Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Law & Order LA “Big Rock Mesa” Recap & Review

All photos from NBCUniversal

Law & Order LA “Big Rock Mesa” was an interesting look into what happens when desperate people living in a fire zone put their homes ahead of someone’s life. In this case, the murder of two homeless people and a law student are explained away by someone claiming they were protecting their property. Sadly, the threat to their property was greater from living in a neighborhood that is a tinderbox than it was from any homeless people. While I agree that a homeowner has the right to protect their homes and property from intruders, these clueless homeowners can’t seem to comprehend that the threat of fire is a more deadly intruder.

While this wasn’t an action packed episode, it still provided an interesting investigation and look into California law. Dekker and Rubirosa were disappointed that they lost the battle, but in my opinion, they had a weak case to start. Maybe Dekker bit off more than he could chew when he decided to break the deal with Denton and go after him for murder. As that killing happened in Denton’s garage, I can understand the jury seeing that as self defense, and that may have tainted the jury’s opinion on all the rest.

Here is the recap:
A wildfire near Big Rock Mesa is burning. Residents clamor to enter the fire zone to save their homes but are turned away. After the fire is out, news crews and fire fighters are on the scene, and 3 charred bodies are found – one of them has been shot in the head.

Detectives Ricardo Morales (Alfred Molina) and “TJ” Jaruszalski (Corey Stoll) are on the scene. There was a previous fire in the area and brake fluid – used as an accelerant - was found at both fires, implying both fires were started by the same person. They think the three dead people walked in on the arsonist.

Coroner Nishizawa (Tamlyn Tomita) says the fire was not the cause of death. One was killed by a blow to the head, another from a stab to the head, the third from a gunshot. The bodies can’t be identified because they can’t get prints or match dental records, but one of them has teeth that looks like there has been some orthodontic work and the body has a titanium knee replacement with a serial number.

The detectives try to get a profile on the arsonist. They find that for the first fire, a match and tin foil device was used with brake fluid as a starter. The second fire was just with matches. The first fire was set near Mulholland.

The detectives head to the Rock Slide Inn on Mulholland and get a lead. They check out one of the guys, Duane, who was there with his brother in law Blake. TJ sees burn ointment in the guy’s truck. Duane said Blake burned himself on the engine block.

The detectives speak with Blake Humphry and find that Blake aced the firefighter exam but decided against the job as the money wasn’t right.

They speak with one of the fire chiefs and found Blake had all the red flags for pyromania. They bring Duane in to RHD for questioning who insists he had nothing to do with the fire and said he only drove Blake up there. He thinks Blake did both fires as he was bragging about how much smarter he was than the fire department.

Later, with Blake in interrogation, they confront him about the fires. They play up to his fire starting skills. Blake looks confused when they ask him about the second fire and when they complement him on the skillful fire, he says he started it too. Morales presses on details,  and Blake adds he used foil and matches. The detectives speak with the arson guy who said there was no foil at the second fire – Blake didn’t set it and they wonder if it is a copycat.

Later, the detectives speak with David Holloway's parents – David is the one who had the knee replacement. They last spoke with him Sunday and the detectives learn that David worked with the homeless. The detectives speak with a woman at the shelter about David and also find that Freddie Roga has not been seen there for a few days and he matches the description of one of the bodies. Freddie wanted to rescue his girlfriend Jenny who stayed at the camp – and it seems Jenny is the third body.

The detectives drive to Big Rock Mesa, and Morales notices landscaping gravel and also colored glass, like what Freddie had in his boots. They speak with some of the residents. Morales speaks with Patrick Denton (Lee Tergesen) and TJ speaks with Joe. Denton picks out Jenny from the photos and Joe has also noticed the homeless in the area. Neither seem to have a good opinion of the homeless.

Morales and TJ speak with one of the homeless, Ray, who says they get chased off the mountains all the time. It was too scary up there but  saw people having a pool party while the fire burned nearby. Afterwards, TJ comments all the pools he saw up there were drained, and Morales wonders if they used pool water to fight the fire.

Back at RHD, Morales has confirmation that fire fighters cut the water to the homes on Monday at noon. TJ says the houses in Big Rock Mesa are equipped with smart meters and the DWP can monitor electricity use day to day. Power spiked on one of the days that they were supposed to be evacuated. They think someone was using the pump to take water from the pool to spray on to the roof. They wonder if the homeowners had a run in with the homeless. TJ knows someone who runs a news chopper and calls to see if he can get footage of the guys on their roofs.

At the KNBC Helipad, they speak with Britney who said the area was a no fly zone and they got no footage. Morales says the homeowners don’t know that.

Later, Britney meets with Joe and Patrick ask says they have great footage of them on their roofs but need them to sign a release before they show it. The guys want to buy the footage and don’t want the attention because they weren’t supposed to be there. After the two men leave, Britney gives a recording of the conversation to the detectives, who will use it to get a search warrant.

As they serve the warrants to the Dentons and find that an area of the garage has been cleaned with bleach in the last week. They also see a saw blade that matches a wound on of the dead homeless. They arrest Denton.

Later, DDA Joe Dekker (Terrence Howard) moans to DDA Connie Rubirosa (Alana De La Garza) that Denton got bail. The evidence is slim and Dekker thinks someone helped Denton carry the bodies and set the fire. They decide to start with Joe.

Dekker and Rubirosa question Joe who said they had nothing to do with killing the homeless people. Dekker turns up the heat on him, and all he will admit to is pumping out their pools.

Rubirosa speaks with Mrs. Burt (Denise Crosby) who said Joe and Patrick helped her hose down her roof and then they left. She said Patrick’s home appeared broken into. She also has three deep scratches on her arm which she says are from her cat and she said the cat ran off in the fire.

Back with the Coroner, Rubirosa finds that the homeless woman had one of her fingers splinted, and if she would have scratched someone it would have left 3 marks. Freddie had a cut on his skull and Rubirosa wonders if it was from a blade tool used to clear brush.

At Joe’s, the detectives search for such a tool. TJ sees a brush axe in a photo and asks where is it, and Joe said he got rid of it months ago.

Back in the office, Rubirosa goes over what they found with Dekker. Dekker says there are 3 suspects and no weapons, blood, or forensics. He says they need to offer Denton a deal because he could have viewed Holloway as an intruder and shot him in self defense. Rubirosa reminds him he was in the garage – and Dekker reminds her that in California, the home includes the garage. They argue about Dekker’s approach – and Dekker says not to come inside his house without an invitation.

Later, Denton and his attorney are in Dekker’s office, along with Rubirosa. They discuss the offer, and Dekker won’t contest self defense but Denton will have to serve 2 years for arson. If he refuses he will be charged with aggravated arson and serve 9 years in prison. Denton tells them that they heard looters were setting fires and he heard a noise in the garage and saw the three homeless in his garage. He told them to get out and one of them moved toward him and he shot one of them and the others took off. Joe and Diana saw them and one of them turned on Joe and Joe hit him with an axe. The woman was going off on Diana and Diane hit her with a brick. He explains how they panicked and knew no one would believe it was self defense so they started a fire like the other fire in the area.

Later, the detective arrest Joe and Diana. TJ comments that you kill someone in your garage you get a walk but kill them a few feet away and they throw the book at you. Morales comments about the legal shades of gray.

Joe and Diana, along with their lawyer Mr. Miklin (Bradley Whitford) speak with Dekker and they make a counter offer but Dekker refuses. Miklin thinks Joe and Diana will be viewed as underdogs at trial. After they leave, Rubirosa sees that the Big Rock Mesa homeowners are being sued because a group claims that protecting homes in a fire zone is a burden on taxpayers. One of the lawyers has an email address at Pepperdine, also where David Holloway attended.

At Pepperdine Law School, Dekker and Rubirosa find that David was worried that the homeowners were targeting the homeless. David wanted to push back at them, saying people should not build in high risk areas. David kept his name off the suit to protect his friends. Afterwards, Dekker says it is odd that Denton never mentioned this lawsuit.

Dekker and Rubirosa speak with Anna Denton who was aware of the lawsuit. She did hear others in garage that day and that one said they were going to run him out of the canyon. She balks at answering but Dekker presses. Patrick walks in and asks what is going on, and Dekker said that now their deal is off.

In court, the defense argues marital privilege for Anna Denton but Dekker wins the argument as Anna made the statements to a third party. She testifies that she heard someone tell her husband they would run him out of the canyon, and her husband knew it was the man who was suing them. She heard others yelling and then she heard a shot. She saw someone lying on the ground and Patrick told her to get back in the house and lock the door. The defense attorney asks her about the homeless camping in the canyon, and she said it frightens her. She saw a drunk and dirty man in her yard once asking her for beer money. They were terrified during the fire and her husband was protecting her.

Later, Patrick is on the stand explaining what happened and what Holloway said and that Holloway went for the gun and the others ran off. He says they were stupid to cover up the deaths and said they were afraid they would lose everything. It was his father’s home since 1962 and was passed along to him. They can’t afford to live anywhere else.

Under cross, Dekker wonders if he knows why they were in his garage and that Denton just did not care. Dekker brings up other encounters Denton has had with the homeless. Dekker wonders why Denton did just didn’t just leave the garage, and shows them Denton was blocking the way of the others to exit. He adds the gun shot was from someone who was standing in the doorway, and accused Denton of wanting the confrontation. Dekker accuses him of forcing the confrontation and doubts that Denton was not concerned for his wife’s safety.

At closing, the Miklin thinks there is reasonable doubt and asks the jury what they would have done in the same situation. But Dekker counters that Miklin is just trying to scare them by quoting them the numbers of the homeless, and Dekker tries to make them seem like real human beings. He says homelessness can happen to anyone and asks the jury to put themselves in the shoes of the homeless and to also recall their own encounters with the homeless and that they never killed a homeless person in anger. He says this is not self defense.

The jury later finds all of them not guilty of murder, but are deadlocked on the arson count. The judge releases the jury.

Afterwards, Rubirosa comments to Dekker that retrying them on arson may seem like sour grapes. They hear a juror talking to the news about their verdict and the juror says they are entitled to feel safe in their own homes. Dekker comments he asked 12 people to put their conscience before their anger, and as he sees Holloway’s parents crying, Dekker goes on to say he failed them. Rubirosa adds “We failed.” As they both walk off, we fade to black.

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