A man named Paul talks to his wife on the phone. He's in a fleabag hotel, is sitting in the dark, and is holding a gun. He demands to talk to his daughter as he brandishes his pistol.
"This is the last time I'm gonna talk to her, okay?"
Before Paul shoots himself, he hears glass breaking outside. He looks out his window and sees a huge fire in a neighboring building.
As firefighters work on fighting the fire, Green and Cassady exposit that the burning building was a church and that five churches have been burned this week. Fire Marshal Wood says that the church went up in flames extremely quickly, the fire was started just before 11:00, and that they found a body. Another technician says that the corpse's wallet was melted, as were his hands — dental records are the best chance to identify him. Cassady vows revenge.
"Whoever did this is going to burn too."
Next morning, Wood says that a fire was set at five different places. It looks like the same method as in the previous burnings. Van Buren wonders if the dead body is the arsonist, but Wood says that a security photo at one of the prior burnings shows two perpetrators. Also, a black SUV with a dented fender and a bumper sticker, but no plates, was seen at one of the prior burnings. Cassady comes back and says that the canvas didn't turn up anything. Green suggests that they have Rodgers ID the body, and Van Buren tells them to learn if the churches have any common traits.
Pastor Peter Shea goes on a short rant about the secularization of American culture.
"They've already removed prayer from our schools. The 10 commandments are gone from our courthouses. Burning churches is the next logical step."
Shea says that the night before, there was a basketball game lasting until 9:30. Green gets a call from Rodgers. In her office, she says that she managed to get a print — the body was Charles Nash, a schoolteacher. He died from several blows to the head, indicating that he wasn't the arsonist but was rather killed by him or her. Cassady then tells Van Buren that Nash was a coach and science teacher at one of the high schools in the basketball game. Van Buren wonders why Nash was at the church so late, but Cassady says that the other coach, upon leaving to go home, saw Nash still cleaning up. Green runs in with an address for Nash and his girlfriend, Kristin Saunders.
Saunders is horrified by the thought of Nash burning alive, and she breaks down in tears. She doesn't know of anyone that Nash was having troubles with. Cassady gets a call — a uniformed cop found the SUV. At the car, the officer says that the car fits the description perfectly, and while the PIN on the dash was scratched off the one on the doorjamb was still good. The car is registered to Emily Ward, a 44-year old lady. Cassady notes that the bumper sticker is for a death metal group and wonders why a middle-aged lady would have that sticker. Green asks if the car was reported stolen; the officer says no. Cassady opens the trunk and both detectives recoil from the scent of gas.
At a pub, Green finds Jason Ward, Emily's son. Ward claims the car was stolen, and that he didn't report it because his dad would get mad, but Green says that Jason paid a ticket on it a few days ago. Cassady notices another patron staring at them; she recognizes his hoodie from the surveillance photo. This patron is a friend of Jason's named Todd Barton.
"I really like that hoodie, Todd. I think I've seen it somewhere before."
Ward is interrogated by Green and Cassady, and Van Buren interrogates Barton. They both claim innocence, but the cops point out that tire tracks at the churches match their car. The boys protests that their friends will give them alibis, but the cops say that their friends will fold once the cops find marijuana in their rooms. Eventually they crack. They admit to burning the fourth four churches, but deny burning the fifth one. Barton saw the last fire on the news; that was why they ditched the car. They do have a valid alibi for the last burning — they were at a cocaine party. Later, Cassady gives Van Buren a report — the accelerant for the final fire was turpentine, not gasoline. Thus, they caught the arsonists, but not Nash's killer.
Principal Ron Hill of Christian Path Academy tells the cops that Nash, a bilogy teacher, didn't have problems with anyone. He says that his school is a Catholic school, but members from all religions can attend. Cassady finds several messages from a Jacob Reese on Nash's desk.The cops go to see Reese, who says that Nash flunked his daughter Mary on a term paper. Reese says that he met Nash and Nash agreed to let Mary write an extra credit assignment to make up the grade. He directs the cops to look into Nash's personal life, saying that rumors circulated about Nash using liquor and having girlfriends on the side. Later, Green gets Nash's cell phone records and finds that Nash called an Allison Dale several times. Dale has a prostitution record.
At a strip club, Dale protests that she wasn't sleeping with Nash. She says that she's a parent of a son at Christian Path Academy, and that Nash kept benching her son, who excelled at basketball, to let weaker students play. She was at the strip club the night of the murder, and the bouncers can verify it. She tells the detectives that Nash refused to teach Intelligent Design or creationism, and a parent's group got into a shouting match with him over it. She directs them to Claudia Murphy, the leader of the group.
Murphy says that she just wants other points of view in the classroom. She refuses to give a list of the parents in her group, saying that the members of the group have the right to privacy. The detectives go back to Hill, and after threatening him with public exposure, he turns over a petition that the parents group signed. Jacob Reese is the third name on the list. Green mentions that Reese said that Nash had set up an extra credit assignment to allow Mary Reese to pass; but Hill looks up her grade and finds that it's still failing.
Mary Reese says that she wrote her term paper not on the topic, evolution, but on problems with evolution. The cops quiz her on what Nash did with the extra credit and where she and her father were the night of the crime, but she contradicts her father's story at every point. Green catches her on her inept lying and demands to know the truth. Mary says that she wants to see her father. Cassady tells Green that Reese's cell phone records put him near the crime scene the night of the murder. They go to get a warrant.
Reese says he doesn't want to talk to the cops.
"I don't have to explain anything."
"Yeah, you do."
—Jacob Reese and Nina Cassady
Cassady finds turpentine, which Reese uses in his furniture refinishing business. Reese is arrested.
Judge Albert Bryce presides over an arrangement hearing. Reese and his attorney, Mr. Rowan, protest Rubirosa's request for remand. Rubirosa brings up Reese's religious objection to Nash teaching his daughter evolution, but Rowan says that Reese needs to be out of jail to take care of Mary. Bryce sets bail at half a million dollars.
McCoy thinks it's unlikely that Reese killed Nash over teaching evolution, especially since Reese apparently burned a church to cover his tracks. McCoy wants more information, and Rubirosa says she's going to talk to Mary's guidance counselor soon.
The counselor, Luke Thornton, says that he doubts that Reese killed anyone. He doesn't want to discuss his sessions with Mary, but Rubirosa threatens to subpoena him. Thornton says that Mary thought Nash had flirted with her. He doesn't know if they actually had sex, but says that she never saw him (Thornton) again after telling him about Nash. Later, Mary denies everything. Danielle Melnick comes in and stops the interrogation, saying they'll have to subpoena her to learn anything else.
In jail, Reese is offended by the lawyers talking to Mary.
"Trying to turn a child on her father. Is this how you seek justice?"
"You're in no position to lecture on morality, Mr. Reese."
—Jacob Reese, Jack McCoy, and Danielle Melnick
Melnick offers a plea to arson, but McCoy won't hear it. Reese objects when McCoy brings up the sex accusation. Melnick says that they're arguing justification. He was trying to save his daughter's life. Rubirosa objects that Reese was elsewhere, and McCoy asks what the threat was if Mary was across town.
"Like many Americans, my client believes in an All-Powerful God who punishes non-believers."
"Are you serious?"
—Danielle Melnick and Jack McCoy
Melnick says that Reese was leading his daughter away from God by teaching her evolution, thereby putting her at risk of being struck down and damned to Hell. He killed Nash to save her. McCoy is incredulous.
Judge Nora Glover is skeptical of the defense, but Melnick says that this is a valid use of the justification defense — Reese was trying to save his daughter's life. McCoy protests that the threat of damnation wasn't real, but Melnick says that Reese thought it was. McCoy again brings up the sex charge, but Melnick makes him admit that there's no evidence of that. McCoy says that this argument would only justify killing God, not Nash, but Melnick says that Reese saw Nash as pushing Mary towards damnation as surely as if he were pushing her off a cliff. McCoy brings up the church burning, saying that it shows that Reese isn't really religious,but Melnick says that a jury can decide that. McCoy wonders how Reese can prove what he believed, and Melnick has to admit that the jury will just have to evaluate what Reese says. Glover decides to accept the defense. McCoy protests that this is an insanity defense, not a justification one, but Glover says he can't dictate strategy to Melnick.
"Who am I to say that the defendant's belief in a literal God is not reasonable?"
"You are a judge. In a court of law."
—Nora Glover and Jack McCoy
McCoy demands a psychiatric workup of Reese, arguing that the defense is so terrible that anyone who would use it is obviously incapable of standing trial. Melnick objects, but Glover allows the psychiatric workup.
In a bar, Melnick approaches McCoy
"Who's winning, the Christians or the lions?" —Danielle Melnick
McCoy protests the insanity of the defense, but Melnick says that Reese refused every other option. She thinks it's idiotic, but thinks that it's crucial to allow Reese the chance to make his argument. McCoy protests that this defense would allow for religious terrorism.
"Let's just call this what it is: a Hail Mary."
Melnick shows a newspaper with the headline 'DA VS GOD".
Later, Branch complains that Glover should be removed from the bench, and Rubirosa points out that Melnick is making them argue religion instead of the evidence. She asks why they don't forego the psych evaluation and just crush Nash at trial, but McCoy says that Reese might be genuinely too delusional to stand trial. Branch thinks that religious people won't like seeing their faith used as an excuse to murder. Rubirosa says there's no evidence of the claim that Nash and Mary had an affair, and McCoy says that he just wants to win the competency hearing so the defense is withdrawn.
Reese testifies before Glover and the lawyers. Reese says that he couldn't transfer Mary to another school because he had no more money, and that he begged Nash to stop teaching Mary evolution, but Nash wouldn't. He quotes the Bible to indicate his beliefs that God might have punished Mary somehow if Nash convinced her that Darwin was right and the Bible was wrong. McCoy asks why he, as a lapsed Catholic, hasn't been damned. Melnick and Glover object to his sarcasm, so McCoy rephrases — why did Reese think that Mary would be damned when billions of other non-believers flourished. Reese says that he didn't hallucinate or have visions, but believes that his former wife got leukemia only after she had an affair. He rants about God smiting unbelievers.
"AIDS doesn't target homosexuals and fornicators by sheer dumb luck. Hurricane Katrina didn't wipe out New Orleans by chance?"
"You feared that a hurricane could strike your daughter, Mr. Reese?"
—Jacob Reese and Jack McCoy
McCoy points out that Reese had other options, but Reese just says that he's not crazy, but is a Christian.
Mary testifies. She says that he and her father got counseling through a church, and he became more religious after his wife died. Mary says that her father became a better father after becoming religious. She says that he hasn't given any signs of delusion or hallucination. McCoy asks how often Reese prays; before his wife died, Reese went to church once a week, but after, there were nightly Bible readings. McCoy has her read an email from her father; it talks about demons surrounding her and claims that her mother is burning in Hell. Mary protests that her dad isn't crazy. She says that, the night of the murder, she came home from her guidance counselor told her father that she was starting to question her faith because of Mr. Nash. She said that her father got angry over that news, but didn't lose his mind.
Outside of court, Rubirosa says that Olivet thinks that Reese is sane. Rubirosa realizes that Thornton said that he hadn't seen Mary in quite some time, but Mary just said that they talked the night of the murder. They go to talk to Thornton. After some pushing, McCoy and Rubirosa reveal that they learned that Mary was at Thornton's apartment a lot. They also learned that both Thornton and Nash were taking the same antibiotics at a Woman's Clinic — they had the same STD. Thornton admits that he had a relationship with Mary. He says that Jacob Reese became delusional with religious fervor, so he had to act like a father figure — but eventually it became more of a boyfriend-girlfriend relationship, and they had sex. He apologizes.
The lawyers talk to Mary. Rubirosa says that they learned about Mary's STD. Rubirosa points out that they know that Mary committed perjury, and Mary says that she's fine with that; she'll need somewhere to live once her father is arrested. She rants that she already knows she's going to burn in Hell from spending a year with her father's sermons.
The lawyers and Mary meet Melnick and Reese in a conference room. Melnick wants to know what's going on. Mary doesn't want to talk, but Reese yells at her to be honest. McCoy says that they'll have to prosecute her for perjury and for helping murder Nash. McCoy reveals Mary's STD medication. Melnick demands to know the truth and threatens to walk if Reese lies to her. Reese says that this doesn't change anything.
"You can make that transparent argument in court, Mr. Reese, but the only thing the jury will see is that you killed a man for having sex with your daughter."
"Nash led her into sin!"
"Charles Nash never had sex with your daughter, Mr. Reese. Did he, Mary?"
—Jack McCoy and Jacob Reese
Mary says that Reese became so angry when he found the pills that she panicked and just made up a name. She didn't want to get Thornton in trouble. McCoy points out that Reese's actions violated some of the commandments, and Reese begs that Mary not be punished. McCoy says that will only happen if Reese pleads to all the charges, and Reese nods.
Outside, Melnick asks what sentence Jack wants, and McCoy says that 25 to life sounds about right. He teases Melnick for being misled, and she admits that it wasn't the right client for her defense.
"I'll take that as a confession of error."
"How long has it been since your last confession?"
—Jack McCoy and Danielle Melnick
Melnick quotes a Bible verse about justice, which McCoy identifies. They part amiably.
- Note: final appearance of defense attorney Danielle Melnick