Recap / Law And Order S 5 E 17 Act Of God

Late at night, a child throws a grappling hook onto an exterior ledge of a building that is under construction. He begins to climb. Outside the building, a man named Morris walking his dog. After some cajoling, the dog finally goes to the bathroom, but just after Morris finishes cleaning up, the building explodes and sends Morris flying.

Ambulances, firemen, and police have converged on the rubble. Morris tells the cops he didn't see anything, and explains that he was cleaning up after his dog. One of the local cops finds the bag of dog feces.

"Think forensics wants it?"
—Cop and Mike Logan

Morris is concerned about his dog, which ran off, and Logan tasks another cop to look for the dog. Meanwhile, Briscoe talks to a fire marshal. The marshal says that no one's answering the night number at the construction site, and that they need to wait for the site to cool before they can figure out what happened. Logan finds the boy, who is barely alive.

At the hospital, Mrs. Cunio, the boy's mother, frets. Logan asks what her son Robert was doing at the site; Cunio first claims that she told him to stay home, but then admits that Robert was really into rock climbing. An orderly comes in to inform Mrs. Cunio that Robert died in surgery, she sobs helplessly.

A tech tells the detectives that dynamite was used to bring down the building. The tech says that the dynamite was precisely positioned to blow up the support beams, then tamped down to center the blast. The materials are untraceable, but the dynamiter had some expertise.

At the precinct, Van Buren asks where the dynamite came from, and the detectives say that there was none on site — it was a renovation job. Van Buren complains that construction sites tend to yield lots of suspects. Briscoe lists a few, ending with insurance scams. The detectives go talk to Mr. Alex Gaston, the owner of the property. At his office, Gaston discusses the history of the project. The detectives get Gaston to admit that he'll collect $4.8 million, but he says that the insurance money pales in comparison to what he would have made in rent. Gaston is adamant that he didn't do it.

"Mr. Gaston, it's somebody's fault that the boy is dead."
"Yes, I know. But it wasn't mine."
—Mike Logan and Alex Gaston

Gaston refers them to Arthur "Buzz" Palley, the contractor.

Palley complains that he can't get to his trailer, and Brisoce exposits that it got buried in the blast. Logan asks who might have wanted to shut him down. Palley mentions the unions — he used non-union laborers to save money. He says that someone shot up his trailer, and thinks that either the unions did it, or a man named Calvin Tiller, who protests racial inequality in hiring practices. Palley says that Tiller claims to want more jobs for black people, but he really just wants a bribe to go away. Palley didn't pay the bribe, and also didn't yield to any union demands.

"There wasn't enough room in my bid to cover extortion."
—Buzz Palley

At a protest, the detectives talk to Tiller. He's dismissive and says that he's too busy fighting for justice to talk to the detectives. He riles up the crowd and says the police are there to inhibit racial justice. Tiller adds that, if they aren't going to arrest him, they need to make an appointment. They make one off-screen, and talk to Tiller in his office .Tiller says that he left when Palley wouldn't pay up. Logan asks why Tiller left if Palley didn't give in to Tiller's demands; Tiller says that justice is negotiable. He admits that he's basically extorting businesses, but says that he spreads the money around. Briscoe asks if Tiller blew up the building, but Tiller says that he wouldn't risk his good living by committing such a serious crime. He says that he wasn't offended by Palley and never gets emotional about his work. Lastly, he says that Palley wouldn't even speak with him. Outside, Briscoe jokes about Tiller defending himself from arson charges by admitting that he's an extortionist, and the detectives go talk to the union.

The union executive says that Palley didn't use the unions and had unsafe working conditions. He thinks an overworked strikebreaker probably blew up the building by mistake. He insists that they neither blew up the building nor shot at Palley. He adds that Palley almost ran over three picketers with a cement trunk.

Roy Beggs is the picketer captain that was almost run over. He talks about Palley trying to run them over, and a guy broke his arm dodging. When Beggs talked to Palley later, Palley threatened them and almost dared them to shut him down. He mentions that Palley lost his other job and that this job was doomed too. After Beggs leaves, Briscoe notes that Palley antagonized everyone he met, as if he wanted someone to shut down the project. The cops go talk to his previous employer.

The owner of the other building says that Palley stole concrete from his job to use at his other building, the one that blew up. He also mentions that Palley had access to dynamite at his site. Talking to Gaston again, they learn that Palley's bid was rather low. Briscoe asks what would happen if Palley couldn't afford to finish; Gaston says that he'd sue him, probably putting him out of business. Gaston then says that the contract has an "Act of God" clause releasing Palley from liability under disaster conditions; a bombing is one of them. Palley is off the hook.

At the precinct, Palley is being interrogated. Van Buren says that Palley has no credit and no money. Briscoe and Van Buren points out that Palley would have been bankrupt if the building hadn't blown up — Palley couldn't possibly have finished and Gaston would have sued. Palley says that he was about to get an investor to give him $2 million, which would have let him finish.

The detectives talk to the investor, Mr. Kee. Kee says that he didn't know of the explosion, and that he was exploring investment opportunities all over the world. Kee, however, decided later not to invest.

"When a company needs an investment to expand, that's good. When a company needs an investment to survive, that's not good... I took his books with me to study on the flight. By the time we reached cruising altitude, I knew we would be investing elsewhere."
—Mr. Kee

Kee left a message with Palley's wife, Christine, to that affect from the plane.

The detectives go to Palley's address, only to find his sister, Mrs. Lytle, instead of him or his wife. The sister says that Buzz isn't married and was crashing at her place since his trailer was destroyed — he'd been living there. She says that Palley is trying to get paperwork filed for a new job that he got.

Palley is sarcastic towards the detectives, and asks if Kee told them that he'd be investing with him. They tell him that Kee mentioned his wife. Palley said that he presented his girlfriend, Christine Chappel, to Kee as his wife — he thought Kee would like that more. The detectives go to another construction site to talk to Chappel. The detectives get to admit getting Kee's message, but she says she didn't give Palley the message — she didn't want to break the bad news to him. She says she thought Kee would send a letter.

Van Buren wonders if Chappel is lying for Palley. Logan points out that, if Palley knew that Kee would not have invested, he may have detonated the building out of desperation. Van Buren says to find out if there was anything related to bomb-making in Palley's trailer.

The technician from before says that no bomb making materials were in the trailer. In fact, no personal effects at all were in there, which is at odds with Palley's and Lytle's claim that Palley was living there. The technician says that anything personal must have been moved out before the explosion.

"Gee, isn't that a coincidence?"
—Mike Logan

Palley is interrogated again. He says he kept his stuff at his sister's place, but Briscoe points out that it was 4 miles away. Palley finally admits that he kept some things in the trailer, but says he took them to the laundry that night. He says that he was out walking at the time of the explosion. Logan is disbelieving, and so is Briscoe. Palley says that he lied about various things to hide his fiscal crisis. Logan asks why he tried to get the unions and Tiller to shut him down; Palley says he was just playing hardball. Palley lawyers up once Logan directly accuses him of killing Robert Cunio. Briscoe goes to talk to Van Buren and Kincaid. Van Buren points out that there's no hard evidence, but Briscoe counters that with the motive and various lies. Kincaid has them arrest Palley.

Palley's lawyer, David Pence, mocks the case and says there's no evidence. He says that the explosion was supposed to kill Palley; the bombs made the building collapse on his trailer. He asks if the police talked to Henry "Hank" Chappel, Christine's wife. The lawyers are stunned.

Schiff vents about the error. He thinks that Pence's theory has weight. McCoy says that they'll look into it, starting with talking to Christine again.

Christine insists that Hank didn't know about the affair. She's sure that neither Hank nor Palley did it. She can't provide an alibi for him, but insists that Hank is innocent. She says that Hank hangs out at a bar a lot.

At the bar, Kincaid talks to the bartender and a customer. The bartender can't give Hank an alibi either, but says that Hank knew about the affair and threatened Palley.

"...he stood on the bar and said he was gonna shoot the guy."

McCoy still thinks that it as Palley, but Kincaid says that she learned that Hank is certified to use explosives. McCoy says they need to get a search warrant.

At the Chappel home, Logan finds a gun matching the type used to shoot up the site, and Briscoe finds bomb-making materials. Hank is arrested. In interrogation, he has to admit to knowing about the affair, but says he didn't really mind since he was cheating too. He also has to admit to shooting at Palley's trailer — ballistics already matched the bullets — but still insists that he didn't blow up the building.

"I swear on a stack I did not set no bomb."
—Hank Chappel

The detectives talk about who to charge. Briscoe reports that the bomb-making items found in Hank's apartment match fragments found at the site. Hank is arrested.

In court, McCoy talks to a member of an explosives board, a man named Newbill. He confirms that Hank had the training to blow up the building. Hank's lawyer, Delores Harman, confirms that the test is studied for with easily available books that anyone could read, and further confirms that anyone who read those books and understood them could have set off the bomb.

Christine Chappel testifies next. McCoy asks if Hank knew about the affiar; Hartman objects that Chappel can't testify about what someone else knew, and Judge Eric Caffey upholds the objection. McCoy tries to ask if she ever talked to Hank about the affair, but that's objected to on the basis of Spousal Privilege. Frustrated, McCoy gets Christine to admit to spending one or two nights each week for six months with Palley, showing that, unless Hank was an idiot, he'd have known something was up.

Briscoe testifies, and Hartman brings up Palley's arrest. Briscoe has to say that they suspected Palley, and that no evidence arose to explain the suspicious facts about Palley. McCoy makes Briscoe admit that no one had checked to see if Palley had taken his clothes to the laundry, that no one had found bomb-making materials in his possession, and that no one on the police had even known that Hank Chappel existed.

"In retrospect, Detective Briscoe, is it fair to say that the arrest of Mr. Palley was premature?"
"I suppose so."
—Jack McCoy and Lennie Briscoe

Hank testifies in his own defense. He admits to shooting at the construction site in a drunken rage, but says he only wanted to scare Palley. He says that he couldn't have blown up the building unless he was sober, and he wasn't sober often at that time. He insists he didn't blow up the building. McCoy brings up that Hank's blasting license was suspended after he showed up drunk and assaulted the general contractor. He tricks Hank into saying that he could have rigged a simple bomb when he was drunk, and gets him to admit that he wished Palley was dead.

"But I didn't kill him!"
"No. But you tried."
—Hank Chappel and Jack McCoy

Hank is found guilty.

McCoy and Kincaid prepare to go out for drinks when Briscoe arrives. McCoy apologizes for the rough cross-examination. Briscoe says that a thought occurred to him — Palley said that he was taking a walk when the bomb went off, but he never came back. This implies that he knew the building would blow up. Briscoe thinks that he went off to avoid talking to the police so that they wouldn't know that he was living on the site and had a motive.

"You know, in retrospect, it does seem fair to say that the prosecution of Mr. Chappel was premature."
—Lennie Briscoe

McCoy resolves to figure out what's really going on.

Schiff doesn't want to reopen the case. McCoy and Kincaid think that Christine and Palley conspired to blow up the building; Christine supplied the materials and Palley pulled it off. The lawyers got a wiretap, but it hasn't produced anything yet, and is going to expire soon. Schiff tells them to shake the two up.

Later, the lawyers and detectives listen to the tape. McCoy called to threaten Christine, and Christine called Palley to worry. They didn't say anything conclusive, but Christine worried a lot about the detectives "knowing something." McCoy has Palley arrested.

Palley, Pince, Christine, and Christine's lawyer, Irene Krasner, talk. Krasner is dissmissive of McCoy's case. She points out that Hank's conviction will seriously damage the new prosecution, and she wants to suppress the tape.

Judge Elizabeth Mizener examines the search warrant. She doesn't see the problem, but Krasner points out that the wiretapping warrant excluded any information about Hank being convicted of the crime. Mizener agrees with Krasner and excludes the tape.

McCoy and Kincaid tell Schiff that they have basically no evidence.

"In the future, if we ever go to trial again, maybe we ought to know what we're doing."
—Adam Schiff

Schiff orders McCoy to get Hank out of jail. But later, when McCoy talks to Caffey, he refuses. He says that he won't release Hank because that would be going against the jury's decision and would be against the American system of justice. Unless McCoy can find an appeal issue or convict someone else, Caffey won't release Hank.

McCoy and Kincaid talk about the case. McCoy decides to change their theory. He says that, if they allege that Christine and Hank committed the crime together, the prior conviction actually helps them, and the tape would be admissible. Kincaid points out that they know this is bogus, but McCoy says sarcastically that they wouldn't want to go against a jury verdict.

The lawyers talk to Krasner and Christine. McCoy explains the new theory.

"I'm the first one to admit when I make a mistake."
—Jack McCoy

Kincaid and McCoy further say that Hank will testify against her. Christine doesn't believe that Hank will lie to convict her, but the detectives have Hank step in, and he says that he'll say Christine did it. Krasner points out that this is suborning perjury, but McCoy basically says that he doesn't care. Hank demands to know why Christine set him up, and Christine has no answer. Hank is led out. Christine confesses to everything, saying that she got Palley the explosives and that it was Palley's idea. Palley had no other way out besides bankruptcy. McCoy offers 10 years for arson and manslaughter, and she accepts.

Later, Kincaid says that Hank was released, and that Palley wants a deal. McCoy says that he won't deal with Palley. He's upset about convicting the wrong man first. Schiff says that it could be worse, New York could have the death penalty.