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Propping Up Their Patsy

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Whenever a crime is committed in fiction, the actual perpetrator has a tendency to make it look like someone else did it or outright accuse someone else.

Then, you have particularly insidious perpetrators, who, in a potential Plot Twist—often at first appearing to be an ally to the unfairly suspected party—will defend the accused or framed party to throw suspicion off of themselves, otherwise manipulate the situation to their advantage or further their own agenda. This can be an especially cruel way to twist the knife towards someone who has been subjected to wrongful accusations or convictions, particularly when nobody believes they are innocent until the actual perpetrator is revealed. Sometimes, to twist the knife even further, the true perpetrator won't be revealed until after the accused has died, potentially after being killed by the actual perpetrator.

This practice of "Propping Up Their Patsy" can also be downplayed if a perpetrator covers for their co-conspirators, especially if they are setting said co-conspirators up to take the fall for their crime.

A possible variation involves a guilty party legitimately trying to clear the person blamed for the crime, but not draw suspicion to themselves at the same time.

Compare and contrast Framing the Guilty Party, when the accused is set up either for a crime they actually did commit, or a crime unrelated to the crime they actually committed. Compare and contrast False Confession as well, when someone else falsely asserts their own culpability for a crime they didn't commit, especially when it involves Taking the Heat off of someone else. Similarly, contrast someone who Insists on Being Suspected to encourage a more thorough investigation, especially in cases where Everyone Is a Suspect. Compare and contrast Detective Patsy, when the culprit has someone investigate a crime they committed. Contrast …But He Sounds Handsome, when the culprit covers for another of their own identities (whether their primary identity or an alter ego) while incognito.

Since this is a trope involving the alleged innocence or guilt of suspects—discussions of which have a tendency to become controversial—this trope does not allow real-life examples.

This is a Betrayal Trope. All spoilers are unmarked. You Have Been Warned!

I'm telling you, Officer, these examples are innocent (I would know, because I framed them):

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    Anime & Manga 

    Comic Books 
  • One Archie Comics story has Archie freaking out over Mr. Weatherbee wanting to meet his father, believing he's in big trouble. After failing to sabotage their meeting several times, he has Reggie barge into their meeting to confess to a list of potential wrongdoings that might have warranted this meeting, then defending those wrongdoings in the hope of reducing the sentence. While he's at it, Reggie adds some of his own misdeeds to Archie's "confessions".

    Fan Works 
  • Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality: In a private discussion with Harry, Professor Quirrell declares that it's ridiculous for anyone to believe that Hagrid was responsible for Myrtle Warren's death fifty years ago and that the evidence points toward Voldemort being responsible. Not that he feels any need to tell Harry who and where Voldemort currently is, of course...
  • The Karma of Lies: After Gabriel is exposed as Hawkmoth, Lila goes to the police to testify about how he hired her as a model, painting herself as an Unwitting Pawn... of both him and Adrien. When she realizes that her mother and the police are starting to grow suspicious of Adrien, she immediately leaps to his defense, insisting that he couldn't possibly be involved with his father's scheming (though doing so in a way that implies Adrien is in fact guilty and that Lila is just too lovestruck to realize it). This helps her sell her innocent, naive image, especially after Adrien goes to report her stealing from him.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In The Fugitive, when U.S. Marshall Gerard, and a deputy go to interview Richard's closest friends, he interviews Dr. Nichols, Richard's best friend since medical school, who admits that he had an encounter with Richard that morning, and gave him some money. When Gerard asks what he thinks of Richard, Nichols tells Gerard and his deputy that Richard is a smart man and innocent of all charges. He should know; he's the reason why Richard was sentenced to death for the murder of his own wife.
  • In Knives Out, Hugh Ransom Thrombey-Drysdale, the Black Sheep of the rich Thrombey family, is the only one to help the late Harlan Thrombey's nurse Marta after the family turns on her for inheriting the estate. Marta believes she accidentally overdosed Harlan, but Ransom switched her medicines to get her to kill him and lose the inheritance he was told she'd be getting. As such, under the pretense of allyship, Ransom gets Marta's account of the events but learns his murder attempt using her failed due to her choosing the correct medicine. Ransom thinks quickly and continues to let Marta think she is guilty, yet encourages her to fight for the inheritance while he secretly goes to destroy the proof of her innocence so his plan to discredit her and get back the family money can still go through. Ransom's guilt isn't unraveled or suspected until Harlan's toxicology report is shown to detective Benoit Blanc and proves Marta administered the correct medicine.
  • In The Wolfman (2010), Sir John Talbot leaps to his son's defence when Lawrence is accused of being the werewolf that's been preying on the village, even warding off a gang of vigilantes with a shotgun and threatening to have his manservant snipe them from the rooftop of his manor. Initially, this seems to be a case of John going Papa Wolf, especially since Lawrence is a werewolf — he just hasn't killed anyone yet. However, Sir John is also a werewolf; unlike his son, he's a Fully-Embraced Fiend and directly responsible for all the murders in the village over the last twenty years — including that of Lawrence's mother and (more recently) his brother — and he's just covering his tracks. So, when Lawrence turns up covered in blood after his first full moon, no suspicion falls on Sir John.

  • A Feast for Crows: Cersei frames her daughter-in-law Margaery for adultery to get her arrested by the Faith Militant. In front of the court, she pretends to be indignant that anyone would be telling "lies" about "her beloved good-daughter" and pleads with the Faith to release her, while fully aware that they will not budge on the accusations.
  • Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire: When Harry's name comes out of the Goblet, almost everyone thinks he found a way around Dumbledore's age line because he wanted to break the rules and compete. Mad-Eye Moody argues that this is impossible, as only a skilled wizard could have fooled the Goblet, not a student. He spends the whole year helping Harry survive the Triwizard Tournament, seemingly to protect him from the person trying to kill him. It's eventually revealed that "Moody" was actually a Death Eater using Polyjuice Potion and only protected Harry because Voldemort needed him alive for his scheme to work.
  • Lancelot, the Knight of the Cart: Lancelot came into Guinevere's bedroom last night, first moving aside the iron bars that barred her window and cutting his finger in the process. Both are too horny and distracted to notice his injury, and he bleeds on her sheets a little as they have sex. The next morning after Lancelot has gone back to his own bed, their host sees the blood on Guinevere's sheets and concludes that Kay (known to be injured) was the one in Guinevere's bed last night. Guinevere swears up and down that there was no one in her bed, she just had a nosebleed. Lancelot likewise swears it was not Kay, and goes so far as to volunteer to be the champion in a Trial by Combat to defend Guinevere and Kay's honor.
    Lancelot: So help me God, no one who ever knew Kay the seneschal would doubt his word on such a point.
  • The Spy Who Came in from the Cold: Leamas's mission is to pretend to defect and frame Mundt, the head of East German intelligence, of being a spy for Britain. Leamas is interrogated by Mundt's subordinate Fiedler, who suspects that Mundt is a Double Agent. During the interrogation, Leamas denies that Mundt is a mole, but still gives Fiedler the evidence that seems to point the finger at Mundt. On a grander scale, this is Control's plan. Fiedler is right that Mundt is working for British intelligence. Leamas's testimony was supposed to give Fiedler the evidence to make his accusation. However, Control also arranges for Mundt's team to expose Leamas as a Fake Defector during the trial, discrediting the Fiedler's accusations and (genuine) evidence against Mundt and making it look like Fiedler is the one working for British intelligence.
  • In the Agatha Christie novel Towards Zero, the murderer frames first himself, which is easily discovered to be a frame-up, then his ex-wife. When she is accused, he is quick to defend her, partly to throw off suspicion from himself and partly as his plan to make her feel guilty for leaving him.
  • In "In a Good Cause—", Stock allows the leaking of fake documents implicating the Diaboli in Hostile Terraforming of a human colony. His plan is to have the other human polities distrust the Diaboli enough to prevent any alliances... and in order to make the picture more convincing, he has Earth denying everything as firmly as the Diaboli.

    Live-Action TV 
  • A variation occurs in The Afterparty; Yasper, having killed Xavier, comes to his best friend Aniq's defense when he becomes the prime suspect, aiding him in his investigation (while covering his tracks). Unlike most examples, this is less to protect himself, but more because he genuinely does not want his friend to take the fall.
  • American Vandal: Zig-zagged in both seasons:
    • In season 1, Dylan Maxwell is expelled after being accused of spray-painting penises on teachers' cars. Christa is one of Dylan's most outspoken supporters, starting a campaign on GoFundMe and selling "Free Dylan" t-shirts to raise funds for his legal defense. She even publicly announces that it was her (though that turns into an I Am Spartacus moment where everyone says it's them). It's suggested that she could be the vandal, though at other times it's treated like a Red Herring. In the end, it's implied that she was the true vandal.
      Peter: The Free Dylan t-shirts. The GoFundMe campaign. Were those protests of passion for Christa, or an attempt to clear her guilty conscience?
    • In season 2, Peter and Sam interview Grayson Wentz, a former St. Bernadine student who was expelled for a minor prank a year prior. He believes Kevin McClain isn't the Turd Burglar and is just the school administration's scapegoat; he also implies that the culprit is an athlete who the school is refusing to investigate to avoid a scandal. Both end up being true: Grayson is the actual Turd Burglar who masterminded everything, and manipulated both Kevin and star basketball player DeMarcus Tillman into carrying out individual pranks.
  • Burn Notice: In the pilot, Michael investigates a case in which a series of expensive paintings were stolen from a real estate tycoon's house. The police suspect his groundskeeper, even though the homeowner insists that his employee would never do such a thing. Michael soon discovers that the tycoon had "stolen" his own paintings as part of an insurance scheme. He defended his groundskeeper because he didn't want an innocent man to go to jail, but he did want to deflect suspicion away from himself.
  • The Closer & Major Crimes: Phillip Stroh uses his position as a defence attorney for accused sexual predators—including his own accomplices—to cover up his own crimes as a sexual predator himself.
  • Columbo:
    • In "Suitable for Framing", Dale Kingston is his aunt Edna Matthew's most ardent defender when she comes under suspicion of the murder of his uncle (and Edna's ex-husband) Rudy. That just makes it all the more heart-wrenching when a police search (encouraged by Dale so that Edna can be completely cleared as a suspect) discovers some of the missing paintings in Edna's house. Of course, then the police captain and Lieutenant Columbo to prove Dale was in possession of those same paintings after his uncle's murder...
    • In "Etude in Black", Alex Benedict announces to his orchestra's board of directors that Paul Rifkin couldn't possibly be responsible for the potential murder of pianist Jennifer Welles. Certainly, Paul does have a previous conviction of assault, but he's assuredly innocent of this crime! Alex should know, considering he killed Jennifer (and her pet cockatoo Chopin).
  • CSI: Miami, "All Fall Down": When Professor Bob Starling's mistress, Melissa, is accused of a murder he committed and he is presumed to be her next target, he dismisses the possibility of her being a threat to throw suspicion off of himself.
  • Day Break (2006): Detective Brett Hopper is framed for the murder of D.A. Alberto Garza and if captured, will be represented by an unassuming defense attorney. Thanks to a "Groundhog Day" Loop, he unravels a massive conspiracy that eventually turns out to be controlled by said attorney.
  • Hope & Faith: There's an episode centered on a trial of a woman accused of trying to poison her husband. In truth, she was being framed by her husband and daughter. During the trial, the woman's daughter acts as her character witness. She tells an anecdote about how she always fed her husband soup while he was sick, even when he didn't want to eat it, citing it as proof that she cared about him. The prosecution is quick to point out that the soup was found to be dosed with poison.
  • In House of Cards (UK), Prime Minister Henry Collingridge falls under scrutiny when his brother Charlie is believed to have taken advantage of classified information to trade shares in a company about to benefit from government decisions, making Henry guilty of insider trading (as his brother's only feasible source of info). Throughout the whole scandal, chief whip Francis Urquhart is Henry's strongest supporter and defender, advising him on how to handle the press and helping him to get Charlie away from the press. Of course, as Urquhart is a shameless Villain Protagonist, the audience already knows that he was the one who bought the shares in Charlie's name for the sake of creating a scandal that would dethrone Henry. Sure enough, Henry is forced to resign disgracefully, but not before thanking Urquhart for his undying support — leaving the Machiavellian schemer to move easily onto the next stage of his plan without earning a hint of suspicion.
  • Hunter (NBC):
    • Hunter (1984), "Case X": When Pornographer Tony Cochran's brother appears to be a suspect in a series of strangulations, Tony deflects accusations against his brother Vinny to throw suspicion off himself, knowing full well that Vinny is innocent of the crime Tony committed. After Vinny dies confronting Tony over his crimes, Tony makes Vinny's death look like a suicide and tries to make it seem like Vinny was the murderer.
    • The Return of Hunter: Everyone Walks in L.A.: Serial killer Jack Valko poses as a civilian to proclaim the innocence of his patsy to both play mind games with Lt. Rick Hunter, and to dodge suspicion while waiting for Hunter to figure out that he's the killer.
  • In the The Incredible Hulk (1977) episode "Of Guilt, Models and Murder", the Hulk is suspected of murdering a woman. As David Banner doesn't retain the memories of when he's the Hulk, he fears the suspicions can be true. However, a victim's friend, Sheila Cantrell, tells David that the victim was dead when the Hulk arrived and the creature was saddened for arriving too late to save her. It turns out that Cantrell was the murderer.
  • Innocent (UK): In both seasons, the culprit defends someone accused of their crime to further their own agenda, one more blatantly than the other:
    • In Series 1, David's brother Phil takes him in after his release from prison and defends his innocence on multiple occasions. This is because he killed David's wife Tara after she insulted him following him hitting on her.
    • Downplayed in Series 2. Though they do get divorced, Sally's husband Sam insists that he's always believed in her innocence, and there are several scenes that hint at his unresolved feelings towards her. He's simply lying to himself and perhaps trying to make sure she doesn't figure out the actual connection: that he murdered her pupil Matty because they were sleeping together (a crime of which Sally would be accused).
  • Many episodes of Murder, She Wrote have the "genuinely trying to clear the other person" version, with a close relative or partner of the prime suspect adamantly insisting they couldn't possibly have done it, until Jessica convinces them that the only way to save them is to confess. (A few have also had the "just deflecting suspicion" version.) Some cases complicate it by having the innocent party realise who the real murderer is before Jessica and take the heat on purpose.
  • Unforgotten: Played with.
    • Dr. Tim Finch in Series 3 is the serial rapist and murderer of young women who also killed Hayley Reid after she cleaned the house in which he and his friends were staying. Tim is also perhaps the "best" friend of the group, shown in his loyalty to them, especially to Chris, who lost everything after being falsely accused of accessing child pornography. After years of apparent devotion, he coldly tells the police he doesn't care if he ever sees any of his friends again. While it wasn't Tim who accessed it (Chris's accusation was a genuine mistake on the police's part), it's heavily implied that he maintained the friendship (especially with Chris) at least in part so they would come under suspicion for Hayley's murder, and deflect attention away from him.
    • In Series 4, Ram is propped up by Dean, who assisted him in an illegal smuggling operation for years because Ram knew that Dean had killed Matthew Walsh. Ram however says that he never went to the police because he knew that, due to his race, he wouldn't be believed over his (white) colleagues and would be immediately scapegoated for the cover-up.
  • You: In Season 2, Love tells Joe she plans to frame Ellie for Henderson's murder before having her lawyers exonerate her in order to poison the investigation into the murder, which Joe committed. Joe, not trusting that Love will free Ellie and not wanting to traumatise her further, helps Ellie escape LA.

    Tabletop Games 
  • One Night Ultimate Werewolf: If a werewolf or werewolf ally starts getting heat, other werewolves will come to their defense. Although, doing so may have the opposite effect and the innocent team will have found two guilty players instead of only one.

    Video Games 
  • Among Us: A potential strategy for throwing suspicion off of oneself involves coming to the defence of another player who is being accused of being the imposter, potentially by asking for proof. It's less suspicious if there is either only one imposter, or any other imposters are proven to be dead because then the player has no apparent motive for coming to the defence of an accused imposter when they cannot be co-conspirators.
  • Batman: Arkham Origins: Discussed. One of the blackmail tapes obtained from Enigma, alias the future Riddler, shows that the late Commissioner Gillian B. Loeb was talking with Harvey Bullock about setting up one for a potentially troublesome newcomer to the GCPD, one James Gordon. The plan in question would have made it seem like Gordon was having an affair, or at least giving Loeb potential blackmail on Gordon to shut him and his anti-corruption crusade up.
  • Persona 5: After the Phantom Thieves are framed for murdering Kunikazu Okumura, Akechi joins the group, claiming he wants to help them find the real culprit before the cops arrest a scapegoat. However, Akechi is actually an assassin for Shido, responsible for killing Okumura along with numerous other targets, and him joining the Thieves was all part of an elaborate scheme to murder Joker. Thankfully, it fails: turns out the Phantom Thieves were suspicious of him from the start due to how he overplayed his hand and set up their own scheme to counter his.

    Visual Novels 
  • Ace Attorney:
  • Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony:
    • Kaede Akamatsu has a noticeably sympathetic example. During the first trial, Shuichi Saihara and Miu Iruma come under suspicion due to proximity to the crime scene and having developed cameras used in the murder, respectfully. Kaede, the actual blackened, comes to their defense, since she is actually perfectly willing to confess and face execution, and the only reason she doesn't do that immediately is that she wanted to use the trial as an opportunity to find out the mastermind, her actual intended murder target, and end the Deadly Game. Upon realizing she can't find them, she fully confesses and proceeds to Face Death with Dignity.
    • Inverted with one of Kokichi's preferred methods of helping during Trials being accusing students he knows aren't the Blackened, as the group hates him enough to argue the opposite and prove the person's innocence.

    Western Animation 
  • An episode of Archer has a Cardinal hire the Camorra (essentially the Italian mafia) to assassinate the pope, then hiring ISIS to defend him under the assumption that their less-than-stellar track record would result in him being killed anyway. Naturally, ISIS succeed.
  • Clue Club: Double-Subverted. In one episode, Pepper and Dottie's Uncle "Salty" Boggs is accused of stealing a diamond from a display in a museum from which he was recently fired. Also suspected is the woman who owns the museum, as she is fully knowledgeable about the security systems that were protecting the diamond. The actual culprit was the man who owned a local lighthouse, and who had been forced to fire Uncle "Salty" from working the lighthouse due to budget cuts. He had expected his plan was foolproof and would have been a baffling mystery, never intending either Boggs or the museum owner to come under suspicion, and sincerely and earnestly pleads their innocence without revealing that he was the guilty party.
  • The Legend of Korra: In Book 2, when Judge Hotah sentences Korra's father and his accomplices to death for attempting to assassinate her secretly Evil Uncle Unalaq, Korra snaps and threatens the judge. Unalaq calms her down and pleads with Hotah, getting him to reduce their sentence to life imprisonment. Unknown to Korra, Unalaq and Hotah are in cahoots and the whole thing was a show trial.
  • Miraculous Ladybug: Lila steals the answers for a test, hides them in Marinette's bag, and uses an anonymous note to inform the teacher. When the answers are found with Marinette, Lila quickly tries to "defend" her. Marinette immediately realizes what Lila did and accuses her defender which only makes her look even worse.

Alternative Title(s): Defending Their Scapegoat, Defending Their Fall Guy, Defending Their Patsy, Propping Up His Patsy, Propping Up Her Patsy, Defending His Scapegoat, Defending Her Scapegoat, Defending His Fall Guy, Defending Her Fall Guy, Defending His Patsy, Defending Her Patsy, Guilty Defending The Innocent