SVU Episosde #14-10: Presumed Guilty

Sure, there were hookers in Santa hats, pedophile priests, and a gory Christmas Eve shootout. But the one question SVU fans were buzzing about by the end of “Presumed Guilty” was this: Whose masculine mystery hand Olivia was holding as she flew to the Bahamas for a winter holiday tryst?

Recap: We open with a montage of Christmas goodwill featuring Father Shay, a priest with cheeks so rosy and a smile so benevolent you just know he’s hiding something dark and terrible beneath those robes. Indeed, your sex-offender radar probably started chirping when he sat in his car with adorable eight-year-old Sofia, who handed him a handmade Christmas card. Did he hover over her just a little too long before leaning down to hug her? Someone certainly thought so. The car door is yanked open, the priest dragged out and viciously beaten. Sofia screams and runs.

The primary suspect is Sam, Ice-T’s ex-brother-in-law, who’s found dazed at the scene. Sam swears he was just trying to pull the real assailants off the priest, but as a thrice-convicted parolee, his credibility is slim. Sam is arrested.

Here, folks, is where SVU’s involvement would have ended in real life. Two big reasons: (1) There’s no sex crime. Catholic Church sex-abuse scandal notwithstanding, it’s still not a crime for a priest to sit alone in a car with a girl. (2) Ice-T cannot investigate a crime where his family member is the prime suspect. Neither can any of buddies on the squad.

But this is SVU, and the night is young. Moving on…

Ice-T and his friends work to clear Sam’s name. They talk to the Monsignor at St. Horatio’s, who supervised Father Shay before the priest was suspiciously transferred many times. They question Father Shay himself, who is frustratingly vague and unforthcoming. They talk to Sofia’s mother, who swears that Father Shay is a really nice guy.

And then they talk to the guy whose fingerprints are on the priest’s car door – Enrique, who says his sister, Angelica, was molested by Father Shay a decade ago. Enrique admits he beat up the priest when he saw him in a similar position in the car with Sofia. Sam was just the Good Samaritan who pulled Enrique off.

The detectives try to get Sam released from jail based on Enrique’s confession, but the stubborn ADA refuses to let him out, wryly noting that Enrique’s statement was obtained by Sam’s brother-in-law.

Finally, the detectives talk to Angelica herself. She says that Father Shay didn’t molest her – it was actually his supervisor, the Monsignor! Not only did the Monsignor rape her to “exorcise her demons,” he then forced her to have an abortion. Angelica’s stupid brother Enrique beat up the wrong priest.

Father Shay didn’t molest anyone. But . . . he did have an affair with Sofia’s mom. Sofia is actually his biological daughter, which is why he was so squirrely about the whole thing. This is one messed up parish.

By now, it’s Christmas Eve. Ice-T rushes to a judge’s home and gets the judge to sign papers releasing Sam. If only the detectives worked so quickly to arrest the Monsignor! Nick gets an arrest warrant for the Monsignor, but arrives at the judge’s house some time after Ice. We’re treated to another holiday montage: children singing in a choir, Ice-T sitting Norman-Rockwell-style for Christmas dinner with Sam, and Nick waiting outside the Cathedral with a warrant to arrest the Monsignor.

Too late.

We should have known, right? It’s been – what? – fifty minutes and hardly any blood. Holidays, schmolidays, this is still SVU.

Angelica storms into the holy night mass, draws out a big shiny revolver, and blasts several holes in the Monsignor’s chest. He dies, moaning and bleeding onto the marble floor.

Merry Christmas!

Olivia, thankfully, missed the holiday drama. She’s on a plane to take the first vacation I’ve seen her take in the last three seasons. She tells Nick she’s going with “a friend” – but we only see a glimpse of that friend’s mysterious hand, which set the Internet ablaze with speculation. Olivia smiles coyly at its owner’s face – which is offscreen – and the plane smoothly hits cruising altitude.

I hope she has a good vacation. She’s certainly earned it.

Verdict: B-

What they got right:

It’s true, only the most junior ADAs get stuck with court duty on holidays weekends.

What they got wrong:

Most of the episodes this season have featured cases the SVU squad shouldn’t be investigating. Detectives can’t investigate their relative’s cases. What juror could believe Ice-T when he said he obtained Enrique’s confession? Ice had a clear incentive to lie: to get his brother-in-law off. As soon as Sam was arrested, the entire SVU squad should have been walled off the case. (Not to mention the whole no-sex-crime part.)

As a writer, I understand the urge to make the case be about a main character’s relative. It ups the stakes, and makes things personal, and that’s what dramatic writing is all about. But this plot twist can’t happen in real life, and although I’m willing to suspend some disbelief, the fact that it happens every Wednesday night is making me throw a lot of popcorn at the TV.

The ADA got a lot wrong, even for a rookie on his first holiday assignment. The most glaring problem was that, at the detention hearing, he didn’t turn over Enrique’s confession. Major mistake, one for which he could get disbarred! At the detention hearing, Ice-T ran in and handed the ADA the confession. The ADA scoffed, then turned to the judge and argued to keep Sam in jail. In real life, a prosecutor is obligated to turn over Brady material – that is, evidence that the defendant didn’t commit the crime charged. This is especially important at a detention hearing, where the defendant’s very liberty is at stake. For all his self-righteousness, this ADA made one of the most serious errors a prosecutor can make.

Moreover, even after it was clear that Sam was only a Good Samaritan who stopped the real assailants, the ADA kept pressing charges against Sam, arguing that touching anyone else violated Sam’s probation. The ADA was wrong. There is a legal doctrine called “defense of others” – which is like “self-defense,” except when you’re saving someone’s life besides your own. Sam was legally allowed to pull the crazed Enrique off Father Shay. If touching someone violated Sam’s probation, that was something the Probation Board should take up – not the criminal courts.

What do you think, SVU fans? Have we reached the point where a priest alone in a car with a kid is automatically “presumed guilty”? Is this the world’s worst diocese? And who do you think is the owner of that mystery hand? Leave your comments!


  1. Toko Bali says

    Similar to the every-week-is-now-family-member-week complaint, there are a lot of non-sex crime stories, or stories with a sex crime randomly thrown in their to make it fit. Seems like the sex-crime formula is to limited, and SVU tries to cheat itself into stories which would have appeared on the original L&O.

    Speaking on the original L&O, is Denis O’Hare the only actor Dick wolf knows who can play a priest? The man has 7 appearances on all L&O series, 3 of which as a priest. Perhaps a little variation for ol’ Denis would be nice, make him a bishop next time? 😛

    And 10 bucks says the mystery hand is David Haden again. Or Munch. Or Peter Griffin.

  2. aurora says

    I’d say if a catholic priest is alone anywhere with a boy, he would be presumed guilty, but not a girl though

  3. Julianne says

    FIRST OF ALL EVERYONE SHOULD BELIEVE THE HAND WAS ELLIOT STABLERS ….if it was David Haden or anyone else Dick Wolf would have shown their face…he just wants there to be a suspense in the episode and show that Elliot is back. If it was David or Brian Cassidy i think Liv would have told atleast one of the SVU squad members. She said it was a “special friend” and neither Amanda Rollins or Nick Amaro have a clue who Elliot Stabler really is and what he meant to Olivia

  4. Josh says

    Funny ALOT of law and order purists seemed to hate this episode because of the personal stuff. I’m of the opposite. I still hated it, but I found the personal stuff more interesting than the case. I hated this episode for all the reasons you listed above in the wrong section allison. This was really lazy for the writers, more so than usual.

    Apparently all priests in the law and order universe are guilty of sin worthy of blackmail or pedophilia.

    Also Amanda does have family in New York, or does going through tough times with her sister mean they can’t enjoy Christmas dinner together? Not that I didn’t enjoy Amanda having christmas dinner with Ice-T and his family on some level. But it just feels like her family was ignored.

    If I were a bettin man, I’d say the hand belongs to Brian Cassidy, or did I miss something in the premiere, where we got closure over that kiss, and I just didn’t see it?

    • Toko Bali says

      “Also Amanda does have family in New York, or does going through tough times with her sister mean they can’t enjoy Christmas dinner together?”

      Cocaine and speed take away your appetite. Amanda’s sis doesn’t need a whole Christmas dinner.

      • Josh says

        * Replace Ice T with Fin above.

        I don’t see how that can’t stop you from bonding during the holidays.

        Also I love (as in hated) how Angelica decided that NOW was the perfect time to do what she did at the end of the episode. Not at any time between then and WHEN the rape happened.

        To end this talk about an awful episode on a positive note, did anyone else love Olivia’s line to Nick, “Next year I expect jewelry.”?

    • Josh says

      “If I were a bettin man, I’d say the hand belongs to Brian Cassidy”

      I also provide lottery numbers. 😉

  5. Catherine says

    Please get the facts straight next time. The rookie ADA didn’t turn over Enrique’s confession at the detention hearing because it didn’t exit at that time. The detectives hadn’t even found out who Enrique was yet. What Fin handed him was a statement from Father Shea that Sam wasn’t his attacker. Under the circumstances, I really don’t blame the ADA for questioning its validity instead of presenting it to the court.

    • Josh says

      Yes, but even then why didn’t that ADA say that he had received something involving the case and needs some time to go over “new evidence presented”? Instead he went about business as usual as if Fin’s words didn’t mean a thing. If he’s going to assume that a confession/statement is questionable, and thus invalid EVERY TIME a family member is involved in some way, then his ass is going to be grass sooner rather than later.

      Add that to Sam’s incompetent counsel (as James Pollock pointed out below) and why he didn’t ask Fin about “evidence” proving his clients innocence, and it feels more like these guys just wanted to get home for the holidays rather than do their job right. Which is appropos because the writing of this episode came off the same way.

      • says

        Catherine, a prosecutor has to turn over all exculpatory evidence, even if she thinks the witness is biased. It’s not up to her to decide; the defense must have the opportunity to research it and, at this hearing to argue based on it.

  6. Carl N. Brown says

    “…throw a lot of popcorn at the TV.”

    I have a block of foam rubber the size of a brick painted red with black spots for that job. No gaffe on TV is worth the waste of a kernel of popcorn.

    Out of left field, what if the mystery hand was Captain Steven Harris (Adam Baldwin) from the Sept premiere episode?

  7. Diana says

    I think it was a True Blood reunion, and Christopher Meloni’s hand made a cameo! And although Denis O’Hare has played a L&O priest several times, I still see him as a crazy vampire.

  8. James Pollock says

    “Ice-T cannot investigate a crime where his family member is the prime suspect”

    EX family, as Mr, um, T pointed out several times during the episode.

    As for the Brady violation, surely the ADA is allowed to investigate the veracity of the evidence to before notification. True, we didn’t see that, either, but it could be happening offscreen.

    However, there’s another, much bigger problem… at the hearing, why didn’t defendant’s lawyer immediately pop up and say “why, yes, detectives, I’d like to hear what you have to say…” That’s as clear a case of inadequate assistance of counsel as I’ve heard about in a long time, and so poor Sam should have a nice settlement coming from his attorney’s insurance carrier.

    • says

      The ADA can investigate, but he still has to turn it over and allow the defense to investigate as well. Given that this was a detention hearing, I believe he should have turned it over right then.

      As for the defense attorney, he was probably too busy dropping his files all over the floor, which every court-appointed defense attorney is always busy doing on SVU.

        • Josh says

          If it’s intentional on the writers part, THEN the next part should be the detectives arguing to someone higher up, that the ADA wasn’t doing his job properly then. Sure Finn would probably be questioned on why he was investigating when he shouldn’t be, but if the ADA is not allowing potential evidence he’s not doing his job. But the writers never acknowledged THIS.

  9. says

    The detectives took Enrique’s word that his sister had been raped and forced to have an abortion at 12(!!!) and were ready to arrest Father Shay immediately without even speaking to Angelica. That’s one thing I’ve noticed a lot of. This bunch puts the episode title to use every single week. Their accused/suspected perp is always “presumed guilty”. Especially with Olivia. She’s argued a suspect’s guilt even in the face of exculpatory evidence. I wouldn’t want to be caught in their radar. They seem to be more concerned with convictions than with finding the truth sometimes…

  10. Alenna says

    Bah Humbug! How many episodes have we had where somebody goes crazy and kills off the perp in the end? How convenient for everyone involved (especially the writers). Sometimes it seems they should re-name the series “Revenge and Order” rather than Law and Order. I also found it a bit too unbelievable that the detectives would take Enrique’s story about his sister as fact, without even talking to her first. As kimisch wrote in the comments, they sure do make a lot of guilt presumptions before checking things out.

    Bring on some fresh story lines! These retreads are getting stale. I vote for Captain Steven Harris (Adam Baldwin) as the guy on the plane with Olivia. Or maybe it’s been that lawyer Trevor Langan all this time 🙂

    • James Pollock says

      One of the dangers of being in law enforcement long enough is that everyone starts to look like a criminal. That’s actually more realistic than the alternative. I’d bet if you talked to people with 15, 20 years in law enforcement, and got them to answer honestly, they’d confess that there are plenty of times when they jumped to assuming someone was guilty when they weren’t.

      • says

        Alenna: I love Revenge & Order! James: Actually, the longer I was in law enforcement, the more I saw that everybody has good and bad in them. And the more likely I was to dig around and not assume the first story I heard was 100% true.

  11. Chris says

    Is it me or did this episode visually look like a soap opera? I had a hard time feeling the gritty streets of NY in this episode. Boooooooo to the killing of the priest in the end! I think Elliot is going to reveal himself one body part at a time starting with his hand and ending with…well, his whole self! 🙂 A girl can dream, right?

  12. Sarah says

    My suspicion is that the priest alone in the car plot, was another of those ‘ripped from the headlines’ episodes. At least that’s what it feels like in Australia, where every night there is some allegation of sexual abuse against a minor by the Catholic church. But it did strike me as being somewhat dry and stereotypical.
    Worlds worst? I don’t know enough to comment.
    Speculation suggests ADA Barba as being the owner of the hand, and this would fit considering the next episode does feature him. I don’t really mind who the hand belongs to (though it does pique my curiosity) provided Benson is happy and in a good relationship

    • says

      I like Barba as a romantic possiblity, but I think Olivia was probably burned enough in her conflict-of-interest storyline with Harry Connick Jr that she’ll stay away from ADAs for a while. Sarah, let me know if you hear any real-life priest stories like this. I haven’t, but I love to find when the SVU plot is based on one.

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