Cops should listen to lawyers, not the other way around.
On Law & Order Season 22 Episode 4, Cosgrove’s mentor messed up the case by refusing to wait for a warrant, and he nearly screwed it up a second time trying to fix it.
This case brought up questions about police ethics without being overly political. It was a refreshing change.
This was one of the most character-driven episodes Law & Order has had in a while. The story wasn’t about police corruption or questions about whether defense attorneys should be able to get murderers off on technicalities.
Those important themes were part of the story, but the point was that Cosgrove’s illusions about his mentor were shattered more with each questionable thing Ryan did.
Ryan, for his part, was more three-dimensional than many such characters. While he broke the law and violated the suspect’s rights, he seemed to be doing the wrong thing for the right reasons.
He’d been chasing this murderer forever and wanted the guy behind bars once and for all. He wasn’t doing things just because he could or to get innocent people in trouble; he wanted a guilty murderer to be punished.
Cosgrove: I searched that area a second before and there was no necklace.
Jerry: You’re confused. I need a refill.
Cosgrove: Jerry. Jerry, it’s me. This is not the way we do things. We do them the right way.
Jerry: I’ve been doing things the right way for 32 years. The necklace was there.
The problem is that once cops stop following the rules, innocent people eventually get hurt.
This time, Ryan’s instincts were probably correct. The inadmissible evidence in Niles’ home, his lies about when he last saw Christina, and the bloody earring in the car made a strong case for Niles’ guilt.
But what happens when Ryan, or another detective, becomes convinced that an innocent person is guilty because of circumstantial evidence and plants the smoking gun they need to close the case?
Ryan’s original mistake was more forgivable. It was believable that he thought he saw blood and felt it was enough to justify searching the car. It was also unclear whether Niles consented or not to the search once he came back.
But once the evidence was thrown out, Ryan got desperate enough to do something problematic. He seemed to think he’d gotten away with it, but it could have easily been disproven.
The defense attorney destroyed her case by being so virulently anti-cop. From the beginning, she claimed that police have always been corrupt and that Niles was the real victim. Nobody was going to buy that nonsense.
Like it or not, there was some evidence that Niles was a killer. Leaving the conveniently-found necklace aside, he claimed he only took Christina to the subway station, yet security footage showed she never arrived. He also lied about the last time he saw Christina and tried to pin the murder on someone else.
And while the prosecution couldn’t bring up the missing knife from Niles’ set, surely they could ask him whether he collected knives and whether he knew what it would take to stab someone.
He was no innocent victim of the big, bad police force, and everyone knew it.
The defense attorney’s cross-examination of Ryan didn’t help anything, either.
Defense attorney: You hate my client, don’t you?
Ryan: I hate people who murder innocent women. So yeah, I don’t care about him too much.
It would have been more effective for her to lead Ryan down the road of admitting that he wanted justice done in this case and then bringing up that the victim wasn’t wearing the necklace. After that, she could have suggested that maybe, out of desperation to hold the person he thought did it accountable, he planted that necklace.
A jury might have bought that story. The one the defense attorney told instead about Ryan hating her client would never fly.
Cosgrove had an interesting reaction to all of this. Privately, he castigated Ryan, going as far as throwing him out of his house. But if anyone else asked, that necklace they found was legit.
He may have felt he had to do this. He wanted that conviction too. Plus, he had no actual proof that Ryan planted the necklace.
Shaw would have made a huge deal out of it if he knew. He already didn’t like Ryan playing fast and loose with the law to try to get the original evidence.
Shaw: We don’t have a warrant.
Ryan: Frank told me you have a law degree, but we’re cops. Maybe you need to start thinking like one of us instead of one of them.
The jury probably returned the correct verdict, but was Niles a serial killer?
Shaw thought Ryan was seeing connections that weren’t there, though witnesses consistently reported Niles’ car being near crime scenes. The serial killer angle faded away once Niles was caught, though.
Prior cases were out, so the ADAs were forced to focus only on Christina’s case. The eyewitness evidence seemed to suggest Niles had killed the other women, but it still felt like a loose end.
Niles being Christina’s killer but not the other women’s killer would have been a compelling twist. Then again, that would leave him without a reason to murder Christina.
This story had everything that makes Law & Order great without being annoying or pedantic. The perp was a celebrity, but the case wasn’t overly focused on that, and nobody got preachy about anything.
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Law & Order airs on Thursdays at 8 PM EST / PST. The next new episode airs on October 27, 2022.
Jack Ori is a senior staff writer for TV Fanatic. His debut young adult novel, Reinventing Hannah, is available on Amazon. Follow him on Twitter.