The term “court” had a double meaning on Law & Order this week.
After handling a complicated murder trial with no body, the cops and prosecutors had to deal with a case of a murdered judge that brought a complex fight possibly inspired by the Britney Spears conservatorship battle.
That made Fault Lines an intriguing “ripped from the headlines” case for the series.
A judge’s murder has plenty of suspects
Walking through a parking garage, a mother and daughter discovered a man battered by a fire extinguisher. Cosgrove and Bernard learned the victim was family court Judge David Keating.
Since Keating’s wallet with cash was still on him, this wasn’t a robbery. Keating’s widow had been at a book club, admitting her husband was distracted for some reason.
Keating’s court clerk couldn’t name anyone specifically who had a problem, but Keating had mentioned being confronted at the courthouse with video showing him arguing with a man.
Also in the video was Clara Newhall, a lawyer whose clients included tennis star Lucy McDaniel (Christen Sharice), who had pulled out of the French Open after a breakdown. She related the man, Greg Wallace (Ken Wulf Clark), was upset over Keating denying him visitation for his son over his domestic violence charges. He also had no alibi.
They hauled him in with evidence indicating Wallace had been in the area. It turned out he’d actually been visiting his son and had evidence to back it up. He admitted to following Keating to a hotel.
Naturally assuming an affair, the detectives checked the hotel out to find Keating had attended a legal conference for a shady college. The reason was the man was flat broke thanks to a gambling habit.
A surprising suspect emerges
A threatening message from Wiseman, the bookie, was suspicious. He admitted to making the threat, but Keating had managed to pay off his sizeable debt in cash.
Bernard was ticked that the judge was getting more attention than the murders of poorer people but interrupted by Dixon relating the DNA tests showed the killer had been a woman. Mendez admitted to seeing a woman leave the scene.
The drivers talked to a car owner, Jesse Malloy (David T. Patterson), who turned out to have dropped off girlfriend, Lucy McDaniel at the garage.
Obviously, having one of the biggest tennis stars in the world as the prime suspect threw the detectives even as the evidence made sense. They visited her at a court, but her father, Tom (Kevin Mambo), spoke for her, refusing to let her volunteer her DNA.
Bernard was thrown by Cosgrove taking one of Lucy’s dropped towels to get the DNA. Price was wary of this given Lucy’s star power and the lack of a motive. However, his opening statement pressed on the evidence against her, culminating in a photo of Keating’s body.
Wiseman testified seeing a woman, but Lucy’s lawyer Mark Mendez (Carlos Gomez), brought up his threats against Keating and history of assault to undermine his testimony.
Jesse was called to testify but invoked the fifth. Finally, he was offered immunity to reluctantly give up how he’d dropped Lucy off at the garage.
Is she a killer or a victim?
Just as Price was feeling good on the case, he got notice the defense was going with an insanity plea. Dr. Stewart Moore (Wayne Pyle) testified Lucy had been a patient at his clinic as she suffered from bipolar disorder and mood swings which could explain her actions.
Price pressed Moore on Lucy being high-functioning beforehand, with Moore saying Tom becoming Lucy’s legal guardian was good for her. That was news for Price, which shook up his case.
It turned out Keating had been the one who granted Tom guardianship, with Maroun suggesting Lucy killed him to free herself. Price pointed out it would be hard for a jury to see the difference between “mentally incapacitated” and “insane,” with Maroun revealing Moore never really treated Lucy.
That doctor was Norah Gustofson (Stephanie Weeks), who stated Lucy really wasn’t that sick and the whole thing was her father trying to control her. She told Moore and Keating Lucy should be freed of her guardianship which got her fired.
Ironically, trying to use Lucy’s condition in the defense exposed that Lucy could have terminated the conservatorship at any time, and her father was using her for her money.That included bribing Keating to rubber-stamp any control to Tom.
Price sympathized, but that didn’t excuse murder with Maroun snapping that Lucy was pushed into this. McCoy agreed that manslaughter was a better charge.
Price offered the deal with Tom, of course, refusing on Lucy’s behalf. Price got into it with Tom’s control pushing Lucy into this and obvious he wasn’t even going to tell Lucy there was a deal on the table.
Price went to the judge to terminate the guardianship but needed proof of wrong-doing. Maroun once more pressed Tom made Lucy think the judge kept her from marrying her boyfriend with Price saying there was nothing they could do.
Bernard met Lucy in prison, showing her proof of her father’s work and the deal being offered. Bernard said the best move for Lucy was to plead guilty for fifteen years, then try to move on with her life without her father’s control.
In court, Lucy stood up to plead guilty and confess, shutting up her father when he tried to stop her. She was regretful for what she did as she just wanted to live her life with her boyfriend. She decided it was finally time to control her own life to accept the deal.
As they left the courthouse, Maroun confessed to sending Bernard to see Lucy while noting there would be an investigation into Tom and his legal team. Price flat out said if Maroun ever pulled a stunt like that again, he’d fire her.
It was another unique case where the killer was as much a victim while showing Maroun pressing the line on her job.
Law & Order airs Thursdays at 8/7c on NBC.