The episode was inspired by the Netflix documentary series “Making A Murderer ” (which I highly recommend). The opening scene featured Vice President Joe Biden, who is at the SVU and explains his real-life advocacy for rape victims. The squad is dealing with a man who was wrongfully imprisoned for 16 years for rape – a case that Fin and the SVU worked - and who was eventually exonerated. The evidence that clears him came from a previously untested rape kit in Detroit. I’m a little confused about the connection to the rape kit in Detroit to Sean's original case. Did they have no DNA at the time for the rape 16 years ago? Did they have DNA from that rape but could not get Sean’s DNA to make a match? If they had DNA from the case 16 years ago, why didn’t Sean’s defense test Sean’s DNA to see if it was or wasn’t a match? Or, if they had no DNA from the original rape 16 years ago, how did they match it to the Detroit case? I could be over thinking this but hopefully someone can explain to my apparently feeble brain why I can’t connect all the dots here with the Detroit case and how it cleared Sean.
I have mixed feelings about this episode. The dialog was well written (I especially liked the “parsing degrees of deceit” line) and Kelli Williams acting was heartbreaking. Raúl Esparza brought his "A" game. It gave Ice-T a substantive contribution to an episode. But there was something that felt wrong about how Barba presented his case. By bringing in Dr. Singh’s testimony about how one could be affected by being wrongfully incarcerated for 16 years, I thought that he opened up a door to Sean for some sort of mental defect or insanity defense. Yet Buchanan never capitalized on that. By Barba not calling Fin to the stand, it would have appeared as an admission that Barba felt something was wrong with how Fin obtained the new evidence. I think that Buchanan would have eventually called Fin in an effort to challenge how Fin found the engagement ring, so I am perplexed as to why Barba wouldn’t want to frame Fin’s story first. (Barba got pushed into calling Fin to testify anyway.) If Barba prepped Charlie, how strongly did he push him during prep? Obviously not strongly enough, as Barba was blindsided about how Rollins obtained Charlie’s claim that he saw Sean.
And while we are on the subject of Rollins, Barba was 100% correct to call her on her “parsing degrees of deceit.” Based on what we saw, Rollins clearly was playing up to Charlie to get him to admit he saw Sean. Touching him was no accident. It was inevitable that how she obtained Charlie’s statement was going to come into play during the trial. Rollins deserved to be humiliated in court, but of course we had to hear how “attractive” that Rollins is during the process. Cringe-worthy.
In the opening, when Sean announces he will be going out drinking – legally – for the first time, and Benson tells him to have fun and “stay safe,” this is code for “trouble will quickly ensue.” When Ashley is being wheeled out after being raped, strangled, stabbed, bleached, and burned, I wondered how Melanie, who said she heard Sean's voice, heard none of the sounds that would have been associated with such a violent attack. I also question how they found no blood or bleach evidence on Sean. Did he throw all his clothes away and did they ever do a search in nearby trash bins for bloody clothes? Maybe I missed something but I thought that this part of the investigation was thin.
Here is the recap:
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.
Henry Thomas - Sean Roberts
Delaney Williams – Counselor John Buchanan
Kelli Williams - Melanie Harper
Cody Kostro - Charlie Dobkins
Jenna Stern - Judge Elana Barth
Vice President Joe Biden - himself
Alok Tewari - Doctor Ranjit Singh
Ryan Jonze - Jeff Nichols
David Spadora - Zach Brenner
Alexis Collins - Ashley Harper
Meredith Handerhan - Marie Dobkins
Haskiri Velazquez - Shyvon Stevens
Erica Camarano - Officer Rachel Ortiz
Sarah Malone - Woman
Jim Forsha - Doctor
Vice President Joe Biden is visiting the Special Victims Unit. He explains that his dad used to have an expression that the greatest sin any person could commit is abuse of power. As Benson stands nearby, he states that the greatest abuse of power was rape and it takes a woman a long time to heal. With other members of law enforcement watches, he explains that when the victim isn’t believed when she goes through the invasive process of having a rape kit put together, and then it is stuck on a shelf somewhere and then never tested, we fail her; we fail so many women. He is proud to say today that they did not fail, thanks to the dedicated efforts of law enforcement, the whole legal system and advocacy groups, and particularly his friend here, Lieutenant Olivia Benson of SVU. He congratulates her and shakes her hand as the others applaud. Benson thanks him and states they are so honored to stand her today with him to announce that in beginning to clear the national rape kit backlog, we have taken rapists off the streets, we have prevented future crimes, have given victims closure, and they have also righted a terrible wrong. She explains that 16 years ago, Sean Roberts (who is waiting in the background) was convicted of rape in New York City that he did not commit. By processing an untested rape kit in Detroit, they were able to identify the real rapist, and set Sean free. The crowd applauds.
Afterwards, Sean Roberts states he wants to thank everyone who tested the kits; he has only been out of prison for a month but it already feels like a second chance at life. While Benson and Fin look on, Sean adds he bears no ill will towards Melanie Harper, she is as much a victim as he is. He explains it is a fresh start for him, Melanie, and her daughter Ashley. Melanie says they are looking forward to the next chapter, and Ashley adds she and her mother want to make amends and have Sean in their lives. She happily announces she is getting married next month and has invited Sean to the wedding. Benson looks on with surprise. Melanie thanks the reporters and then approaches Benson and Fin and thanks them for everything. Benson comments it seems like they have all gotten close. Melanie explains she is just glad Sean has forgiven her. Fin says it was an honest mistake; at the time, she was sure it was him. She says she was wrong – they were both wrong. Fin nods. Ashley approaches and asks if they are ready to go. Fin comments that the last time he saw Ashley she was 6 years old and now she is getting married, and he congratulates her. Ashley thanks him and Melanie says they are taking Sean out for his birthday tonight and Sean adds it is the first time he can legally drink. Benson smiles and tells them to have fun – and stay safe. Sean nods and they all walk off. Afterwards, Benson asks Fin if he is okay with all this, and he replies he’s good, he is just glad Sean in out of jail. Benson agrees.
Later, Fin and Rollins arrive at a scene, and Fin tells an officer that Melanie Harper asked for him. She directs him inside, adding she is a mess. As Fin heads in, Rollins asks the officer what they are looking at. The officer says the mother was sleeping and smelled smoke and called it in. The girl was raped, strangled, stabbed, doused in bleach, and burned.
Inside, as the EMTs load Ashley onto a gurney, Melanie tries to console her. Fin asks Melanie what happened, and she explains she came down and found Ashley like this. Fin asks if she saw or heard anybody, Melanie says she heard a man. When Fin asks if she would recognize his voice, she says she thinks it was Sean. Rollins looks at a surprised Fin and asks if it was Sean Roberts, the guy they just got out of prison. Fin says, with concern, “Yeah” as he looks around the scene.
At the hospital with Fin and Rollins, Benson asks Fin that Ashley Harper was raped and stabbed and if Sean Roberts was involved, and Fin explains Melanie said she heard Sean’s voice in the house. Benson states they know they went out together last night, asking if they talked to him yet. Fin replies that considering the history, they figured they should talk to Benson first. Benson says alright, asking what they have. Rollins says there was no sign of forced entry so Ashley probably did know her attacker, and there is a kitchen knife that is missing. Fin adds that CSU is running the scene; whoever did this, they used bleach on her and they burned her, and got rid of all DNA. Benson questions who else was in her life, she just got engaged. Rollins explain they are tracking down her fiancé and they are going through her texts and social media. Benson tells them to run down every single angle: security cams in the house and neighborhood, traffic cams, canvass the neighbors. They need to be sure about every single detail on this. Benson gets a message; she says Carisi is here and asks them to loop him in and have him talk to the fiancé, and she asks Rollins to talk to Sean. As Rollins walks off, Fin asks if he is being pulled off the case, but Benson says no, she needs to keep him on, saying it is optics. Fin asks what that means, and she says if he steps away from the case, it will look like he has something personal with Sean and give credibility to his lawsuit, adding to let Rollins take the lead. Fin says “got it.”
Benson walks over and speaks with Melanie, saying she is so sorry. She asks what the doctor says, and Melanie says Ashley is still in surgery and she lost a lot of blood. She beings to cry. Benson asks about her hearing Sean and Melanie says he and Ashley were talking about midnight, Melanie says she took a shower and went to sleep. Benson says they will talk to Sean but asks if Melanie can think of anyone that would hurt Ashley and when Melanie says no one, Benson asks if the fiancé was at the dinner. Melanie explains Zach was not; he doesn’t like Sean and he and Ashley were arguing about that> she realizes she has to call him and then says Ashley’s engagement ring was not on her finger. The doctor approaches them, and the look on his face brings Melanie to tears. She sobs.
At the apartment of Sean Roberts at 1839 Riverside Drive on Tuesday, August 16, Fin is there with Rollins and when he finally opens the door, Rollins asks if they can talk to him for a minute. He is reluctant to let them inside. They explain what happened to Ashley and he seems shocked. He comments that Melanie must be freaking out and he says he has to go. Rollins asks before he goes can they ask a few questions, and he is surprised they want to talk to him, asking if he needs to get a lawyer. When Rollins asks why would he need a lawyer, Sean says any time you talk to the cops you need a lawyer, that is what Fin taught him. He says he was not at Ashley’s house last night, they had dinner and then she left early. He did not see her after dinner; he left at 11 or 11:30. He went to a strip club. Rollins, noticing Sean’s bandaged hand, asks if that is where he hurt his hand, and he says yes. He went with a buddy, a guy from the inside, Jeff Nichols, who was at his birthday dinner and who can vouch for him. He is at Hell’s Gate diner. He states if they are not going to arrest him. they need to leave because he needs to call Melanie. He goes back into his apartment and shuts the door. Fin tells Rollins that Sean is not helping himself, and says to put an unmarked car on his block in case he decides to run. Rollins asks if he thinks Sean had something to do with this, and Fin hopes not.
Afterwards, Fin and Rollins speak with Jeff who is a cook. He says he was with Sean and Ashley at the dinner and then when to The Ballet on 10th Avenue, and to ask the stripper, a Russian lesbian. They were there most of the night. They tell him Ashley was murdered and to come clean and Fin reminds him he is on parole and not to lie or he will throw his ass back in prison. Jeff says Sean called him to vouch for him because they were jamming him up like the last time. Sean cane late to the club, about 2. He does not recall a cut on his hand and swears Sean adored Ashley and was a shoulder for her to cry on. When Fin asks why she was crying, Jeff says the fiancé was threatening to break off the engagement.
Later, with Rollins and Carisi, Ashley’s fiancé Zach is in SVU interrogation. He cannot believe she is dead and asks what happened. Rollins hopes he can help explain what happened, and Carisi asks when was the last time he saw her. Zach explains it was yesterday before he went to dinner with that convict. Rollins asks if they were fighting about Sean and when Zach says no, Carisi says that is the wrong answer. Rollins confronts him with the half dozen texts he sent that it is over and he will get the ring back. He admits he was pissed because they had made plans last night and Ashley blew him off for Sean. He gets it; he spent 16 years in prison and was innocent but that doesn’t make him a saint. Rollins asks where was Zach last night after midnight, and he says he was at a bar, which Carisi knows is two blocks from Ashley’s house. Zach counters it is also to his apartment. He says to ask the bartender, he was there from midnight to closing. Rollins presses if he was there the whole time, and he admits no, some girls spilled red wine on his shirt and he went home to change and then went back to the bar. Carisi is not buying this but Sean insists he did not kill Ashley and says he had nothing to do with this.
Afterwards, Barba asks who is the main suspect, Sean or Zach? Benson says both. Rollins suggests and unknown; she has been searching through Ashley’s social media and she has a lot of male followers. When Barba asks what they have on Sean, Benson states the timeline is tight. Ashley was attacked between midnight and 1:20 when Melanie called 911. Sean does not have an alibi from 11:20 to 2:05 AM. When Fin says Zach has no alibi, Carisi enters and says he does; the bartender confirmed the red wine story. Barba says they are back to Sean. Carisi says they have Sean’s hair at the scene but he has been in the house a lot in the past few weeks and there is no blood. Barba comments even though he cut his hands, and Carisi counters bleach and fire. Benson brings up the missing kitchen serrated knife and the ME thinks it could be the murder weapon. When Fin thinks he knows no one wants to think Sean is good for this, Rollins says maybe not and brings up that two weeks ago, Ashley got a private DM from a Charlie Dobkins and she told him to stop looking in her window and being creepy. Benson says it could be a neighbor or ex and to find out.
Later, at 125 West 74th Street on Tuesday August 16, Rollins and Carisi arrive and ask a woman where they can find Charlie, and they are told to check the roof. On the roof, they find a tented area and Rollins also says the view looks right into Ashley’s bedroom. As they are looking into the tent, a person approaches and when Rollins asks if he is Charlie, he begins to run. Carisi catches up with him and stop him as the man says he didn’t do nothing. Rollins holds up a bloody serrated knife and asks what is this?
Later, at SVU, Benson speaks with Melanie and explains they found the missing kitchen knife with the neighbor’s kid and Fin adds he had pictures of Ashley on his phone. Melanie says they do not know him well but thought him odd. Fin says they found a stash on the roof with jewelry and women’s underwear. Benson asks if she can identify anything that may belong to Ashley. They did not find her engagement ring. Melanie sees Charlie in the interrogation room and asks if they think he did it, and Fin says if he is, they will find out.
Meanwhile, Rollins and Carisi are in with Charlie who wants to call his mom. Rollins says he has to talk about the love nest on the roof and when Charlie asks if then he can call his mom, Carisi says one thing at a time. He shows him a photo of Ashley at her bedroom window and asks if Charlie took it. He says she was lawyers standing in front of it like he wanted her to see. He adds Shyvon says it was wrong, and when Rollins asks who is that, Charlie says it is his girl, the one he used a condom with. That is his girlfriend and he just looked at Ashley. He admits to taking the photo. The detectives continue to press, and when Rollins suggests Ashley was teasing him, Charlie says she definitely liked to tease him.
In the squad room, Charlie’s mother arrives with Shyvon and they insist Charlie didn’t do anything, he was with Shyvon all night.
In Benson’s office with Fin, Carisi and Rollins walk in and Carisi says Charlie was about to confess. Benson says he didn’t do it, he was having sex with his girlfriend at the time of the murder and holds up a cell phone with video of them doing it. Fin says the time code is good and the girlfriend says Charlie picked up the knife off the curb after he saw the killer toss it. Benson says he is not a suspect he is a witness and to take him back to that rooftop and find out exactly where he was and what he saw and when he saw it.
Later, Rollins and Carisi are on the rooftop with Charlie going through what he saw. Charlie saw a white man about Carisi’s age who dropped something in a trash can and he went down and got it. They press him on the time, and Charlie says it was before they had sex, but then says after, saying he is not good with time. Rollins tries to get him to focus by smiling and acts sweetly towards him, saying she likes him and knows he wants to cooperate. Carisi adds that Charlie wants to help Ashley and they know he liked her. Charlie admits yes he did, she was pretty, like Rollins. She nods and smiles. Charlie is focused on Rollins and she shows Charlie some photos, and she shows him the photo of Sean, who asks if he says yes, will that help Ashley…and her? Rollins stresses they just want the truth and not to say yes unless he is sure. She touches his shoulder and say it is okay, and Charlie immediately says yes, says he is sure. Rollins looks to Carisi who nods.
At a later time, Benson arrives at Sean’s apartment with Fin, Rollins, and police backup. He opens the door and says it is harassment and asks if they have a warrant. Fin says they do and he hands it to Sean as they enter the apartment. As they search. Sean tells Benson his lawyer will be there any minute and Benson says that is his right. Fin announces he has something – it looks like Ashley’s diamond ring. Sean looks shocked as Benson arrests him for rape and murder while Rollins cuffs him. As Fin reads him his rights, Sean screams he knows his rights, he’s been though this drill before and he was innocent then and he is innocent now.
Later, Sean is in interrogation at SVU as his lawyer, Counselor Buchanan arrives. Benson is in her office with Fin and Barba and comments about how fast Buchanan has arrived. Barba asks Benson what they found, and she explains it was traces of blood on his shoes which could be Ashley’s and the ring. Barba comments they found it, and Benson said it was a search warrant, by the books. Fin explains he was looking in the sink, checked the drain and there it was. They spoke to Zach who confirmed it was her ring. Barba says they have a strong case.
Meanwhile, Rollins and Carisi speak with Sean and Buchanan and they outline the evidence. Buchanan accuses Fin of framing Sean. He insists Sean is not a murderer or a rapist. Sean gets upset and said he would not do that to her, he knows what it is like to be raped; he went in when he was 18 and 140 pounds, asking what did they think happened to him? Buchanan tries to calm him and say they are done talking here. Carisi says they will be taking Sean to be processed and arraigned.
Meanwhile, Benson, with Fin, asks Barba is the jury is going to buy the frame story, and Barba thinks he was innocent the last time and the jury will feel sorry for him. Fin thinks this is different and Barba hope they get the same verdict. As he moves to leave, he encounters Melanie and he explains he will be handling the case and is sorry for her loss. He walks off. She tells Benson and Fin she was hoping it was someone else and Fin says the evidence is what it is. As Benson sympathizes, Sean races out of the interrogation room and he screams at Fin and Benson, thinking this is about the lawsuit and he won’t take the money. He calls for Melanie not to let them so this, and she begins to cry.
At the Supreme Court Part 21 on Wednesday, August 24, Jeff testifies about Ashley crying about her fiancé and Sean joked she should leave Zach for Sean as he was going to be a millionaire. Ashley was playing along and was fine until Sean got drunk and she started to act stupid. Ashley and Melanie left and Sean felt bad and he said he wanted to go to her house to apologize. He really liked her and thought she liked him too. Barba implies that he was going there to have sex and Buchanan objects and it is sustained. Under cross, Jeff admits Sean never told him Ashley liked him and he wanted to have sex with her and Jeff says not exactly, it just seemed that way. Buchanan accuses him of being a mind reader and when he asks if he has any other special powers, Barba objects and Buchanan ends his cross examination and withdraws the question.
Dr. Singh testifies and discusses how hard it is to go from someone wrongfully imprisoned to a free citizen, saying it is almost impossible. The exoneree’s attempts to reconcile their incarceration with their innocence can lead to intense suffering. The trauma they experience is similar to those suffered by the veterans of war or torture survivors. Barba interrupts and asks what about an exoneree who has been repeatedly raped in prison. Dr. Singh says they have an even harder time adjusting to life on the outside. The rage and shame caused by the rape is unlikely to remain locked in prison. Barba asks if someone like this have a difficult time socializing with the opposite sex, and Dr. Singh says dating and sexual relationships with this profile can be particularly challenging. They tend to misread social cues and to act out in violent ways when they feel rejected or humiliated. Barba asks if in Singh’s expert opinion, a man who had been wrongfully imprisoned for 16 years and was a victim of rape, what is the likelihood that someone like this would be able to live a normal, law abiding life upon release. Dr. Singh testifies it is almost impossible. Under cross, Buchanan asks if Dr. Singh has even met Sean Roberts, and when Dr. Singh says no, Buchanan says his expert onions don’t apply to him specifically, they are based on other exonerees. Singh states that’s right. Buchanan says what the doctor is saying is that his testimony is totally irrelevant to Sean and a complete waste of time. Barba objects and Judge Barth sustains it.
Afterwards in the courthouse hallway, Rollins approaches Barba with Charlie, along with Fin, and asks where would he like his witness? Charlie says he is nervous and Barba instructs him to have a seat nearby and he will be right with him. As Charlie walks away, Barba asks Fin and Rollins how Charlie is really doing, and Fin says he is okay, a little jittery. Rollins states the thing is, Charlie is not the brightest bulb and if Barba takes it easy with him Charlie will calm down. As Rollins walks off, Barba comments to Fin that he has not been in the gallery. Fin explains it is just in case Barba changes his mind and decides to call him. Barba says Fin gets why he can’t right? Fin replies that he gets why Barba thinks he can’t; the DA put Sean away for 16 years, not him. He did his job, he did it right then and he did it right this time too. Barba says he knows, and Fin comments he just wants Barba to know he has nothing to hide. Barba states he believes Fin, and Fin counters that it doesn’t seem that way.
Later, Charlie testifies how, after having sex with his girlfriend on the roof, he saw Sean leave the house and toss something in the trash. It was 1:15. Then he went to see what he tossed and it was a knife and he picked it up. Barba tells the jury the knife was determined to have Ashley’s blood on it. Under cross examination, it comes out that Charlie smoked some weed. Charlie then says it looked like Sean, and starts to talk about Rollins, Buchanan asking if Rollins told him to say something. Barba gives Rollins a look and Rollins shakes her head. Buchanan tries to paint it that Rollins encouraged Charlie to say it was Sean, either by nodding or smiling. Sean said she patted him on the shoulder and told her it was okay, adding he thought she wanted him to say it was Sean. Barba looks like a deer caught in the headlights. When Buchanan asks if Rollins helped him figure out the time, Charlie goes on to say that he guesses, he wasn’t sure he saw Sean leave before or after Shyvon and he had sex. He tries to say something but stops, and Buchanan says he knows Rollins is attractive but don’t look to Rollins for help, look at him. Charlie explains he thought she would like it if he said yes, and Buchanan asks if Rollins encouraged him and flirted with him to say he had seen Sean leave Ashley’s home at 1:15. Barba objects, saying that Buchanan is putting words in Charlie’s mouth. The judge overrules Barba and tells Charlie to answer the question. Charlie states no, he just wanted her to like him and she needed to solve her case. Rollins squirms. Buchanan states that Rollins encouraged him to see Sean Roberts and then he made her happy by saying he saw Sean at 1:15 exactly. Charlie comments that is a good way of saying it, and Buchanan lets out an amused sigh. Rollins looks uncomfortable as does the jury. Barba is stunned as is Benson.
Later in Barba’s office, Barba is exploding at Benson, Rollins, and Carisi about the situation. Rollins tries to explain herself, saying that Charlie waffled but did not lie and there is a big difference. Barba accuses her, shouting, of parsing degrees of deceit. Benson adds that Buchanan is going to turn this into Rollins manipulating the kid to defend Fin. Rollins explains that Charlie is telling the truth; he saw Sean leave the house and toss the knife after he and his girlfriend had sex which was around 1:15, insisting that is the truth. She can’t help it that the kid has a crush on her. Benson asks her to hold on, asking Rollins is she was aware that Charlie had an affection for her and a desire to make her happy. Carisi interjects that he was there and Rollins didn’t lead him, and Barba tells Carisi not to make excuses for Rollins, that is not what the jury thinks. Carisi shouts that it is not Rollins’ fault that Buchanan spun that kid upside down and Barba didn’t know how to crush him. Benson cuts him off and says thank you, they are done. As Rollins and Carisi leave, Barba plops into his chair with a sigh and Benson asks where do they go from here? Barba explains they are not going to convict on Charlie’s testimony, not any more. They need to double down on the physical evidence. Benson asks how do they do that, and Barba gives her a nod.
At Supreme Court Part 21 on Thursday, August 25, Fin is on the stand and he explains how he found the ring in Sean’s apartment. He explains how he knows Sean from the prior arrest and I bothers him that he was later found innocent and release from prison but they went with the evidence they had. When asked if he holds a grudge, Fin says he does now because Sean killed Ashley, and Buchanan erupts with an objection which the judge sustains and cautions Fin. Fin says he has no grudges, if anything he was rooting for him when he got out. Under cross, Buchanan asks Fin if he was embarrassed that Sean got out but Fin states he did not put him there, he just arrested him, and he is not embarrassed, he was just doing his job. Buchanan presses that convicting an innocent man reflects poorly on Fin as a police officer as he is supposed to arrest the guilty not the innocent, and Fin explains it doesn’t always go that way, that’s just the way it is. Buchanan thinks Fin would feel better about himself if his and the department’s reputation if Sean was found guilty of this crime; it would be vindication. He says Fin buried and innocent man but that’s no big deal because Sean is a criminal. Fin counters that like he said, he did his job right then and he did it right now. Buchanan asks if Fin means by framing Sean again, and Barba shouts an objection. Buchanan withdraws the question. Fin looks at Benson who is sitting in the gallery, and she shakes her head.
Outside the courtroom, Melanie approaches Fin who asks how did it go. He explains the situation and he thinks Sean is guilty. But Melanie is now having strong second thoughts, and Fin insists he did not plant the wrong. She worries she can’t trust herself as she was wrong before. Now she is not sure she heard Sean that night and worries she is wrong again.
Later in Barba’s office with Benson, Fin explains Melanie’s concerns and that she is not sure she heard Sean. Barba asks what the hell did Fin say to her, and Fin asks if Barba is putting this on him. Barba says Fin was the last one to talk to Melanie, and Benson asks Barba to hold on, Fin was trying to help and it is not his fault Melanie got cold feet. Barba feels for Melanie but she needs to testify and after the Charlie debacle she is the only one who can put Sean at the scene. Benson said she won’t cooperate and he will have to call her as a hostile witness and compel her testimony. When Benson scoffs, he explains this is not about Melanie, it is about justice for Ashley, with or without Melanie’s cooperation.
At a later time, Melanie is on the stand saying she told Barba she did not want to do this. Barba gets the go ahead from the judge to treat Melanie as a hostile witness. Barba works on Melanie that it is her guilt about the error in the first trial with Sean that is causing her to question whether or not she heard Sean that night. He tries to get Melanie to think that she caused Sean’s death because of her first mistake, and had she not incorrectly identified him the first time and sent him to prison, Ashley would still be alive. She sobs and realizes she sent Sean there and every time he was beaten or raped it was her fault. She turned him into a rapist and a monster and it is her fault, she is the guilty one here. Barba finally gets her to admit she did hear Sean’s voice that night.
Afterwards, Benson walks out of the courtroom with Barba, and she says it was unpleasant and tragic, but well done. He hopes the jury thinks so too. They encounter Buchanan and he says he is open to discussing a plea. Barba says it is too late. Buchanan says they will plead guilty to manslaughter, and Barba says that is only 5 years for a brutal rape and murder and not to waste his time. Buchanan says to ask Sean about wasted time; he served 16 years of it, if he serves 5, that is 21 years. He asks if Barba wants to roll the dice with the jury, go ahead. Benson nods to Barba who says murder 2, he serves a minimum of 15 years. Buchanan says done, and Benson adds that Sean must allocute; everybody needs to know they got it right this time. Buchanan says nothing and walks back into the courtroom.
At Supreme Court part 21 on Friday, August 26, Sean pleads guilty and he makes a statement. He addresses Melanie and explains he is so sorry, he knows how much she loved Ashley and he cared about her too. She gave him hope he could start over. She wasn’t afraid to be with him and didn’t look at him like he was dirt like everyone else. Then that night, he was drunk. He wasn’t used to that. He went there to talk to her to say he was sorry for how he acted at dinner and he told her how much he liked her. She sort of laughed, and that was it. Melanie begins to cry. Sean says you can’t let people laugh at you, 16 years that is what he learned. Things happened to him in prison, things he swore he would never do to anyone else he did to Ashley. He didn’t want to do it. It just happened. Melanie gets up and races out of the courtroom and Benson quickly follows her. Everyone looks appalled.
Outside the courtroom, Benson catches up with Melanie and tells her she is sorry. Melanie comments that she knows, at least she knows he did it this time. Benson says it is not her fault, and Melanie asks then whose is it? She walks off as Fin catches up to Benson and she asks how is he? Fin replies he is good, the bad guy went down, that is all that matters. Benson tells him if he ever feels like talking, and he comments that talking is overrated. He walks off as Barba walks up and says to Benson that justice isn’t pretty some days. As they walk off, Benson adds that it is damn ugly this time, and we fade to black.
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