Bronx Cheer (Law & Order)
Bronx Cheer is the 245th episode of NBC's legal drama Law & Order, and the sixteenth episode of the eleventh season.
Original air date: March 14, 2001.
Previous episode: 'Swept Away - A Very Special Episode'
Next episode: 'Ego'
Directed by Richard Dobbs
Written by Wendy Battles & Richard Sweren
Peter Greene as Francis 'Taz' Partell
Keith David as Bronx County DA Mr. Robertson
Kevin Kash as Anthony Shaeffer
Cynthia Hayden as Vera Shaeffer
Zach Grenier as Mr. Hauser
Leslie Hendrix as Dr. Elizabeth Rodgers
Michael Mulheren as Judge Harrison Taylor
William Christian as Detective Regan
Robert Funaro as Quintana
Two bakery workers discover the body of a young woman in the alley behind their store. Arriving at the scene, Green notes severe bruising around the woman's neck and Briscoe observes that the heel on one of her shoes is broken. A uniformed policeman discovers a discarded handbag matching the victim's dress; it contains no identification but a bag of pills which Green notes "look like ecstasy."
The medical examiner, Dr. Rodgers, confirms the victim was strangled, but is unable to recover any foreign DNA from the body. The pills are confirmed as being ecstasy and Briscoe and Green assume the victim was a dealer, but they struggle to identify her as she has no criminal record. Following an exhaustive search of bars around the murder scene (the ME found that the woman had consumed apple martinis the night of her murder), Briscoe and Green find the victim's drinking partner who identifies her from a photo as Angela Jerrell. Jerrell's sister from her home town in Minnesota visits the precinct, saying her parents are too upset to come. "My father says he'll never set foot in this town," the sister says. "He might change his mind if we arrest his daughter's killer," responds Briscoe.
Through her cell phone calls, the detectives link Angela Jerrell to Francis 'Taz' Partell, who has convictions for assault and drug-dealing. They visit Partell in his apartment, where he is on crutches due to a broken foot. Partell claims he broke his foot a few weeks earlier, but the detectives later establish Partell's foot was broken in the last two days. He has no verifiable alibi for the night of Angela's murder, stating he was home alone. The detectives theorize Angela Jerrell broke Partell's foot with the heel of her shoe, thus breaking it as well, while he was attacking her. They arrest Partell and take him down to the precinct for questioning.
Partell repeatedly denies any involvement in Angela Jerrell's murder. He participates in a line-up but the man from the bar, despite close examination, cannot positively identify Partell as the man with whom Angela departed the bar on the night of the murder. With no other witnesses or evidence against Partell, the police are forced to release him uncharged. Briscoe and Green investigate Partell's past criminal associates. One of them, named Quintana, says he no longer deals drugs or associates with Taz as they had a falling out and Quintana is "trying to go straight". When the detectives state they are investigating a murder, Quintana mentions "that thing in the Bronx." The detectives are puzzled. Quintana tells them he witnessed Taz shoot and kill a nightclub bouncer in the Bronx two years earlier, but the Bronx DA's office successfully prosecuted someone else for the killing. Green wants to investigate this story further, although Briscoe is reluctant. Green argues the case against Partell for the Jerrell murder has stalled, so they may as well look into Quintana's allegations.
Briscoe and Green visit Detective Regan from the 56th Precinct in the Bronx, who investigated the bouncer murder and recounts the case against the man eventually convicted for it, Anthony Shaeffer. Ejected from the nightclub by the bouncer, Shaeffer threatened him in front of several witnesses, saying he'd "come back and mess you up." Two witnesses identified Shaeffer as the shooter and Shaeffer also confessed to his girlfriend that he killed the bouncer. At trial, Shaeffer's defence consisted primarily of an alibi provided by his mother, which didn't hold up under questioning. Briscoe and Green visit an emotional Mrs. Shaeffer, who swears her son was in the kitchen of her house when the bouncer was shot. She says that, during the trial, she panicked under intense questioning from the Bronx ADA prosecuting the case. She also tells Briscoe and Green her son falsely confessed to the murder to his girlfriend in a misguided attempt to impress her.
Van Buren reluctantly allows Green and Briscoe to investigate further. The 27th detectives find one witness, from an original group of three, who thought Shaeffer was not the shooter, failing to pick him out of a photo array. Briscoe and Green check calls to Crime Stoppers in the days after the bouncer murder and discover a related call, which Detective Regan never followed up. Briscoe and Green locate the caller, a waitress at the nightclub who knew Taz and claims he killed the bouncer. Asked why she failed to come forward at the time, the waitress responds she "didn't want to get involved" but later felt guilty when Shaeffer was arrested and so called Crime Stoppers.
Van Buren approaches Carmichael with the new evidence uncovered by Briscoe and Green. Carmichael tells Van Buren they have "two problems", which McCoy then explains to Carmichael and the audience. Firstly, a jury has already convicted someone of the bouncer murder. Secondly, as the murder took place in the Bronx, the Manhattan DA's office has no jurisdiction. Carmichael observes there is a 500-yard 'overlap' in jurisdiction between adjoining counties and the bouncer murder took place within this shared zone, so the Manhattan DAs can prosecute Partell for the bouncer murder. McCoy is even more reluctant to challenge a jury-rendered verdict than Carmichael, but allows her to investigate further.
Carmichael visits Detective Regan and his supervising lieutenant in the Bronx but, despite the new evidence, the Bronx detectives refuse to re-open the case. McCoy is upset by this and he and Carmichael then visit the Bronx County DA, Mr. Robertson. Robertson argues that as a legally valid verdict has been rendered, the case is closed. McCoy points out the new evidence, but Robertson continues to argue that the case against Shaeffer convinced a jury he was guilty and that's all that matters. "The system needs finality," Robertson says, to which McCoy angrily responds "No, the system needs credibility!", pointing out an innocent man may be in prison.
McCoy and Carmichael discuss the situation with Lewin, and they decide to prosecute Partell for the bouncer murder. Briscoe and Green duly arrest Partell and charge him with the murder from two years earlier. At the arraignment Judge Harrison Taylor demands an evidentiary hearing to determine whether McCoy's case is worth prosecuting. In the hearing, McCoy's new witnesses are not entirely credible under cross-examination. Judge Taylor finds McCoy has a case against Partell strong enough to proceed to trial, but in a private meeting with McCoy, Robertson and Lewin the next day, the judge doubts a jury will find the witnesses convincing. McCoy responds that he wouldn't be prosecuting Partell if the Bronx authorities' initial investigation had been more thorough, prompting another argument between himself and Robertson. "How do we get past this territorial pissing match?" asks Judge Taylor, but Robertson ends the meeting by storming out. Afterwards, Lewin tells McCoy he should make a deal with Partell for an admission of guilt to the bouncer and Jerrell murders, which will then force Robertson to release Shaeffer. McCoy and Carmichael are shocked by the idea of making a pre-trial deal with a man guilty of two murders. Lewin states the chief aim now is to free Shaeffer. As McCoy continues to protest, Lewin says "I said 'make a deal' Jack, not 'pony up the courthouse'."
After some haggling, McCoy and Partell agree to charges of second-degree murder and sentences of 7.5–15 years, to be served concurrently for the two murders, in exchange for his allocution. Partell recounts the details of the Jerrell murder in matter-of-fact detail. "I paid her to deal drugs for me and she didn't do it. Instead she's flirting with some guy...when she left the bar with me that night, she should have had about $300 she owed me. Instead, she had about $70." "So you strangled her?" asks McCoy. "I probably would've just hurt her, to scare her, but she broke my foot," says Partell.
Lewin visits Robertson with the Partell statement and asks him to release Shaeffer. Robertson is initially receptive but again refuses to revisit the Shaeffer case. In McCoy's office, Lewin and McCoy despair that their strategy has failed. McCoy suggests Shaeffer apply for a writ of habeas corpus, and offers to prepare Shaeffer's writ himself to guarantee the case a high profile and expedient hearing. Lewin is concerned about the precedent created by an ADA preparing such a writ, but admires McCoy's action and asks to be a co-sponsor.
The hearing takes place at the Appellate Court. McCoy recounts Shaeffer's story. Robertson, opposing the writ, argues that the Court can only free Shaeffer if there is evidence of legal misconduct or error in the original trial, and there is none. He further argues that a claim of innocence is insufficient grounds for granting a writ of habeas corpus, citing Herrera v. Collins. He says the only recourse for convicted prisoners claiming innocence rather than legal misconduct as a reason for their wrongful incarceration is to appeal to the state governor for clemency. McCoy responds that a prisoner who suffers a miscarriage of justice should not have to place his fate in the hands of an elected official, hence the existence of an independent judiciary. McCoy goes into some extensive and dramatic detail regarding Shaeffer's daily routine in the Clinton Correctional Facility, where he faces a minimum of twenty-three years imprisonment in addition to the two years already served. The court grants Shaeffer's writ, freeing him from prison.
In his office, McCoy and Lewin are in a happy and self-congratulatory mood as McCoy prepares to leave work for the day. In an outer office, Carmichael can be seen talking with Angela Jerrell's father.
The episode began with a disclaimer telling viewers that Robertson was in no way intended as a reference to real-life Bronx DA Robert Johnson.