Wednesday, February 3, 2016
Law & Order SVU “Forty-One Witnesses” Recap & Review
I don’t know if there were exactly “Forty-One Witnesses” in this case, but the point was made: sometimes witnesses to a crime - even when witnesses are large in number - avoid getting involved. Reminiscent of the Kitty Genovese case from 1964, the SVU case showed that, at least in the heavily populated city of New York, it’s easier for people to find excuses why they don’t want to help someone in danger, even if helping only means calling 911. The excuses are many. In the case of Libby Parker, her neighbors showed their worst side - including one person she considered a friend - by turning a blind eye to her assault. But when the detectives chase down the perps, there is no lack of an audience, and the crowd is quick to take photos and video to confirm their witnessing the event. Society's priorities are messed up.
This episode had a few gems of dialog, but for the most part, it was very predictable.
Very late in the episode we find that one of the witnesses, Doug, is eidetic – he has the ability to recall detailed memory of images, objects or sounds. Luckily the fleeting comment Doug made about it in the courtroom hall was not lost on Barba. Barba was able to use Doug’s talent during trial, offsetting the fact that Doug came to court drunk. Whether Doug mentioned it to Carisi during prep is unknown, but I am assuming he did not as Carisi only mentioned when they did the prep, Doug was spot on and never varied in his descriptions. If Carisi knew Doug had this ability, I would think he would have mentioned it right away to Barba. I also have a legal question to which I can’t find the answer: Can an attorney put someone on the stand if the attorney knows that person is drunk or impaired? I know Barba had no other witnesses besides Doug to prop up his case, but I didn’t know if there was anything that legally prevented Barba from putting a drunk witness on the stand. Regardless, it was a risky move on Barba’s part, no matter how much coffee Carisi forced on Doug in an attempt to get him sober. I must admit that I was hoping Doug would not show up so we could all see Barba “vamp” as Barba promised.
There are two characters on SVU who seem to have great chemistry with just about anyone they encounter: Carisi and Barba. Both have no problem saying what’s on their minds, sometimes with a pinch of sarcasm. Both Peter Scanavino and Raúl Esparza have a fantastic presence, stealing any scene they’re in. I credit both the actors who bring the characters to life, and the writers who give these characters the right words to spark them.
Rollins was showing an unusual unsympathetic side during this case. I think it’s because Rollins may see a bit of her past self in Libby, at least relative to Libby’s battling an addiction. I can understand where Rollins is coming from; she is now a mother and knows that she is now responsible for her child, not just herself, and for some people, that can be a real motivator to kick any addiction. For others, an addiction is not so easily conquered. Rollins also seemed cynical at the end of the trial, something that Fin attributed to her just returning to work and being tired. After being on leave for 8 weeks, it was likely a shock to her system to come back into the dark world of the Special Victims Unit.
At the end of the episode, Benson was on the phone with a mystery caller, and while on that call, she quickly consumed a lot of wine. The caller seemed to be offering her a diversion but she decided on a rain check instead, seemingly preferring to spend time with that bottle of wine. Benson has hit the wine in the past so it’s hard to say whether she just guzzled her wine that night because of work stress, or if she has PTSD and is relying on that wine to get her through the night, every night. I raised the issue in the last episode ( ”A Misunderstanding” ) if Benson was really as fine as she insisted to Dr. Lindstrom. She looked a little tired and burned out in this episode and I think she is far from fine.
When will Benson get her Lieutenant’s badge? She’s still wearing the badge of a Sergeant. Inquiring minds want to know! (Update: I've been told Benson wore a Lieutenant's badge in an earlier episode in this season. I found that she did wear a Lieutenant's badge in "Community Policing" from October 2015. I also noticed it in a few other episodes so this may be a one episode error.)
Mariska Hargitay - Lieutenant Olivia Benson
Ice-T - Detective Odafin “Fin” Tutuola
Kelli Giddish - Detective Amanda Rollins
Raúl Esparza - ADA Rafael Barba
Peter Scanavino - Detective Dominick “Sonny” Carisi, Jr.
Andy Karl - Sgt. Mike Dodds
Abby Miller – Libby Parker
Patrick Breen - Doug Nelson
Allyce Beasely – Mrs. Weisman
Daveed Diggs - Counselor Louis Henderson
Yvonna Kopacz-Wright – Dr. Darby Wilder
J. Mallory McCree - Ronnie Ellis
Anthony Ramos - Juan Flores
Jason Genao - Will Reeves
Steve Rosen - Counselor Michael Guthrie
Donnetta Lavinia Grays – Linda Bagley
Michael K. Lee - Craig
Sonia Manzano– Judge Gloria Pepitone
Sandra Berrios – Maria
Fedna Jacquet – Jenna
Shunori Ramanathan – Sara
Joselin Reyes – Paramedic
Adi Hanash – Josh
Aria Shahghasemi – Omar
Alberto Vasquez – Freddy
Mickey Jaiven - Stoned Jock
Genson Blimline – Man
Nicole Lewis – Jury Foreperson
Jack Nawada-Braunwart – Noah Porter Benson
Rollins leaves a small store carrying baby Jesse. She is on the phone with Benson about her return to work the next day after being on maternity leave for 8 weeks. Rollins asks how has Benson been doing after everything she went through. Benson, in her office, says she is fine and not to worry about her. She says they are looking forward to seeing her tomorrow. After hanging up, Rollins sees a man nearby who is arguing on the phone. When he yells at her for staring, Rollins walks away.
Meanwhile, at a café, a woman buys some drugs from a man and takes them immediately. She lays down on a couch in a stupor. Three guys approach her and while they hover over her, a woman nearby takes a cell phone video of their behavior. The guys decide to get her out of there and as they walk her, staggering, out of the coffee shop, the woman continues to record them on her phone.
The three guys take her to her apartment building and as one woman in the area gets out her cell phone, one of the men turns back and glares at her.
Two of the guys try to get into her apartment but a neighbor witnesses this and scares them off, threatening to call the police.
Back in the courtyard, the guys assault the woman and as she screams, people look out their apartment windows, many turning off their lights.
The next day, Benson and Rollins arrive at the courtyard where the woman, Libby Parker, is being tended to by EMTs. She is hypothermic as she has been laying in the courtyard all night. Rollins decides to ride along in the ambulance. Dodds tells Benson that the super found Libby in the courtyard at 7 AM, Fin adds there is no video and no one has come forward. As Carisi approaches, Benson surveys the area and says there are 100 windows up there; someone saw something.
At the hospital, Rollins is on the phone with her baby sitter as Dr. Wilder approaches. Rollins asks if she can speak with Libby now but the doctor explains that Libby has a concussion and two cracked ribs, and with the drugs in her system and hypothermia, they are still trying to stabilize her.
Meanwhile, at the apartment of Libby Parker at 688 East 9th Street on Thursday, January 28, Fin and Dodds search her apartment and it does not appear to have been robbed. They ask Freddy for the names tenants overlooking the courtyard. Dodds sees a photo of Libby with two kids and assumes they are nieces. The neighbor across the hall enters and explains he scared off two guys trying to break in about 1 AM. He yelled at them but did not call police. He heard nothing after that as he had his headphones on.
Carisi speaks with another tenant, Mrs. Weisman, who saw Abby in the courtyard with three men in hoodies. She did not call the police as there were lots of lights on and she figured someone called already.
Fin speaks with two other tenants, Craig and Jenna, who live right above Libby, who heard the screams but it was dark and they couldn’t see a thing.
Afterwards in the courtyard, Dodds, Carisi and Fin discuss the 10 residents that saw something but everyone thought someone else was going to call the police. As Carisi moans that police could have been there in two minutes, a man’s dog runs into the taped crime scene area. Carisi picks up the dog and chats with the owner of the dog, Doug Nelson. He says he didn’t walk through last night and says he wasn’t home, he was at a bar with his boyfriend. Carisi comments to Dodds to say what he wants about Staten Island, but at least people look out for each other. Fin informs them they caught a break; Libby used her debit card in the East Village at 11 PM.
At “The Bean” café at 54 2nd Avenue on Thursday, January 28, Carisi shows Libby’s photo to customers. A worker tells Dodds that the girl was high as a kite. He says there are no drugs here. He also states the security video only saves the last hour as the data slows down the servers which makes the gamers angry. Carisi still tries to get a rise out of the customers but no one admits to seeing her. He recognizes a student from Fordham and she admits to seeing Libby but says if it is about the drugs she doesn’t know anything. He gives her his card and asks that if she saw anything to give him a call. He makes it sound to the others that she didn’t say anything and he sarcastically thanks them for their cooperation and leaves with Dodds.
Back at SVU, Dodds states that the café is a drug den and no one saw a thing. Rollins and Fin mentioned the lack of witnesses at the apartment and Benson calls it the bystander effect, saying sometimes the more witnesses, the less help. Dodds found the ex-husband in Detroit who has the two kids and was quick to say that Libby was a junkie. He didn’t seem too concerned she was in the hospital. Carisi enters, and after apologizing for being late, says he got a video from the girl in the café of Libby with the three guys. Benson sees the video and tells Carisi “great work” and instructs him to try facial recognition and get the video to every TV station in the city.
At the Westway Youth Center at 445 West 25th Street on Friday, January 29, the social worker, Linda, tells Rollins and Dodds she is sure the boys are from her center: Ronnie Ellis, Juan Flores, and William Reeves. Ronnie and Juan are hardcore but Will has been trying to straighten out. They are supposed to be locked in at night but they are having problems with the night guards. Linda told them to wait in the game room but when they enter the room, the boys are not there, apparently having fled out a window.
Later, Dodds speaks with one of the boys’ bunkies, Bobby, who allows them to look around. Linda tells Rollins the boys had old cell phones and as they don’t have data plans for texting, the communicate through Twitter and Facebook. Rollins asks for their account names, and Linda says she will get what she can but they use street names on multiple accounts. The boys don’t have any friends; Ronnie has been kicked out of three shelters, Juan came from an abusive foster family, and Will was rescued from sex trafficking. Rollins asks when the boys are in trouble, where would they hide? Linda thinks Ronnie and Juan would be back on the street dealing and Will was picked up last year for solicitation in Brooklyn.
At 588 Degraw Street in Brooklyn on Friday, January 29, Fin and Carisi spot Will trying to solicit someone in a vehicle. Carisi gets Will into their car. Later, at SVU, they show him the video from the café. He denies hurting Libby. They try to put pressure on him but he thinks they are out hustling and is worried Ronnie will kill him. He won’t DM them.
In Benson’s office with Dodds and Barba, Dodds thinks Will is no thug. Benson states they have Will’s phone and if he won’t contact his friends they will do it for him. Barba says he will get a warrant on the social media accounts for all three. Rollins enters and informs them that Libby’s doctor said she came to. Benson hopes she remembers what happened to her, and Barba says the last thing he wants to do is rely on their “see-no-evil” witnesses.
Later, at Mercy Hospital on 365 West 32nd Street on Saturday, January 30, Benson and Rollins speak to Libby. Libby has no one they can call for her. Everything is fuzzy. She asks them not to tell her husband she had alcohol and ketamine in her system. She remembers pavement on her back and being so cold, floating outside her body. She does not recall her attackers. The last things she recalls was she had a few drinks at the bar and went to the café to sober up and that is when this guy offered her special K. She was stupid. Rollins shows her a photo array and Libby does not recognize them. Rollins explains what happened but Libby does not recall. Benson explains all of what happened at her apartment and the courtyard and Libby remembers nothing but thinks if she was in the courtyard someone must have seen what happened to her. Benson explains they are speaking with the neighbors.
After Benson and Rollins leave Libby’s room, they discuss what they have and don’t have. When Benson tells Rollins to go back to the neighbors, and Rollins comments they don’t care for Libby, Benson says they have to. Rollins says she knows there is no such thing as the perfect vic, but Libby has two little girls and is doing drugs and god knows what else, and comments that Benson knows how hard it is for a woman to lose custody. Benson glares at her and says “Addiction is addiction, Rollins. “ But Rollins counters that Libby has kids, and she doesn’t get to make those kinds of mistakes any more. She adds that it is not her life to ruin, and Benson says she hears her. They step into the elevator and Benson gets a message. She says they have a lead; Ronnie just DM’d Juan and they are moving some weed on Atlantic Avenue.
At Atlantic Avenue and Fourth Avenue in Brooklyn on Saturday, January 30, the detectives work the area. They eventually spot Ronnie and Juan and a chase begins. As Carisi and Dodds chase form one direction, Benson and Rollins cut Ronnie and Juan off from another. Carisi and Dodds subdue the two as Benson and Rollins keep their guns trained on them. As the detectives walk the perps through the crowd nearby, all taking photos or videos, Carisi, his voice dripping with sarcasm, thanks them, saying he applauds the citizens of New York and to give themselves a hand. He then says, “Yeah. Take a picture.”
Later, at SVU, Rollins and Fin speak with Juan and Dodds and Carisi speak with Ronnie. They won't admit to attacking Libby, and Ronnie says he saw the news and knows no one called 911.
Benson speaks with Will being held in a cell, and says the others gave him up. She asks for his side of the story and when he brings up Linda from the shelter, Benson says Linda can’t help him now and to help himself. He says he didn’t do nothing.
Barba knocks on both interrogation room doors to get the detectives out. He tells Benson Ronnie and Juan are lying as they speak. She adds Will wasn’t any help either. Dodds states that Ronnie had a second cell phone on him and the call log was deleted. Rollins suggests they get it to TARU to see what they find. Benson adds in the meantime to get a photo array over to Libby’s building. Barba hopes that one of their good Samaritans can make an ID. Benson sighs.
Fin and Rollins show photos to the neighbor across the hall but he is unsure. Dodds shows the photo to Mrs. Weisman who can’t give a positive ID. Rollins and Fin show the photos Craig and Jenna. Craig is reluctant, saying that people think they don’t care but Rollins suggests he show they DO care and help them now.
At the courthouse, Barba is on the phone, hearing from Rollins that no one can ID all three. Rollins explains that a couple of them made on ID but they didn’t make the other two. Barba thinks this does more harm than good and tells her to try harder. Barba encounters Counselor Henderson who says he is representing Will. Henderson tries to talk Barba into a deal, including having Will implicate the other two, but Barba is not buying it and offers felony assault for sexual misconduct. Henderson says Barba needs Will’s testimony as according to the Daily News, nobody saw anything. Barba questions which is it, Will was there and didn’t participate or he wasn’t there? He asks if his friends will have sob stories too? Henderson counters he gave him the opportunity to wrap this up but if the guilty needs to walk for his client to walk, so be it. He walks off.
Back at SVU, Dodds tells Benson he heard from TARU about Ronnie’s second cell phone. There was a 911 call made from the phone at the time of the rape and it only lasted a few seconds. They realize this is not Ronnie’s phone. Dodds notes that most of the contacts are Hispanic females, and Benson instructs him to call them all and tell them he is trying to return the phone.
At the apartment of Maria Ortiz at 585 West 162nd Street on Saturday, January 30, Benson and Dodds speak with Maria, who has a large bruise on her eye and cheekbone. She eventually admits that she called 911. She saw Libby passed out and the three boys were there and she knew something was wrong. She called 911 and it barely rang before the black boy hit her. She was on the ground and he had her phone and he said he knew who she was and if she called the cops he would kill her. She ran. Dodds asks if she got a good look at their faces.
Later, at SVU, Maria watches three line ups and picks out Ronnie, Juan, and Will. Barba asks one of the attorneys, Mr. Guthrie, if he is ready to talk.
Afterwards, Guthrie is in interrogation with Ronnie and speaks with Benson and Barba. Ronnie says they went back to her building and she was high and horny and said she wanted them all of them all at once. When Benson brings up the fact that Libby was blacked out and could barely walk, Ronnie says this is why they said no. He said she was messed up and wanted it rough, and they are not like that and that is why they bounced. Guthrie thinks their victim went back on the prowl. He asks for a misdemeanor assault on Maria. Barba declines, saying he will see them in court.
At a later date in court, Maria testifies to what she saw and what she did. He said they were dragging Libby and Guthrie makes it sound like they were trying to help her up. The neighbor across the hall testifies but must admit he never saw any of the defendants with the victim. Jenna testifies to what she saw but must admit she did not provide a description of the attackers to the police because it was dark and she was confused at first. Craig states he did not call police as he saw the other tenants watching from the windows and nobody seemed upset. He assumed nothing bad was happening but admits he was wrong, saying Libby was screaming. He them says he wasn’t sure what he heard. Mrs. Weisman states she told the police what she saw, but then says they were wearing hoodies like the ones in the news.
Libby then testifies to what happened, taking the special K and that her memory has not completely come back. She never gave consent to a sexual encounter. Under cross examination, she admits she is familiar with ketamine and knows it causes memory loss. She states it was caught on video but does not recall going back to her building but did not asked to be raped. Henderson states she can’t even recall if those injuries came from rough consensual sex. Barba objects, claiming Henderson is badgering, but the judge overrules. Libby says she doesn’t like rough sex, and she never would have told them that she did. Henderson brings up her lack of memory, and she admits she doesn’t remember anything.
Afterwards in her apartment, Libby tells Rollins and Carisi that it was awful and worries they are going to get off. Carisi thinks the jury heard what she went through and that accounts for something. There is a knock on the door and Doug enters. But when he sees the detectives there he suggests he come back later. When he leaves, Libby said Doug is odd but he has been a friend. They are both single with no family or support and both are going to AA. She admits they both are, they are not good with sobriety but Doug is an old timer and works his program and gets mad when she slips. Carisi makes an excuse to leave and Rollins tells him to take his time.
Outside, Carisi confronts Doug and brings up the conflict in his statements about being at a bar with his boyfriend. He adds that Libby also told him that Libby told him he is single and in AA so that is two lies. Doug says he didn’t see anything and Carisi say but he WAS at home. Carisi tries to appeal to helping Libby but Doug worries that the guys will kill him but Carisi says they can’t do that if they get put away. Carisi says all Doug had to do was call 911, and Doug claims he froze. He is not good in high stress situations, he couldn’t. It was too late, but Carisi counters not for an ambulance. Doug admits he was drunk and screwed up, that’s what he does, his whole life. Carisi says everybody screws up, and Libby got hurt on the stand again today and if Doug doesn’t testify., this case is over.
At the courthouse on 50 Centre Street on Monday, February 1, Barba expresses worry to Benson and Carisi that putting Doug on the stand is a good idea. Carisi asks if he has a better one, and Barba comments Doug is worse than the others, which is no easy task. When Benson chides him, Barba adds at least they admit they were there. Carisi says they are here now, and Doug was the only person close enough to see their faces and what they did to her. Barba says, “And the jury believes him because…” and Carisi replies because he went over his story backwards and forwards and Doug never varied, he had a spot on description of each suspect. Carisi adds maybe Doug is a coward but he is credible. Barba says with sarcasm, “So, good memory, no morality, fantastic!” Benson asks Carisi when he prepped him did he tell him what time to show up, as he is an hour late? Carisi is confident Doug will show but Barba says if he doesn’t, he will just vamp. Doug walks out of the elevator and Barba introduces himself but they all quickly notice that Doug is drunk. He admits he has been drinking butt says he is eidetic. Benson pulls Barba aside and asks if they can get a postponement, but Barba says he has no one else to call. Carisi says he is taking Doug out to get some air, and Barba suggests coffee – gallons of it. Benson looks frustrated.
Later, Doug testifies to what he saw happen to Libby, identifying all the defendants. He went home and should have called the police but didn’t. He started drinking again until he forgot. He adds he will never forgive himself. Under cross examination by Henderson, Doug admits he had had his last drink 5 years ago but is confident the relapse did not affect his memory. He admits he waited too long to come forward. He felt bad when he heard about Libby. Henderson asks Doug if he is intoxicated right now, and Doug says yes he is. Murmurs fill the courtroom. But Barba redirects, and asks why Doug got drunk that night. Doug said what he saw was horrible but he failed to help Libby and he was mad at himself for being a coward. Barba asks why Doug got drunk this morning, and Doug replies he was afraid to testify and was afraid what everyone would think of him. Barba asks Doug if he calls the question Henderson just put to him, and Doug rattles off the previous few questions. Barba asks if Doug can remember what the defendants were wearing that night, and Doug describes their clothing in detail. Barba is then allowed to do an exercise where Doug looks away from the jury and then describes for the court the complete makeup of the jury by race, gender, etc. and asks if Barba want to know which ones are where. But Barba says no, and allows Doug to open his eyes. He ends the questioning.
Afterwards, in the courtroom hall, Henderson races up to Barba and says his client wants to testify against the others. Barba tells him it is too late, he doesn’t need him. Henderson argues that Will was a bystander and tried to stop them, but Barba coldly says “not hard enough” and walks off. Carisi walks out of the courtroom with Doug, and Doug sees Libby and wonders what he would say to her. Carisi suggests trying “I’m sorry.” Doug approaches Libby and says he is so, so sorry, but she looks at him and says, “So am I” and she walks away from him.
In Supreme Court Part 6 on Tuesday, February 2, the verdict is read: all are guilty of criminal sexual acts in the first degree. Libby hugs Benson, waves quickly to Barba and then leaves the courtroom. Dodds comments that maybe Libby can move on now, and Rollins asks if he thinks she is going to change her life? She doesn’t think so, she thinks she will be drinking again by Friday night. Fin suggest to Rollins that she just got back and she is tired and he would drive her home. They all exit the courtroom. Benson waits for Barba and tells him “good job” as he exits.
Back at home, Benson is watching Noah sleep on her tablet baby monitor, and she is drinking wine. She is on the phone with someone, saying Noah is good and sleeping like a baby. She says she is fine as she fills her wine glass. She adds that she took the mandatory time off and yes, she is seeing her shrink. She tells the caller that sounds like more fun. She asks for a rain check. She says okay, and then “Me too. Bye.” She ends the call, smiling, and takes another guzzle of wine. Her glass is now nearly empty and she refills it. She takes another long drink as we fade to black.
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