The big question after watching “Perverted Justice” is whether Derek Thompson is truly innocent, or was he really guilty of abusing his daughter? Clearly, his daughter Michelle has second thoughts about recanting. Is she still in such a fragile state of mind that she can be swayed by pressure from authority figures and will say whatever they want her to say? Is the fact that she admits she can’t recall what really happened that night indicate that it likely DID happen” Or, as part of her 12 step program to purge her of her addictions, does she want to give her father the benefit of the doubt? It is clear her parents had marital problems and that her mother and Detective McCormick had their own motivations to get Derek out of the way. Michelle did recant at a young age, but was that also from her father’s influence via his letters from prison? Regardless, there were many facts in this case that were not presented during the first trial, and a retrial was in order. Based on the new case presented by the very capable Bayard Ellis, the jury found Derek not guilty. It will now be up to Michelle whether or not she did the right thing. Samira Wiley was very believable as the conflicted woman and she made me feel real concern for Michelle.
As always, Andre Braugher was excellent as Bayard Ellis, and Robert Sean Leonard perfectly portrayed the confident prosecutor who firmly believed that he got the right verdict the first time Derek went to trial. (I would enjoy seeing Robert Sean Leonard on SVU again.) But, I saw this as a missed opportunity for the SVU writers to insert some conflict by having ADA Barba handle this retrial. I would have enjoyed seeing sparks fly between Bayard, SVU, and Barba on the investigation and prosecution. I don’t know what is the proper procedure with retrials and if it is SOP for the prosecutor on record to handle the retrial. Still, if Benson and SVU were convinced that Derek was innocent and Barba felt he was not, I would have loved seeing the fireworks.
It was wonderful seeing Dann Florek back as the retired and very content Captain Cragen. It’s nice to see that he’s found happiness and also that he helped get some much needed information to get the case re-opened.
There was some interesting comedic spots in this episode that I enjoyed. Carisi’s gushing over Bayard and his need to interject his own legal advice was amusing. Clearly, Rollins is not afraid to take a jab at Carisi, and both Bayard and Cragen joined in, much to my delight.
Amaro seems to be taking his cranky pills again as he seemed generally unhappy in this whole episode.
I gave a slight eye roll at the opening scenes with Benson and Noah in his Unitarian dedication ceremony and then Benson’s comment to Bayard that if everything goes as planned, the adoption will be official in a month. Good luck with the “as planned” part.
The only fault I had with Bayard’s case is that it seems he did not prep Michelle very well. He should have practiced with her, as a devil’s advocate, to get her accustomed to the defense strategy of poking holes in her original story and her recanting.
Here is the recap:
Mariska Hargitay – Sergeant Olivia Benson
Ice-T – Detective Odafin “Fin” Tutuola
Kelli Giddish - Detective Amanda Rollins
Danny Pino - Detective Nick Amaro
Raúl Esparza - ADA Rafael Barba
Peter Scanavino - Detective Dominick “Sonny” Carisi, Jr.
Dann Florek – Captain Don Cragen (retired)
Andre Braugher – Bayard Ellis
Samira Wiley – Michelle Thompson
Robert Sean Leonard - A.D.A. Kenneth O'Dwyer
Glenn Plummer - Derek Thompson
Leslie Odom Jr. - Reverend Curtis Scott
Nick Sandow – Ted McCormick
Vincent Curatola – Judge Al Bertuccio
Kia Joy Goodwin - Audrey Scott
Robin De Jesus – Jose Silva
Julie Halston – Cassie Muir
Donna Mitchell – Judge Kearns
Jay Patterson - Federal Judge William Evans
Timothy Mitchum – Will Thompson
Jeff Talbott - Reverend
Adrian Matilla – Correction Officer
Paul Borghese - Bailiff
Sharon Gee - Forewoman
Reverend Curtis Scott preaches to his congregation as Michelle Thompson listens, looking at an old photo of her and her father. Meanwhile, Benson, accompanied by Amaro, Carisi, and Rollins, is participating in a Unitarian dedication ceremony to welcome Noah to the community. Benson tells Noah “May the future bring love to your heart, joy to your mind, and truth from those sweet lips.”
After the ceremony, Carisi comments to Benson he did not know she was Unitarian, and Benson explains she isn’t, she didn’t grow up with any religion. She just wanted Noah to have something that would ground him. Carisi wisecracks that Noah can rebel against it as a teenager. He adds he gets it, he is Catholic, and Rollins comments “no kidding.”
As Michelle leaves her church, Reverend Curtis calls out to her, saying he is glad she keeps coming. She says she is working her program and is up to her ninth step, which is making amends. She says she is making amends to her father, and Rev. Curtis says her father is in prison and that is not her fault. But she says it is, she lied to the police and it is not enough to apologize, she has to restore justice. She asks that he knows that lawyer, the one who is supposed to get innocent people out of jail? He looks at her and says nothing.
Elsewhere, Derek Thompson is in prison, helping Jose Silva to learn how to read. He is surprised to hear he has a visitor and finds it is his daughter Michelle, there with Bayard Ellis. He asks why she is here, and Bayard introduces himself, stating he works with Project Innocence. Michelle tells her father that she told them the truth – that he never raped her. He sighs.
Later, Benson and Bayard Ellis are in a restaurant and she explains she was just at a dedication ceremony for Noah. As Bayard looks at Benson’s phone with a photos of Noah, he comments he is such a sweet boy and says he has her smile. Benson laughs and states that if everything goes as planned, the adoption will be official in a month. He congratulates her. As they sit down at the table, Benson says she knows he didn’t invite her to dinner to talk about Noah. Bayard says Reverend Curtis asked him to look into a case involving a congregant, Michelle Thompson. He father, Derek, was convicted of raping her seventeen years ago when she was six. Benson takes the file and asks he was convicted of raping his own daughter, commenting that’s a tough case for Project Innocence to get behind. Bayard admits it is, but the case was made primarily on Michelle’s testimony and now she is saying she was pressured by her mother to lie and she wants to recant. Benson questions it’s 17 years after the fact, and Bayard states Michelle tried once before as a teen and the original ADA and detective argued against re-opening. Michelle went off the deep end after that – drugs, alcohol – and she’s recently found sobriety, Benson comments that her recant is part of a 12-step program which is not the most reliable indicator of the truth. Bayard says he’s seen that pink cloud and that forgiven everyone affect too which is why he needs Benson to investigate. Benson smiles and asks if there is any DNA, forensics, or corroboration, and Bayard replies no, only her testimony and some inconclusive medical symptoms. Her mother, who has her own substance abuse history, made the initial 911 call. Benson asks if he talked to the father, and Bayard says yes, up at Green Haven, he is a model prisoner and he found him credible. He has maintained his innocence for 17 years. He adds it is hard enough to prove that someone is innocent of a crime, it’s harder still to prove that crime itself never occurred. Benson smiles and says, “So you thought of me.” Bayard smiles and replies, “Indeed I did.”
Back at SVU, Benson explains the situation to Amaro, Rollins, and Carisi. Amaro cops an attitude and says Bayard should do the work. Benson says he just wants to see if there is anything there. Carisi comments it is tough to get a conviction re-opened but Bayard Ellis is a legend and if he thinks it is worth looking into… Amaro comments he knows Bayard is Benson’s friend but complains about working a closed case. Benson explains this isn’t out of friendship, and SVU didn’t handle the case, it was the local precinct who hated Derek Thompson. They really worked him over and when Thompson finally got a lawyer, it was some down on her luck rent-a-lawyer who could hardly pay for her transcript copies. Benson just wants to vet the case. The lead detective was Ted McCormick and the ADA was O’Dwyer, none of whom she has met. Carisi comments that was before Benson’s time, saying “wow.” Benson asks if he is missing Staten Island. He grins. Benson says there is somebody coming back to town who was here when they built the place. As Benson walks out of the squad room, the detectives look questioningly at her.
Later, Benson, with Amaro, looks through retired Captain Don Cragen’s phone of Eileen’s grandchildren. They spent the winter with them in Ft. Lauderdale after the cruise. He comments he never thought he would say it, but it turns out there is more to life than NYPD. Amaro says the place is falling apart without him, Benson smiles and says “Thanks Nick” As they walk along the riverside, Cragen asks why are they here, they have a victim who wants to recant? Amaro comments its 17 years later, between her ninth step with Reverend Curtis and Bayard Ellis are convinced the cops and DA blew the case. Benson adds it wasn’t SVU, it was at Cragen’s old house the 2-7 and they can’t seem to get in touch with the detective who caught the case, Ted McCormick. Cragen comments they may have a problem; the guy got bounced around a lot and never met a coroner he didn’t cut. Benson asks if there is any chance he remembers the DA, Kenneth O’Dwyer. Cragen thinks that must have been an early case of his; he had family connections and got his hands dirty for a year and then they bumped him up to white collar. Cragen asks what does he say about this? Benson replies she hasn’t called him yet, and Cragen tells her to hold off, he rides a high horse. Cragen knows an old lifer at the 2-7 and if he buys him lunch, he’ll dish like a gossip girl.
Back in SVU in Benson’s office, Michelle explains to Benson and Rollins that her mother was drinking and drugging and her dad came home and saw her and her making a mess cooking for her brother. She burned herself making some hot dogs and he got angry at her. Her father asked where her mother was and if she was drinking and he put them to bed. When her mother got home, they started screaming at each other and Michelle started crying. Her mother came in and she told her that her hand got burned and asked Michelle what did her daddy do to her. She did not want her to be mad at her so she said it was her father’s fault and then pressed if her father touched her down there. When her mother continued to get angry, Michelle finally said yes and her mother called the police the next day when her father went to work. Her father yelled and scared her but he never touched her. Benson comments that Michelle repeated the story to the detective and DA and to the jury, and she said her mother said she had to say it or people would say she was lying. Nothing happened that night.
Meanwhile, Amaro and Carisi speak with Michelle’s mother Audrey and they explain they are looking into the case. When she hears Michelle asked them to look into the case, Audrey is skeptical and says if they wait a week, Michelle will change her mind and Michelle and her brother are both messed up because of their father. She says she is done talking and races off. Amaro comments to Carisi that Audrey is right back in that apartment 17 years ago, and Carisi says she is holding on to her story so tight it’s almost like she has to. Amaro gripes this is why he doesn’t like to re-open cases; it’s tough enough to figure out at the time and all these years later, how are they ever going to know?
At Green Haven Correctional Facility in the visitor’s room on Monday, April 20, Derek tells Amaro and Carisi he never touched his little girl. Derek says his wife lied, and she made Michelle lie. He explains that Audrey was an addict back then and she used to come home with a wild look in her eyes. She was dangerous and most of the time, he knew to keep out of her way. Carisi comments – “but not that night” - and Derek says no, she left the kids alone and she could have burned the house down. Amaro comments that Derek is saying his wife made up a story about him raping Michelle and convincing her to lie and putting him in prison because of a marital fight. Derek asks doesn’t Amaro think he’s been asking himself that for the last 17 years? Amaro counters it is time enough to make up a lot of excuses. Derek says there was no evidence, and when Amaro says there were bruises and she was crying, Derek counters it was no because of him. Amaro states that the police asked why there was semen on his daughter’s pajamas and Derek said that his wife had planted it. Derek says there was no semen. Amaro asks if he was innocent, why didn’t he just say that? Derek insists the police tricked him like they are trying to trick him right now. Carisi states they are not trying to trick him, they just want to know his side of the story. Derek comments that he kept his back to the wall in here and is trying to be a good father. He writes to Will and Michelle every week and he tells them that he loves them. Their mother Audrey has never been there for them and he is still their father. His daughter has admitted that this whole story is made up, and he asks now what more does he have to do?
Later, back at SVU in the squad room, Carisi shakes Bayard’s hand, gushing that it is an honor to meet him, When Carisi seems star struck, Benson urges him to move along about the meeting they had with Derek Thompson. Carisi says he maintains his innocence which is to be expected, and his version of that night does match up with Michelle’s. Rollins adds that Michelle did seem credible. Bayard comments they will need more than that to convince a judge to re-open. Rollins states that the detective on the case – Ted McCormick – has retired to Florida and she has left a few messages and no call back yet. Amaro is entering SVU with former Captain Don Cragen and Amaro comments “Look who I picked up on the street.” Rollins is happy to see him and Cragen says it is good to see her. Benson re-introduces Cragen to Bayard and then to Carisi. Carisi tells him to call him Sonny, and Rollins interjects that no one else does. Benson comments that Cragen has some contacts at the 2-7 and she asked him to look into this. Bayard asks that he found something, and Cragen replies that no, he didn’t, and, as he flashes a file folder, he adds he is not showing him this but it is addressed to Detective McCormick and ADA O’Dwyer so if Bayard was to request it from his office because maybe he saw it in a precinct evidence log, he would have to produce it. He hands the folder to Bayard. Benson ask what is this he is not showing them, and Amaro says it a letter that Michelle’s first grade teacher wrote that says Michelle came to her crying because her mother made her lie to the police. Rollins asks if this letter was sent before the trial started and Cragen nods. Carisi jumps in and says if they can prove that the DA had this potentially exculpatory evidence and didn’t share with the defense – Benson rolls her eyes and looks to Bayard – that is a slam dunk. Cragen, calling him Sonny, tells Carisi to hold his horses, it is possible O’Dwyer did forward the letter. Carisi questions that Thompson’s defense didn’t use it, saying that this is awesome, adding justice delayed does not mean justice denied. Bayard gives Carisi a blank look and states dryly, “So…you’re new here” and grins.
In the conference room of the District Attorney at 1 Hogan Place on Tuesday, April 21, Benson and Ellis meet with ADA Kenneth O’Dwyer who explains the Thompson case was his first win as a prosecutor and the jury deliberated for a half hour and found him guilty on all charges, open and shut. Bayard counters that absolutes give him hives. Kenneth comments that jury believed the jury believed the victim and thinks that would bring them comfort. Benson counters that it does, but the girl is now claiming that she was forced to lie by her mother. Kenneth comments “Again” and he says he recanted as a teenager and was not found credible. Benson brings up the letter to the teacher and Bayard mentions that was exculpatory but the letter was never mentioned by the defense in the transcripts. Kenneth comments they should ask the defense about that, and wonders if they are accusing him of prosecutorial misconduct, and is emphatic he turned the letter over to the defense, Cassie Muir, in 1998. He has no idea why she didn’t bring it up. He think if Michelle now has regrets, that is a family tragedy but it doesn’t make him innocent.
At the apartment of Cassie Muir in Forest Hill, Queens on Tuesday, April 21, Rollins and Carisi speak with Cassie, who seems scatterbrained. She does not practice law anymore and was disbarred in 2009. They show her the letter from the teacher and she did get the letter from Kenneth. She said she must have had a good reason not to use it; the jury could get upset and it could backfire if you go after a young girl too hard.
Later, in the prison visitor area, Bayard and Rev. Curtis discuss this with Derek and Michelle. Bayard says he will be filing a motion for a 440 hearing on grounds of ineffective assistance of counsel. The best case scenario is Derek’s conviction will be vacated and O’Dwyer drops the charges. Derek knows Kenneth hates him and Derek won’t get his hopes up. Bayard says Judge Rosenbaum is hearing the case and she is a progressive and is outspoken on reforming the system. Her track record is tends to favor the defense in appeals. Michelle seems to be happy and Rev Curtis agrees.
But as he walks up the courthouse steps, Bayard hears from Kenneth that Judge Rosenbaum is ill and the case will now be reassigned to Bertuccio. Bayard looks concerned.
Inside the court house, Bayard tells Benson the news. Bayard enters the court room and sees Derek’s family there, including his son Will. When the judge enters, Bayard asks the judge for a postponement but the judge denies it. Bayard brings up the teacher’s letter and Kenneth states the reason why the letter is not relevant. As Kenneth and Bayard argue the letter and Michelle’s comments. The judge believes it was up to the defense to use it and questions by the issue of inadequate counsel was no brought up at the time. He also thinks the appeal is conveniently tied to Michelle’s recant and the failure to introduce the letter alone does not rise to lack of effective counsel. He denies the motion. Her remands Derek to Green Haven. Michelle is apologetic but wants Bayard to do something and she becomes very upset he got their hopes up and says she should have never trusted any of them.
Later, at a bar, Benson and Bayard have a drink an discuss the recent events. Bayard thinks the case is on life support but the last resort is a habeas corpus petition. Benson gets a message and tells Bayard he would need new evidence for that, stating Amaro just texted that McCormick is in town. Cragen had reached out and said he was worried some “nut job” Bayard Ellis was looking to re-open the case. Bayard smiles and asks that McCormick is coming in to help SVU make sure it stays buried?
At SVU, Ted McCormick enters and Cragen greets him, acting as if he is still SVU Captain. McCormick said they used to call Cragen “Captain Crunch” in the day. Cragen brings him in to meet Amaro, who says Cragen taught him everything he knows. McCormick says it must not have taken very long, and they laugh. While they discuss the prior history of the case, McCormick admits Audrey called him about it when SVU started poking around and she still looks to him when she needs a reality check. He admits they have stayed in touch after the case – and before. He broke up domestic disputes there more than he can count, saying Derek has a history of domestic violence and Derek has made a career of convincing Michelle he did not do what he did. Now that she recanted, it shows what a sick, controlling, waste of life Derek is. Cragen comments that is what they figured, and thanks him for coming in. McCormick suggest Cragen come to Florida, but Cragen replies somehow he never makes it there. Cragen tells Amaro he would like to stick around but Eileen has roped him into a matinee.
Later, Benson, the detectives, and Bayard discuss McCormick and Audrey. They find that McCormick’s wife filed for divorce and cited Audrey as a correspondent in adultery. They realize that Audrey and McCormick had an affair while working the case and Bayard says they have to establish the relationship started before the trial. The kids were both young. Carisi wonders who wants to ask them these kinds of questions, and, in silence, they all look to Benson.
In the office of Reverent Curtis Scott, Benson speaks with Michelle and Will about McCormick. Will has little memory but pieces come back to Michelle and Curtis explains that Benson thinks they were together. They both recall McCormick and Audrey going off together to Florida while their father was in jail.
Back at SVU, Amaro recaps that McCormick and Audrey knew each other for 6 months by the time of the trial. Carisi adds they can prove they were both in Key West on the same weekend in May. McCormick was picking up a perp in Monroe County detention, and Rollins adds that she called the Sheriff’s office and Audrey was charged with disorderly intoxication that same weekend. They think that is when McCormick intervened. Benson comments those two were hooking up while Derek was awaiting trial. Carisi thinks they railroaded him and looks to Bayard asking if that is enough for a Federal habeas corpus and maybe O’Dwyer drops the charges all together. Bayard says you can ask, but don’t hold your breath.
In Federal court, Bayard presents the new information to the Judge Evans and Kenneth counters McCormick was in Florida on official business. Bayard thinks that provided McCormick his cover, and Bayard brings up Audrey being listed in Laura McCormick’s divorce papers. This should have been brought up to question motive. The judge agrees and grants Bayard’s petition for habeas corpus. He says Derek will be held pending retrial. Michelle and Will are trilled but Derek is worried about a retrial. The kids says they will be there with him and Benson thinks this may bring up reasonable doubt. Kenneth congratulates them and thinks Derek is eager to move on with his life. He offers, instead of a retrial, to accept criminal sexual act in the first degree and they agree to time served. He asks them to think about it. But Derek says he is innocent, he does not want to have a felony on his record or be on the sex offender registry or admit to guilt in open court. They all encourage him to take the deal, but Derek says the truth is supposed to set you free, not a lie.
At a later date, walking to court, Benson and Bayard meet up with Kenneth to discuss the new trial. Benson thinks that when a man refuses to plead guilty to get out jail, that should tell him something. Kenneth thinks it tells him Derek is a pathological narcissist and if he really cared about his children and his daughter he would not put her through this. Derek is not worried about her, he is worried about his name and ego. Bayard says it is funny Kenneth should mention ego. Benson tries to rein Bayard in but Kenneth tells her to let Bayard speak his mind. Bayard comments that no one like to admit to a mistake, but Derek suffered a horrible miscarriage of justice and they can right a terrible wrong. Kenneth says it is not up to a DA, a lawyer, or a judge to determine guilt or innocence, it is up the jury. He wishes them good luck and walks off.
In Supreme Court Part 12 on Tuesday, April 28, Audrey testifies that Michelle told her what her father did to her, and that she took Michelle to the doctor and called the police. McCormick responded to the call. She knew him from responding to their domestic violence calls. Her children needed protecting and he wanted her children to be safe. Bayard brings up her drunk and disorderly charge when she was in Florida before the trial. Bayard asks why she did not disclose this relationship, and Audrey states it was because he was married and they did not want his wife to find out. Bayard thinks she did not want the jury to find out. Kenneth objects and Bayard withdraws the comment. He asks what time she came home that night, and Audrey says she is not sure. She admits she was drinking and she got into a fight with Derek. She said Michelle was hurt and crying. Bayard says she did not seek medical attention for Michelle or call the police that night, and Audrey wanted to wait until Derek was out of the house. Bayard asks if she wanted to wait until McCormick was on duty, and Audrey states again she wanted to wait until Derek was out of the house. Bayard asks if McCormick suggested to her if she wanted to get Derek out of her life that she accuse him of sexual assault, a more powerful weapon than a domestic violence charge? She denies this.ans when she seems to waiver, Bayard thinks she came up with the idea on her own. Kenneth objects and Bayard withdraws the comment.
Derek testifies he was not the best father and he didn’t make enough money. He worked long hours and couldn’t always be there but did his best to raise his children. Audrey was not interested in that after she turned to drugs and alcohol, which is why he stayed in touch with them while he was in prison. They needed parenting even if it was just through letters. He says he did not sexually assault Michelle. Under cross, Kenneth asks about Derek accusing his wife of planting semen on Michelle’s pajamas. Derek said he only said that because the police lied to him, there was no semen. He was trying to make sense of this. Kenneth states the only reason why there are here is Michelle is recanting her statement and asks if, in the letters he is writing to her, he asks her to get him out of prison. He says yes, and says he only asked her to tell the truth. His ex told her to say thinks, and Kenneth counters now Derek is telling her to say other things. Bayard objects and the judge sustains.
Later, Michelle is testifying about what her mother told her to say to McCormick and her mother told her what to do and she regretted it all her life. But under cross, Kenneth has Michelle read her previous statement and she says she was forced to say those things. He mentions that she told SVU she burned her right hand making hot dogs that night, and he brings up that in the medical exam this was not noted. He challenges that she never burned her hand, that her father just convinced her she did. Michelle says she does not think so. Kenneth continues to press her and she seems to waiver and get more unsure. Kenneth asks if her father hurt her that night, and she says she knows he didn’t. Kenneth asks if she knows he didn’t or she remembers he didn’t. Benson, watching from the gallery, looks concerned. Michelle looks even more unsure and then says she doesn’t remember him doing anything, and Kenneth states this is not the same thing as remembering that he didn’t do anything. He asks if this is the story she was told to remember, and asks her again, under oath, if her father raped her. She cries and says she does not know, she was six. Benson looks frustrated. Michelle tells her father she is so sorry. The jury stares at her and Kenneth holds up his hands and backs off. Under redirect, Bayard asks Michelle if O’Dwyer was bullying him, and she says yes. He asked if that confused her and she gave him the answer he wanted so he would stop. She says yes. He adds this is similar to what happened with her mother when she was six, and Michelle confirms. He asks if her father ever did that to her, before she recanted, and she said no, not at all. She confirms she tried to tell her teacher, McCormick, and O’Dwyer but they would not listen. Bayard says he is listening now, and asks if her father raped her that night. Michelle says no, no he didn’t.
Outside the courthouse, Michelle is smoking a cigarette and Benson approaches her and asks if she is alright. Michelle asks what happened to her up there, and Benson said O’Dwyer went after he until she said what he wanted her to say, but that Bayard will make sure the jury saw that for what it was. Michelle comments that when she was up there, she started wondering if she is doing all this for her father or for herself? She tells Benson she has no idea knowing everything thinks of what her father did to her. She used to think he was dead and just wanted that part of her life to be over. Benson assures her it is, and Michelle made sure the truth was heard this time. But Michelle says the truth is, she can’t really remember. Benson looks stunned as Michelle walks away.
In Supreme Court Part 12 on Wednesday, April 29, the jury reads the verdict: not guilty of rape in the first degree. The judge tells a jubilant Derek he is free to go. He rushes to Will and embraces him while Benson watches from the back of the court room. She looks over at Michelle who is sitting alone and looking forlorn. Michelle gets up as her father walks over to her and embraces her. Bayard thanks Benson, saying they did the right thing. Benson looks to Michelle, who is still hugging her father, and Michelle’s face looks devoid of emotion. Benson asks, “Did we?” Michelle continues to look back with a look of regret and worry as we fade to black.
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