A TV shows the program 'Hard Focus,' which is doing a special on busting pedophiles. Several men in succession enter a house, thinking that they'll meet a young girl there, but instead encounter a television crew. The host of the show reads sexually explicit chat logs written by the men when they were talking to decoys posing as children, and the television voiceover explains what's going on. A lady, Sandra Wallace, is talking to her mother on the phone, defending the show.
"Of course they always catch the bad guy. If they didn't, they'd be schlubs."
The television shows one man trying to talk his way out of the situation, blustering that the decoy had said she was 19. He apologizes to the cameras. Wallace recognizes the man, a neighbor named Carl Mullaly. Later, a delivery man rings an apartment doorbell, then enters when he finds it's unlocked. He sees Mullaly's body and flees.
Green talks to a uniformed cop, who says that nothing was taken from the apartment. Green enters the place and notes that there are no signs of a struggle, so either Mullaly was surprised or knew the killer. The uniformed cop adds that the body was found just after 11 PM. Green goes to talk to the medical examiner, Brooks, who says that the body was killed within three hours and has at least three stab wounds. A cop then tells Green that Cassady wants him, so he leaves.
Cassady is in Wallace's apartment, and she and Wallace tell Green that Mullaly had been outed as a pedophile. She replays the TV show, and shows Mullaly again apologizing to the camera. Cassady says that the show aired just after 9.
"No wonder Mr. Mullaly's dead."
In the laundry room of the apartment complex, the detectives talk to a couple. The man is excited about the murder; the woman is more reserved. They didn't know anyone that didn't like Mullaly, but they do say that Mullaly's neighbor, Evan Fleming, has a small child.
Fleming says that he was working his shift in the ER until 10, and got home around 10:30. His daughter, he says, was already asleep. He's got his daughter Abigail on his shoulders, and she says she was sleeping and didn't hear anything. Fleming also claims not to have heard anything, saying that he'd been working for 12 hours and crashed once he got home. He does admit to seeing the Hard Focus segment, which was on in the break room. Green asks how he can be so calm when his neighbor was just revealed to be a pedophile, then murdered, the day before.
"I don't work in an ER because I'm prone to panic. And Mr. Mullaly isn't living next door anymore, is he?"
Cassady tells Van Buren that no one knew Mullaly was a pedophile until the show. Van Buren asks how the show found him, and Cassady says that Mullaly took the bait by a decoy posing as a 12 year old child. The decoy worked for ScumWatch, a pedophile-watch organization. Van Buren points out that Fleming was home at the time of the murder, but Cassady says he has no record. Fleming's wife left years ago; his daughter is his only family. Cassady sympathizes with Fleming, saying that others on the Hard Focus segment had said incredibly perverse things. Van Buren mocks this.
"Public service homicide?"
—Anita Van Buren
She says that Hard Focus doesn't solve the problem; it's just a TV show trying to get viewers by being as shocking as possible. Green shows up with Mullaly's cell phone records, which had a lot of calls from a Hannah Welch. The calls were all very short — fifteen seconds or less — and one occurred an hour before the murder.
At Welch's job, the receptionist says that Welch has locked herself in the bathroom. Cassday says she'll coax Welch out, and after Green asks her a few questions to make sure she knows what she's doing, he agrees. In the bathroom, Welch says that she was Mullaly's girlfriend, she was at a movie the night before, and she only just learned about the Hard Focus segment. She at first claims that she hadn't talked to him in a few days, but when Cassady asks about phone calls she says she did try to get in touch with him, but he had just been fired and wouldn't talk to her. Cassady asks where he used to work; she says that it was at a daycare center.
At the center, Green and Cassidy talk to one of the managers. The manager first tries to say that Mullaly just left because it was time to move on, then says that the show sickened him, but the cops point out that Mullaly had been fired before the show. The manager says that he was tipped off a few weeks ago that Mullaly was a molester. He asked Carl about it and Carl went ballistic, and then got fired. The guy who tipped him off said he was Carl's neighbor — Fleming.
In interrogation, Fleming says he doesn't want to get involved.
"You went to his job to get him fired, isn't that getting involved?"
He says that he got an anonymous note under his door stating that the man was a pedophile; unfortunately, he threw out the note. He says that he had a shrink talk to Abigail after getting the note and the shrink said that Abigail wasn't abused. Fleming says he didn't say all this earlier because he doesn't really want the murderer caught.
"Look, I didn't kill him. But when you find out who did, let me know. I'd like to buy him a steak."
Green gets a call, and he and Cassady have to leave.
At a hospital, a cop says that the other main focus of last night's Hard Focus show was just found assaulted at a bus stop. Green and Cassady look into the hospital room, where the man's head is bandaged and he's obviously been beaten up. Green muses that anyone on the Hard Focus show now has a target on their back.
The man, Greg Hightower, says he got jumped from behind. He describes the man and his car, including a partial license plate. He blames Hard Focus, saying that the show violated his rights. He also whines that he wasn't doing anything sexual at the decoy's house.
"Just don't forget that I'm the victim here!"
—Greg Hightower and Nina Cassady
Cassady and Green quickly catch the man who assaulted Hightower, Howard Lowe. As they walk him to the courthouse, he says that he's disappointed that Hightower lived. Cassady asks how he became a vigilante; he says that his daughter had been raped and killed during a school trip to New York. He says he didn't do anything to Mullaly, and was in face out of town. They ask how he found Hightower; as it turns out, Scumwatch told him — they keep tabs on everyone on their show. He calls the police impotent and Green snaps at him, but Lowe doesn't care.
"My daughter's dead. There's nothing more that you can do to me."
A guy at Scumwatch says that they ask any visitors who are looking for violent retribution to leave. He adds that everyone at the company agrees with this; none of them are vigilantes. Cassady asks who else would have the information on the pedophiles; he says that Hard Focus gets copies of everything.
Ellie Harper, the director of Hard Focus, chews out a subordinate for a poor editing job.
"He looks like a wounded puppy, not a menace to society."
She says that she can't believe the cops have a problem with outing pedophiles. Green says that he has a problem with the show inciting violence, but she says she's within her first amendment rights. She says that Mullaly said sick and perverted things, and gives the cops his chat transcripts. Cassady says that someone might have wanted revenge, but Harper points out that the show was filmed weeks ago; anyone at the network could have already killed Mullaly before the show aired.
At the station, Green and Cassady tell Van Buren that no one at Scumwatch or Hard Focus has a criminal record of any significance. Van Buren says that they need to see if any of the workers called Fleming, and Cassady says they should see if anyone called Welch too — she still thinks Welch is a viable suspect. No one saw her at the movie theater, and she has no ticket stub. On the other hand, she has no record and hasn't even been in town very long. Green curses when he reads one of the phone records — it was Fleming that called for delivery the night of the murder.
"Who orders dinner for a dead man?"
—Anita Van Buren
The cops call Fleming on the phone call. They threaten him with 25 years in jail. He insists that he didn't kill anyone. Fleming says that he did go see Mullaly, but Mullay had already been killed. He called the delivery guy so he wouldn't have to get involved. The cops ask why he went over there in the first place; he says that he woke up in the middle of the night, and Abigail told him that she'd heard a fight and saw a woman running away from Mullaly's place with a knife in her hand. Cassady is skeptical.
"You've been changing your tune an awful lot, Mr. Fleming."
He says that he tried to cover this up so Abigail wouldn't have to testify.
Outside the interrogation room, Green and Van Buren are convinced that Fleming did it, but Cassady still thinks Welch might have. She wants to bring Abigail in. Van Buren points out that Abigail earlier said she didn't hear anything, indicating she was coached then, so she's probably not a reliable witness. Cassady doesn't think it makes sense for Fleming to get Mullaly fired and then kill him, and also thinks it odd that he'd kill Mullaly, then arrange to have his body found. She says that her gut says to pursue Fleming's story. Van Buren goes along with it, but she wants to do the questioning herself.
Abigail says that she heard yelling, and noticed that her father was asleep. She adds that she saw a woman running away, and that she saw the woman before — it was her who dropped off the note saying that Mullaly was a pedophile. Abigail didn't read the note, but remembers what the woman looked like. Later, she picks Hannah Welch out of a lineup. Welch is arrested. As Cassady Mirandizes her, she screams that Mullaly deserved it.
"He deserved to die, don't you understand that?! He's a monster!"
"It's still murder."
—Hannah Welch and Nina Cassady
At trial, Welch pleads not guilty. Rubirosa asks for a million dollars in bail, citing Welch's lack of community ties and the serious nature of the crime. Welch's attorney, Mr. Depago, says that anyone who watched Hard Focus could have killed Mullaly, which is about 17 million people. Rubirosa brings up the witness, but Depago points out that Welch was dating Mullaly, and adds Abigail is a young child whose fathered was suspected of the crime until Welch was arrested. He begins to grandstand, but Judge Martha Archer shuts him down.
"She would have said it was the Tooth Fairy if it deflected the blame from her father!"
"I would work on your material before facing the cameras outside, Mr. Depago, especially since you went to such trouble getting them here."
—Mr. Depago and Martha Archer
In a conference room, Welch claims self-defense — she says that she saw the show, confronted Mullaly, and defended herself when he flew into a rage. Depago argues for a probation sentence, which McCoy rejects.
"We might as well send out invitations to execute suspected pedophiles."
Welch says it's ridiculous that Mullaly molested people but McCoy wants to arrest her for killing him. She asks who's side he's on.
"For the purposes of this trial, Mr. Mullaly's. Are we done here?"
Depago mocks him as he and Welch leave.
Later, McCoy tells Branch that they'll win the case. Mullaly has no defenses or offensive wounds and there are multiple stab wounds, indicating that it wasn't a case of self-defense. The stab wounds don't match any of Mullaly's knives, so Welch probably brought her own. McCoy says they have a solid case, but Branch says that the jury will sympathize with Welch. McCoy says he's uncomfortable with the Hard Focus show, since it convicts people in the eyes of the public without an actual trial, but Branch says that it does help get pedophiles locked up. Rubirosa adds that Hard Focus paid Welch's bail, and McCoy guesses that it was in exchange for an interview. McCoy asks if he should plead the case out, but Branch just says he's cautioning McCoy. He says they need to find if Welch has any dirty secrets. She just moved into New York from Pittsburgh, so Rubirosa says she'll go there to look into Hannah's past.
Rubirosa asks an ex-boyfriend of Hannah's why they broke up; he says they just needed some time. They still talk, though. He says that he never heard of Mullaly from Welch, but does say that she had roommates a few weeks ago. Rubirosa says that Hannah's apartment was a small dump in the East Village, but the boyfriend says that Hannah until recently lived with five roommates in the Upper West Side. He gives Rubirosa the address.
The doorman says that six people were in the apartment, but they all left at once when Hard Focus stopped paying for it. Rubirosa gets a forwarding address, then goes to Brooklyn to meet one of the roommates — a man named Kyle Risko. Risko doesn't want to talk about anything involving Hard Focus, but agrees to once Rubirosa threatens to subpoena him. She asks why Hard Focus paid for the apartment, and he says that they wanted to hear his story — he was molested by his soccer coach when he was younger. Hard Focus was doing a reality show on victims of abuse confronting their abusers. He answered an ad, flew to New York, interviewed, and made the cut. Unfortunately, the show was canceled, hence Hard Focus cutting off their rent.
McCoy clarifies that Welch wasn't really dating Mullaly. Rubirosa says that Mullaly probably molested Welch — they were from the same city, and he worked with her father. McCoy says that this is clearly a revenge case, not self defense.
In an interview in McCoy's, Welch says that Mullaly raped her.
"There's a system in place to handle that crime, and it's not on Prime Time."
Welch blames the show. McCoy is highly skeptical at first, but Welch says that Ellie Harper sent her to Mullaly's with a knife and a video camera. Harper gave her the knife. Rubirosa asks why Harper bothered since the show was canceled, and Welch says Harper was trying to get it back on the air.
McCoy and Rubirosa talk to Harper and her attorney, Wendy Weiss. Weiss says that Harper wasn't involved, but Rubirosa says that Harper instigated the confrontation. Weiss cuts off Harper's defense of herself, and says that Harper gave Welch the knife for defense. McCoy says this is depraved indifference homicide. Harper says that she creates theater for TV, and to do that, she has to put conflicting forces together. Weiss and Harper leave. The prosecutors decide to go talk to the network head.
The President of the 24/7 News Network says that he'd like to help but doesn't know specifics about the show. He confirms that he canceled the proposed reality show "Confront and Heal," saying that it was too soft for the market. His lawyer, Ken Lesavoy, enters, and McCoy says they need all of Hard Focus's records. The network head says that McCoy seems to be looking for headlines, attempting to prosecute Harper for the murder, but McCoy says he just wants the truth. Lesavoy says that giving up those records would violate confidentially and privacy agreements, McCoy gets out a subpoena, and the network head says that it won't be necessary — he gives McCoy permission to look at whatever he likes.
"Watch our tapes. I hope you find them... entertaining."
Branch and McCoy watch Welch's audition tape. She's visibly traumatized, and says she'd like to kill Mullaly. Branch is unconvinced that this is enough, but McCoy says that a psychologist said Welch was unfit for the show. Branch is still skeptical. McCoy says that journalists report news, but Harper arranged the murder. He says he's prepared to put Harper on trial. Branch gives the okay.
Welch testifies that Mullaly molested her on camping trips that he took with her and her family. She says that Ellie Harper was responsible for all her preparations to confront Mullay; she had Hannah talk to a therapist, role-play, keep a diary, and gave her martial arts lessons. She adds that Harper got her a knife, then gave her a pep talk to encourage her to go through with the confrontation. She talks about the confrontation itself — she showed up at Mullaly's, and while he was surprised, he let her in. He denied raping her, then when she kept at it, argued that she seduced him. At that point, Welch lost control and stabbed Mullaly. Later, Harper warned her not to talk to anyone.
Weiss confirms that Welch went to the show, and Mullaly's door, voluntarily. Welch said it felt like brainwashing. She says that the show made her sign papers, but Weiss points out that those were just releases.
"A waiver, Miss Welch, not a contract of indentured servitude."
Weiss confirms that Welch hid the knife, and is testifying as part of a plea bargain for leniency. Weiss challenges Welch, saying that while she (Welch) was terribly abused as a child, she doesn't have the right to blame Harper for what she did. McCoy objects, and Weiss withdraws her last statement and ends her cross-examination.
Harper testifies, saying she wanted to get a tape of 'a woman reclaiming her dignity.' She says that she was devastated at the news of Mullaly's death.
"I'm a producer, for God's sakes. A journalist. Not a criminal."
McCoy says that Harper creates news, not just reports it, but Harper says that what she does is still news. They argue about the audition tape, with Harper downplaying the threats of violence, but McCoy quotes the part of the transcript when Hannah threatened to kill Mullaly. Harper stammers that she talked with Welch later and got her to back down from her threats. McCoy says that Harper gave Welch combat training and a weapon, then sent her to Mullaly's. Weiss objects to McCoy's increasingly strident testimony, and Judge Laura Oldman sustains the objection, but McCoy keeps going. He says that one has to wonder if Harper's goal was to get a murder on film. Weiss again objects, and Oldman again sustains the objection. McCoy asks if a polite talk between Welch and Mullaly would have given the network reason to resurrect the show. Harper says it may have. McCoy asks why they chose Welch when Welch threatened to kill. Weiss starts to object but can't find a reason, and Harper can't answer the question.
Branch talks to McCoy while he writes his summation. He asks if they're going after Harper because they haven't adapted to the changing TV shows. He says, in his day, the TV shows were all about idyllic towns where people only drank malts and went to 'sock-hops' together.
"...the programmers have caught up with the reality?... Nothing's changed since Shakespeare's time, when people thronged to watch the bear-baiting."
Branch says that people on the jury like Hard Focus, and McCoy needs to be careful not to alienate them in the vain hope of taking down Hard Focus. McCoy says that he doesn't care about gross or stupid reality TV shows, but insists that no show can broadcast murder.
Weiss's summation extolls the virtues of Hard Focus. She describes one of the criminals.
"...moments later he was arrested, naked, wearing bunny ears on his head."
She says that the public wants that kind of TV, and Harper is just giving the public what it wants. She says that Harper is ambitious and pushes the envelope, but isn't a murderer.
McCoy says that even reality TV show fans know that shows like Survivor and Fear Factor aren't very realistic. Some find it fun, McCoy concedes, but the murder is out of bounds. McCoy says that staging events for cameras and faking news is common these days, but it still does real harm. Sometimes the law can't punish instances of fraudulent or fakes news, but in this case they can — Harper set up a fight, someone died, and she can be held accountable.
"...a man being stabbed to death is not entertainment. It's murder."
Harper is found guilty.
Branch and Rubirosa joke that someone from Hard Focus wanted to interview McCoy. McCoy chewed them out and hung up. Branch says that the Hard Focus special about Mullaly's murder will get a huge audience.
"I'll be reading a book."