Recap / Law And Order S 17 E 14 Church

A pastor and his wife greet the congregants at a mega-church — the service has just ended. A man approaches the man and remarks that it was a powerful sermon; he sarcastically says that the part about homosexuality being evil was especially powerful and adds that homosexuals should all be killed. The preacher, visibly disturbed, says that God says that homosexuality is evil, but that gay people should be forgiven, not killed. The man makes a brief response before leaving.

"Forgiveness? I don't think so."
—Jeff Cantwell

Green and Cassady arrive at an apartment. A uniformed officer says that a man named Jeff Cantwell is dead inside; a gunshot was heard at 10:15. When they go in, the dead body is the man who was hostile to the Reverend. A gun is lying near the body's right hand; a single shot at close range killed him. Cassady finds an open Bible with Leviticus 18:22 highlighted; this is a verse condemning homosexuality. Green wonders if Cantwell was gay, hated that, and killed himself. The two cops go to look through the house, and Green finds a baseball glove. It was a left handed glove. Green points out that, if Cantwell had really shot himself, he'd have done so with his dominant hand.

Van Buren asks about the gun; Green says that there was no residue, meaning that suicide is really unlikely. Cassady says that Cantwell was a struggling actor and had no priors, he was gay, but they don't know if he was seeing anyone. Van Buren asks about the Bible, but Green says it hasn't yielded any clues yet.

The cops talk to a neighbor and friend of Cantwell's. She says that Cantwell was too busy to date; he was always practicing or acting. He was happy; he was getting auditioned for a big TV role this week. The show was produced by Chris Boratto, an old friend of Jeff's. Chris.backs this story up, and concurs that Jeff seemed happy and had no major problems. He gives them the name of Jeff's last boyfriend, Mike Gorman. He also says that Jeff was asking about the New Promise Church,

The detectives arrive at the mega-church, which is very ornate. A secretary, Patty, says that Reverend James Sterling, the senior pastor, is away, but the CEO, Scott Jepson, is there. Green is surprised that a church has a CEO. When Jepson comes out, he checks his church's database with his PDA, then says that no one named Cantwell worships there. Green asks how many churches they have; Jepson says that there are 15 in the tri-state area and 125 nationwide. Green is a bit taken aback by the number.

"If you sell a quality product, people will buy it."
—Scott Jepson

He gives them a pamphlet.

Outside, Cassady reads the pamphlet. Homosexuality is considered a sin by the New Promise Church, but they say they can 'cure' it. Then she gets a call — Gormon just returned from a business trip.

Gormon says that he hasn't seen Cantwell in six months. He doesn't think Cantwell was Christian, and says that Cantwell was proud of being gay and was active in gay causes. He wouldn't try to cure himself through religion. Gormon says that Cantwell had one enemy — his ex-agent, whom Cantwell claims stole an idea from him. The idea is about to be made into a hundred-million dollar movie.

Bryce Collins, the agent, says that his movie idea was completely different from Cantwell's.

"Only thing the same is, both written on paper."
—Bryce Collins

Collins says he fired Cantwell a few months ago because Cantwell couldn't get work. He was at a basketball game during the time of the murder.

Green tells Van Buren that Collins's alibi checks out. Cassady says that Cantwell had several email addresses, and one of them received an email the night of the murder asking to meet with him.

The owner of the email, Steven Franklin, gives a long and rambling soliloquy about why he resorted to emailing Cantwell.

"What am I supposed to say? 'Hi. I'm Steve, the fat accountant. Want to drop some ex, maybe dance all night?' Please."
—Steve Franklin

He emailed Cantwell, having found his email through an escort website. Cantwell hadn't responded, though.

Green tells Van Buren that Franklin also has an alibi. Van Buren tells them to search the rest of Cantwell's email. Later that night, Cassady says that the incoming mail is boring. Green finds an outgoing one that calls the recipient a hypocrite and a pig who deserves to be outed. The email insists that the receipient is gay. The recipient is James Sterling, Reverend at the New Promise Church.

The police arrive at Sterling's spacious estate. His wife Dawn answers the door and tries to stall, but when Green insists on knowing if Sterling is home, James comes down and invites them in. He claims not to know Cantwell, nor to recognize Cantwell's email. When Cassady asks if he ever used a gay escort, Cantwell says that's preposterous. When they ask for his alibi, he tries to stall as well, then lawyers up.

"I'd love to continue this discussion, but I feel I may need to consult an attorney."
"You almost sounded innocent."
—James Sterling and Ed Green

Outside, Green says they should talk to Jepson again — he'll lose a lot of money if the church collapses.

Jepson provides an alibi, saying he was in Pennsylvania all day. He can't vouch for Sterling's alibi. Cassady asks what Sterling would do if someone threatened to tell the world he was gay; Jepson says that's preposterous. When he says that Sterling and his wife made a great church that provides comfort and solace to all, Cassady says that gay people are still excluded. After some bickering, Cassady asks again if Sterling was gay. Jepson says no.

The cops next talk to Patty, who says she's not religious but needs the money from her job and doesn't want to be fired. The police assure her that they won't tell anyone. She tells the cops that there was a rumor that Sterling was involved with another man. She says she'll find the guy's name. They find the man, Nick Bridge, at his workplace, and he lies that he never dated Sterling. Green tells him why they're there, and the man admits to dating Sterling.

"He spends his days yapping about Jesus, purity, and family values, and he spends his nights snorting meth and screwing gay boys."
—Nick Bridge

He adds that Sterling hit him once while they were dating, when the waiter said he loved Sterling.

The cops watch a sermon by Sterling that was broadcast on CNBC; it condemns homosexuality as a sin. He cites Leviticus 18:22. Cassady tells Van Buren that the sermon ran the day before Cantwell sent Sterling the angry email threatening to out him. Green shows up saying that Cantwell owns several guns, so the cops had his fingerprints on file, and they found one in Cantwell's place. Van Buren says they can get a search warrant.

Dawn protests that Sterling would never hurt anyone, and accuses the cops of being biased against devout Christians. The cops search the place, and later, Green tells Van Buren that traces of Sterling's blood was found in Sterling's car. Van Buren says they can arrest Sterling.

"And Ed? Make this one public. I want that hypocritical preacher to feel some pain."
—Anita Van Buren

Sterling is arrested while greeting people as they leave his church after a sermon. He quotes the Bible and loudly proclaims his innocence as he is led out.

In court, Sterling says that he doesn't want to post bail. His lawyer, Madeline Myers, says that Sterling wants to go to jail to provide the other inmates with spiritual guidance. Judge Stanley Woods allows this.

"You want it, you got it, baby."
—Stanley Woods

Branch jokes that McCoy isn't buying Sterling's piety. McCoy says that he doesn't think that the New Promise Church is a church but instead a business, and Branch says that it has its own merchandizing division that brought in over $50 million last year. McCoy brings up all the evidence they have, including a phone call to Cantwell's home coming from a pay phone near Sterling's house. Rubirosa comes in, saying that Sterling wants to meet.

In prison, Sterling admits to knowing Cantwell, but says he was trying to counsel him. He claims that Cantwell didn't want to be gay and Sterling was trying to help him with that.

"You were trying to fix him?"
"I was trying to save him."
—Connie Rubirosa and James Sterling

McCoy asks what happened the night of the murder, pointedly omitting Sterling's title of 'Reverend.' Sterling says that they spent a few hours together talking about religion, but Cantwell was depressed. Sterling claims that Cantwell was defeated and suicidal, and adds that Cantwell said he'd rather die than be gay. McCoy says he doesn't believe Sterling.

"I did not kill that man. I swear to the Lord Jesus Christ."
"Please. Save your hollow invocations for the jury."
—James Sterling and Jack McCoy

Outside, Rubirosa says she watched one of Sterling's sermons and found him very compelling, even though she disagreed with everything. McCoy says they need to limit his ability to preach to the jury.

Judge Kirk Landsberg hears McCoy's motion to exclude contents of the conversations between Sterling and Cantwell. His argument is that priest-penitent privilege applies, so Sterling can't talk about what Cantwell confessed to him. Sterling's lawyer, Myers, says that McCoy has no standing to invoke the priviliege, but McCoy says that Cantwell is dead and can't invoke it himself. Myers then says that no law indicates that the privilege survives the death of the client, but McCoy says no law says it doesn't either. Finally, she says that if the conversations are out she can't present Sterling's case. Landsberg agrees with Myers.

Sterling testifies that Cantwell once approached him and asked him to cure his homosexuality. He met with Cantwell, he says, twice a month for a few hours at a time.

"Why did you spend so much time with him?"
"Why? Because he needed it."
—Madeline Myers and James Sterling

Sterling says that Cantwell was suicidal, and even attempted suicide once in front of him (though Sterling claims to have bandaged the wounds and so not told anyone). Sterling says that he was with Cantwell until the evening, when he drove to his office in Peakskill to prepare a sermon. He called his wife at about 8:20 from the office phone. Sterling claims to have gotten home at about 10, then gone to bed with his wife. He insists that he didn't kill Cantwell.

McCoy first asks why Sterling didn't tell the cops about his alibi. Sterling says that there was no point; the cops just wanted to humiliate him. He says that no one saw him in Peakskill and that he didn't use the phone or email after 8:20. Sterling says he was preparing an important sermon; when McCoy asks why he went to Manhattan to help Cantwell, he says that helping his fellow man was much more important than a sermon. McCoy asks if he was in a relationship with Cantwell.

"No! I am not a homosexual!"
—James Sterling

McCoy brings up Cantwell's email threatening to out him, and has Sterling read it. Sterling does so in a deadpan drawl. Even after that, Sterling insists that he never had sex with a man.

Bridge testifies that he had sex with Sterling about twenty or thirty times. Myers challenges his honesty, referencing a time when he stole from his employer. The waiter says that his manager had cheated him out of some money, but Myers reiterates that the waiter stole. She then asks if he's a member of the ACLU and favors gay marriage, when he says yes to both, she accuses him of lying to hurt Sterling.

Outside, Rubirosa is upset.

"Just because you stole fifty bucks from a register and vote Democratic doesn't mean you can't ID the guy you had sex with."
—Connie Rubirosa

McCoy thinks about Sterling's alibi. It takes about an hour and forty minutes to get from Peakskill to the city, so if Sterling left right after the 8:20 call he'd be in the city at 10. Cantwell was shot at 10:15, so there was time, but only barely. He sends Rubirosa to Peakskill to verify the alibi.

At the office, a janitor named Gino says he saw Sterling at about 9:30, and Sterling said hello and asked how to get to a local hospital. Rubirosa tells McCoy, and adds that Sterling signed in to the visitor's list at a hospital around Peakskill, and was there until 11 PM. McCoy says they should call Myers immediately and set up a meeting for early morning the next day.

At the jail, McCoy sees Myers come out of the cell block and exit the visitor's checkpoint. He asks her what's going on.

"Your client ready to tell us what the Hell's going on?"
—Jack McCoy

She doesn't answer. McCoy and Rubirosa are led into a shower block, where Sterling hung himself with a bedsheet.

Outside, Rubirosa reads Sterling's suicide note, in which Sterling confesses to murdering Cantwell. Rubirosa is confused, but McCoy says he gets it. Later McCoy tells Branch that Sterling was covering for someone — his wife. Removing him, only one other person fits the evidence. She could have used Sterling's car (hence the blood), had the same motive, and the phone call near her house to Cantwell implicates her even more if Sterling was out of town. Branch says they should arrest Dawn Sterling.

Dawn complains that the cops are being unfair and accuses McCoy of trying to humiliate her. She brings up the note, but McCoy says that he doesn't believe either of them. He asks her lawyer, Mike Jeffers what kind of deal he wants, but Jeffers says that they want a dismissal — Sterling already confessed.

"A preacher doesn't lie in a suicide note."
—Mike Jeffers

Jeffers says that the suicide note will convince any jury to vote 'not guilty,' but McCoy says he's moving to exclude the note.

McCoy tells Judge Nancy Roth that the suicide note is hearsay. Jeffers says that it's a dying declaration, an exception to hearsay in which dying people's testimony can be included, but McCoy says that the law only addresses murder victims, not suicides. Jeffers has no argument against this, and Roth rules that the note is excluded. But later, McCoy says that Jeffers and Dawn have three jailhouse witnesses saying that Sterling confessed to the murder at a prayer meeting. Branch says that they have an uphill battle; people will believe the suicide note of a preacher. He asks if the cancer patient that Sterling was visiting saw him, Rubirosa says that she was too heavily medicated. McCoy says that they'll be fine, but Branch says that the confession will influence the jury.

The lawyers talk to Jepson. He says he doesn't want to say anything about the matter.

"This matter is a murder trial. That means your involvement isn't optional. It's mandatory."
—Jack McCoy

Jepson again refuses. Rubirosa shows him a newspaper article talking about a New Promise Church sermon that asked its parishioners to vote for certain candidates. They threaten to revoke the church's tax exemption status, which for an entity the size of the church, could lead to a huge tax bill. Jepson admits that Dawn Sterling was terrified that Cantwell would destroy the church. He quotes what Dawn said.

"I'm not gonna let that deviant ruin my church."
—Dawn Sterling

In court, though, Jeffers asks that Jepson be barred from testifying, saying that he acted as Sterling's spiritual advisor. McCoy protests that Jepson is a CEO and isn't ordained, not a pastor, but Roth agrees with Jeffers.

"I'm not gonna sit here and attempt to parse who's a minister and who's not, Mr. McCoy."
—Nancy Roth

McCoy complains to Branch that the Church is a business, not a religious organization. Branch asks if they can win, and McCoy says it will be hard, since Dawn is a great liar.

Dawn testifies that Sterling said he would kill Cantwell to save the church. McCoy tries to object based on the marital privilege rule (spouses can't testify against each other), but is shot down. She says that Sterling came home that night with bloody clothes. Roth adjourns court for the day when the testimony ends, and McCoy tells Rubirosa to find some dirt on Dawn.

Rubirosa tells McCoy that Dawn used to be named Mary-Anne White, but she changed her name after being arrested for prostitution. McCoy says that he'll cross-examination will be bolstered, but Rubirosa wants them to push Dawn into a guilty plea — they can convince her by promising not to reveal the information if she pleads guilty. She says that she knows McCoy wants to go after the church (and when he denies this, she points out that he refused to call James Sterling 'Reverend'), but they still don't have much of a case. McCoy worries that a redemption story will help the church, but Rubirosa points out that Dawn clearly doesn't think so or she would have already told everyone about it.

McCoy offers a 15 year Murder 2 sentence. Jeffers rejects it, but Dawn looks more concerned. She says that her congregation will forgive her, but Rubirosa says they might forgive murder but not prostitution. She insists that her congregation won't abandon her, but when McCoy threatens to walk out, she says she'll take the plea. She says she's a good person, and then confesses to the murder. She accepts the plea bargain, despite Jeffers telling her not to — she says that, even if she can win the trial, it won't be worth it if she loses the church.

"The church. And my congregation. That is all I care about."
—Dawn Sterling