Making of a Rapist Recap – Law & Order: SVU
The second episode of Law & Order: SVU’s Season 18 (9-28-16) started out on a positive note. Vice President Joe Biden was on hand to give personal congratulations to Lt. Olivia Benson and the Special Victims Unit for their work in getting the rape-kit backlog moving. That led to clearing Sean Roberts who was wrongly convicted of sexual assault based upon the identification of the rape victim. A DNA kit was finally tested, proving his innocence– after 16 years in the lockup.
Roberts was there as well as his former accuser, Melanie Harper, and her beautiful daughter, Ashley. When the press conference ended, so did the positive note. Melanie and Ashley were treating Sean like a good friend. Melanie expressed her gratitude that Sean forgave her. They were all going out together to celebrate Sean’s birthday. Ashley gushed that she invited Sean to her upcoming wedding. Olivia regarded them quizzically. (Are you nuts?) Ashley and Melanie also talked to Det. Tutuola (Fin) who worked the case for SVU at the time. Fin said he hadn’t seen Ashley since she was 6 so that makes her about 22. After they leave, Olivia asked Fin if he was okay with everything. Fin said he was just glad that Sean has been sprung.
Later, things go really bad. Fin and Det. Amanda Rollins are called to a crime scene that turns out to be the Harper home. Ashley is in horrible condition. She was raped, strangled, stabbed and burned. Bleach was poured on her to destroy any DNA evidence. She is barely alive and as Melanie goes with her daughter to the hospital, all she can tell the detectives is that she thinks she heard Sean’s voice in the house before the attack.
Fin and Rollins went to the hospital to consult with Benson on how to proceed. They can’t go hauling in Sean Roberts without something more than Melanie’s word, can they? Benson gives directions on how to proceed. We also learned that Sean has a $30 million lawsuit over his wrongful conviction pending.
Benson talked to Melanie while Ashley was still in surgery. She got some details on how the evening went and how Ashley’s fiance, Zach Brenner, did not go to the dinner because he doesn’t like Sean. Suddenly Melanie remembered that Ashley and Zach quarreled over her engagement ring and it was gone from Ashley’s finger. The doctor came and Melanie and Benson could tell that Ashley did not make it by his demeanor. This is now a homicide.
Fin and Rollins pay Sean a visit at his apartment. He declines to let them in. He acts shocked and worried about Melanie when he is told about the attack on Ashley. He denies being at the Harper home after the dinner, claiming he went to a strip club. They notice that he hurt his hand and he refers them to his ex-con friend, Jeff Nichols, who can vouch for Sean’s time at the strip club. Next stop: Hell’s Gate Diner. Jeff initially backs up Sean’s story but when Fin threatens him with a return trip to jail for lying to a police officer, he comes clean. Sean didn’t show up at the strip club until 2 a.m. Ashley, he says, was crying on Sean’s shoulder earlier because her fiancé wanted to call off their engagement.
Rollins and Carisi haul Zach in for interrogation. Zach’s story is almost as sketchy as Sean’s but eventually, he is cleared. In the meantime, they have turned up some weird stuff on Ashley’s social media account. They find a message from Ashley to a guy named Charlie Dobkins. She told him to stop watching her and being creepy. They find this Charlie guy on a roof where he can look right into Ashley’s bedroom. They find the bloody knife from the attack up there, too.
Charlie is hauled off to the station. He is obviously simple minded. His mother soon arrives and insists they stop questioning her son because he will say anything they want him to and he is innocent. He was with his girlfriend Shyvon all night on the night of the rape. It so happens that Charlie and Shyvon videotaped their night of bliss so now the SVU detectives are back to Sean.
Rollins and Carisi return to the rooftop and have Charlie go through what he saw to make an identification on who threw the knife in the trash can. After what Charlie’s mother said at the station that Charlie will say anything they want, you would think they would have already discounted him as an unreliable witness, but no. He identifies Sean from a photo because he thinks it will help Amanda Rollins, who is pretty like Ashley.
When they show up with a warrant at Sean’s, Fin finds Ashley’s engagement ring in the sink drain. Now they’ve got him. But can they convict him? ADA Barba thinks so. What can go wrong? Well, Fin gets accused of framing Sean. Charlie admits on the stand that he id’d Sean to “help” Amanda Rollins, and even manages to concur with Sean’s defense attorney that Rollins encouraged this. Melanie is overwhelmed with guilt, believing that Sean’s prison ordeal is what turned him into a rapist. It is Melanie’s heartbreaking testimony that makes the defense attorney approach Barba to arrange a plea deal. They agree upon 15 years for Murder 2, with a minimum of 15 years and an allocution from Sean.
Sean’s allocution reveals prison turned him into a savage animal. He lost control after Ashley laughed at him when he revealed his true feelings for her because one thing he learned in prison is that you can’t let people laugh at you. There was also the testimony of the prosecution’s expert Dr. Singh who talked about how difficult it is for someone exonerated of a crime after a long time in prison to transition to a normal life outside. When that person has been further traumatized by rape and violence, it is almost impossible for them to have a normal life according to Singh. We don’t think that the episode was justifying what Sean did so much as explaining it. It is too bad that no one thought to refer Melanie to counseling to deal with her guilt. She had no information beforehand remotely resembling the stuff that came out after her daughter was dead.