Mother's Day (Law & Order)

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"Mother's Day"
Law & Order episode
Episode no. Season 13
Episode 10 (#287)
Directed by Jace Alexander
Written by Janis Diamond
Featured music Mike Post
Original air date January 8, 2003 (2003-01-08)
Episode chronology
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"The Wheel"
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List of Law & Order episodes (season 13)

"Mother's Day" is the 287th episode of NBC's legal drama Law & Order and the tenth episode of the thirteenth season.


Briscoe and Green are called to the scene of a hit-and-run accident in Washington Heights. The victim, a young girl, is identified as high school student Emily Milius. From the tire marks on the road, the detectives suspect Ms. Milius was deliberately run down. Witnesses identify the car involved as a green or blue Cavalier.

The Miliuses are a wealthy family and when Briscoe says Emily Milius may have been deliberately targeted (i.e. murdered), the victim's father Ronald Milius reveals he is CFO of a Fortune 500 pharmaceutical company and a witness in an FBI fraud investigation into the company's directors. He thinks his daughter was killed as threat to him. A suspect green Cavalier is discovered abandoned and forensic evidence proves the car struck Emily Milius. The car is registered to single mother Diane Payton, who tells Briscoe and Green she lent her car to her son Danny a few days earlier. The detectives are forced to break into Danny Payton's apartment where they discover his naked, blood-soaked body on the bed - he has been stabbed to death.

At this stage the detectives think Danny Payton was hired to kill Emily Milius, taking the job to support a suggested drug habit, and was then killed himself by the hirer. But the medical examiner, Dr. Rodgers, reports no drugs in Danny Payton's system. When Green and Dr. Rodgers establish Danny's likely time of death, the detectives realize Diane Payton lied to them about breakfasting with her son the morning after Emily Milius was killed.

Diane Payton is brought down to the 27th precinct for further questioning, as Emily Milius's mother, Caroline, is pressing Van Buren for information regarding the case (mother-child relationships being a theme of the episode). Briscoe and Van Buren play good cop / bad cop with Mrs. Payton. Briscoe aggressively questions her over the alleged breakfast with her son (Payton: "Maybe I got the day wrong" Briscoe: "And maybe I'll run for Pope"). Van Buren enters the room and admonishes Briscoe for his "rudeness", before inviting Mrs. Payton for a coffee and a private chat. Van Buren empathizes with Mrs. Payton over the difficulties of being a mother ("You're only as happy as your unhappiest kid") and reveals her emotional trauma when her son was diagnosed with scoliosis at age 6 (he recovered and is now 13). Eventually, Diane Payton admits she stabbed her own son to death. She is arrested.

Following Diane Payton's arraignment and plea of not guilty her attorney, Kay Hartley, approaches Southerlyn and identifies herself as an old college friend, although Southerlyn affects to barely remember her. But in a following discussion with McCoy, Southerlyn reveals she remembers Hartley as a highly competitive student set upon becoming a high-earning Wall Street lawyer. Hartley says her firm has asked her to take on Mrs. Payton's case pro bono. McCoy is surprised a tax lawyer would be asked to try a criminal case, suspicions which deepen after Hartley fails in a legally naive attempt to have Payton's confession excluded from evidence.

Southerlyn is approached by Hartley while exercising in Central Park. Hartley reveals Danny Payton was her cousin and Diane Payton is her aunt. Hartley has taken a leave of absence from her firm to defend her aunt. Danny Payton had schizophrenia and Hartley wants to introduce his medical records into evidence, but Diane Payton refuses to allow this. Hartley wants to move a motion to remove Diane Payton's legal responsibility for her deceased son's records so they can be used as evidence, and pleads emotionally for Southerlyn's help. Partially through sympathy with Hartley and Payton, the DAs agree not to oppose the motion, which is granted.

In the trial, Hartley asks Dr. Rodgers and later Van Buren about Danny Payton's murder and also about the unsolved murder of a man kicked to death with a certain type of boot. Rodgers and Van Buren remember the case, while McCoy's objections regarding relevance are overruled. Psychiatrist Dr. Trask testifies Danny Payton was diagnosed as schizophrenic several years earlier and was held in a psychiatric hospital, but was eventually released as medication (Clozaril) proved effective in controlling his condition. He confirms Mrs. Payton recently requested her son be re-admitted to the hospital as his condition had worsened. But when Dr. Trask established Danny Payton had stopped taking his medication, he refused re-admission. Dr. Trask is asked to read a list of Danny's clothing and effects collected when he was first discharged from hospital; they include the type of boot used in the 'kicking death' established earlier. When Diane Payton takes the stand to be questioned by Hartley, she admits her son had stopped taking his medication as it made him feel extremely depressed and nauseous; subsequently he began hearing voices urging him to kill and had probably killed the 'kicking death' man; the hospital refused to take Danny in and after she lent Danny her car ("long drives calmed him down") and he used it to run down Emily Milius, it was the final straw. Diane Payton felt compelled to murder her son to prevent him killing more people.

McCoy demands a hearing in chambers. He is outraged the defense is effectively changing their plea from not guilty to guilty by justification and demands the defense case be thrown out, but the judge refuses. Southerlyn confronts Hartley, angry that Hartley played on her sympathy to get the medical records introduced. She accuses Hartley of being less motivated by love for her family and more by the boost her career would be given by winning a criminal case. "I did what I could to get justice for my client in an imperfect system," says Hartley. "If you want to know why it's imperfect, Kay, look in the mirror the next time you put on your Tiffany earrings," retorts Southerlyn.

In Branch's office, he agrees their position appears weak and suggests McCoy make a deal with the defense, but McCoy responds Hartley already turned down an offer for manslaughter. The next day McCoy cross-examines Diane Payton and asks why she didn't inform the police of her son's suspected actions, or call the police herself after she killed him, rather than attempt to conceal evidence of the crimes. Finally McCoy asks that if Diane Payton knew her son was a homicidal schizophrenic, why did she willingly give him the keys to her car? Hartley demands a recess. McCoy points out Mrs. Payton's statement claims her son "took" her car keys, but when first interviewed by Briscoe and Green, and now under oath, she has admitted the truth. He asks Mrs. Payton if Hartley even conveyed the offer of manslaughter proffered earlier, but Hartley hustles a confused Diane Payton out of the room before she can answer.

The jury finds Diane Payton guilty of second-degree murder, but the jury foreperson asks if any jail time is necessary. The scene cuts to the DA's office, where McCoy says "fortunately, the statute demands prison time." Branch says "I think it'll be a good while longer before Kay Hartley gets her corner office." "Shame," responds Southerlyn, with a smile on her face.

Guest stars[edit]

Charissa Chamorro as Kay Hartley
Ellen McLaughlin as Diane Payton
Janet Zarish as Caroline Milius
Martin Kildare as Ronald Milius
Leslie Hendrix as Dr. Elizabeth Rodgers
Mark Alan Gordon as Dr. David Trask
Don Billett as Judge Ed Richter


In 2004, TV Guide suggested Charissa Chamorro replace Elisabeth Röhm in the role of ADA to Jack McCoy.[1] The role eventually went to Annie Parisse.


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External links[edit]