Sometimes, right and wrong aren't as clear-cut as we would like.
Law & Order Season 22 Episode 3 demonstrated this nicely with a horrific crime that turned into a debate over the death penalty.
Price wanted to get justice for New Yorkers, but did he betray his ideals to do it?
This story did what Law & Order does best. It ripped current events from the headlines and weaved them into a complex tale that left viewers with more questions than answers about moral issues.
The violence that Price witnessed at the tail end was truly horrific. When he entered that subway station, he wasn't prepared for the blood and the sheer number of dead and dying people.
His hands were so full of blood from trying to help one of the victims that the cops mistook him for the shooter.
All that carnage had to take its toll. Nolan dealt with it by fighting for justice the only way he knew how, but could there be some PTSD in his future?
As an EADA who prosecutes homicides, he's often dealt with the worst of humanity, but he's usually further removed from it; this time, it was personal.
The set-up that he had to pursue the death penalty or not try the case worked dramatically, but it was strange that he never once had the opportunity to talk with the people who made these arrangements.
For example, when Samantha suggested cutting a deal that took the death penalty off the table, why couldn't Price approach the feds with this proposal instead of having to press for Nelson's death no matter what?
That doesn't seem like a great way to try cases. No deals mean you risk losing cases, which is far more of a miscarriage of justice than an evil murderer getting life rather than the death penalty.
McCoy: There's one catch. This deal is predicated on you asking for the death penalty.
Price: I don't know if I can separate my personal beliefs from this case.
McCoy: Your personal beliefs are not part of the equation.
But since McCoy told Price that he had to win the case and push for the death penalty, that's what Price did.
It didn't help that his opponent was so committed to eradicating the death penalty that she was willing to do just about anything for her client.
She demanded that the DA's office break its agreement to keep an informant's name out of the proceedings, which could only have a chilling effect on future investigations. It also hampered this one, as the witness was so angry she refused to cooperate.
Worse, she mounted this ridiculous defense that the shooter's racism was a sign of severe mental illness.
The shooter probably did have some mental health issues. His unhinged rantings about Asians killing people were not the words of someone in touch with reality. But that didn't mean he bore no responsibility for his violent crimes.
In addition, these defenses reinforce untrue and dangerous ideas that people with mental illness are all violent. How does pinning the gruesome murders of seven people on "mental illness" serve justice?
Andrea seemed to think that anything goes as long as she stopped the state from killing her client., yet accused Nolan of having changed for the worse because he no longer agreed with that absolutist stance.
Nolan, for his part, kept giving a weak sauce excuse about how he was merely upholding the law. That's not a great reason for anything; all sorts of atrocities throughout history have been legal but not moral.
However, his powerful closing argument made a point that Andrea refused to consider. However anyone feels about the death penalty, Nelson executed seven innocent people, and their lives should count too.
We'd all like to make sense of what happened, to chalk it up to mental illness, but the truth is, some people are just evil. John Nelson opened fire in that subway because he is a rage-filled, hateful, evil man.Price
Nolan was right that there is no making sense of these types of hate-fueled crimes and that it's a copout to blame it on mental illness. And he was right that if Nelson walked, that would be a grave injustice to the victims.
Many people are uncomfortable with the death penalty, but even those who don't support it often acknowledge that there are cases where it's tempting. This was one of those cases.
This wasn't a case where there was doubt about the defendant's guilt, so there was no risk of executing the wrong man.
This crime was not only violent and bloody but had a lasting effect on the city and its residents; as one survivor testified, it added to the fear that many Asian Americans felt while going about their business.
And this man displayed zero remorse for what he had done. He was ranting about the need to kill Asians during his arrest.
His death at the hands of the state will be far less painful than the ones he caused.
There are good arguments to be made for why the death penalty might be inappropriate even in these cases, but nobody made them.
Andrea could have saved her vitriol for the sentencing hearing (which didn't happen, at least not on-screen) or taken a stand other than hating Nolan on general principles because he is no longer anti-death penalty.
The investigation side of the hour was equally compelling. This was a more challenging case than most, and I wanted to know more about Dixon and her Deaf son.
I also would have loved for Olivet or another psychiatrist to talk with Lacey, who might have had trauma due to her relationship with John, and information that could help the police.
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Law & Order airs on NBC on Thursdays at 9 PM EST / PST.