take in the work they do is obvious – as is their admiration for one another. They openly express gratitude for the lives God has granted them both professionally and personally. At the end of the day, they hope that the way they conduct themselves makes their children proud of them.

Another key factor in their success is that they share an equal level of dedication and passion for their work. Even during preparation for big felony trials that demand years of groundwork, they remain focused on seeking justice. “Every person or family we work with is dealing with the worst thing that has ever happened to them or their family member, and that is a heavy burden. We have to tell their story and persuade a jury to hand down justice - that’s why we do what we do,” Kelley explained.

“It is so rewarding when families express their gratitude to us for bringing them justice and some measure of closure,” Lauren said. “We must be our absolute best every time ... for them.”

These two colleagues, crusaders, sisters ... they are women who have to be tough as nails to accomplish what they believe is right for those they serve – but with hearts of angels who love justice and mercy and stand for all that is good in mankind – and give themselves completely to their calling. Kelley Crisp and Lauren Richards truly are a dream team.