A sunny summer day in Central Park is shattered by gunfire. A pair of CPW officers arrive at clearing near the Conservatory to discover the ground littered with the dead and dying, most of them young women. When Detectives Lennie Briscoe and Ed Green arrive, they learn that witnesses have identified the shooter as a white male, in his mid- to late-twenties, and wearing a T-shirt, shorts, sunglasses and a baseball cap. He was seen emptying a clip and then reloading his weapon with a new clip taken from a black knapsack. Briscoe observes that the Vanderbilt Gate is the quickest way out of the Park, and learns that officers are canvassing Fifth Avenue. Green tries to comfort a mother who runs to one of the fallen girls and cradles her daughter in her arms. Then he grimly tells Briscoe they should talk to some witnesses.
At the Mount Sinai Hospital, Briscoe and Green meet with Lt. Anita Van Buren. They determine that there are fifteen dead and twelve wounded. One of the latter is Antonia Drake, just out of X-ray. She says she was with a group of pre-med students from Hudson. She heard popping sounds and several girls fell. She saw a man coming towards them, but she didn't get a good look at him; she played dead. As he walked right past her, spraying bullets, she heard him mutter "Damn bitches" over and over again.
At the 27th Precinct, Van Buren shares a Ballistics report with a half-dozen detectives. The weapon used was a 9mm at full automatic, an Ingram or perhaps a converted Rolfe. Briscoe produces a sketch of the assailant. Green thinks they should release the sketch to the newspapers, but Van Buren thinks it's too generic. Since the shooter picked out the pre-med students, she tells Briscoe and Green to find out why the Hudson students were meeting in the Park.
The detectives talk to a student office worker at Hudson Valley Community College, who tells them the meeting was an orientation to discuss gender issues. She says they were originally scheduled to meet on the other side of the park, but people playing frisbee forced them to find a quieter place. When she breaks down, Green realizes she was one of the group. He tells Briscoe that the shooter might have followed the girls across the park. Briscoe says he'll tell Van Buren that the police search might be underway on the wrong side of the park.
At Central Park, Briscoe and Green talk to a witness from the Ivory Coast. (We learn that Green's father once worked in Abidjan, the capital of that country.) The witness saw the shooter running from the park with blood on his shorts. He wasn't carrying a bag or knapsack. Green concludes that the knapsack was ditched in the park. A short time later a patrolman discovers the bag and calls the detectives over. A Rolfe 9mm and three full clips are inside. Green tells Briscoe he'll take the evidence to CSU personally.
Early the next morning, Briscoe arrives at CSU to find a weary Green waiting to tell him that though the shooter tried to file the serial number off the gun, he failed, and the gun had been sold to a wholesaler in Pennsylvania four months earlier. Briscoe learns that Green had gone to Atlantic City last night. "I started up a Cadillac," says Green morosely. "I finished down a Rolex." Forensics Tech Angela Shrier arrives to tell them that the suspect rammed a metal file into the barrel to distort the rifling; as a result, she can only get a 50 percent match to the slugs in the victims. She tells the detectives that the suspect used fingerprint-resistant grips and a kit to convert the weapon from semi- to full automatic.
On Tuesday, July 7, Briscoe and Green arrive at J&P Sports Guns in Allentown, Pennsylvania. They learn that the gun they're looking for went to a firearms dealer in Reading. This dealer, as it turns out, works from his home. He admits that he is required by law to ship only to another licensed dealer, but in this case he sent the weapon directly to the purchaser, who claimed to be wheelchair-bound. His records indicate the purchaser was a Lee Coates of New York City. Coates paid by credit card.
Accompanied by a SWAT team, Briscoe and Green burst into the Coates apartment, only to discover an elderly woman lying dead in the bedroom. A neighbor across the hall identifies the deceased as Lee Coates, and tells detectives that Coates lived alone and had just gotten out of Hudson Presbyterian Hospital, where she'd had a pacemaker installed. She'd been in the hospital for nearly a month.
At the 27th Precinct, Briscoe tells Van Buren that the shipping company made two trips to the Coates residence. The first time no one was home and a signature card was left behind. The second time the card was signed, so the package was left. Since Hudson Presbyterian is the teaching hospital for Hudson College, Van Buren suggests they might look for a hospital employee who had access to Coates' credit cards.
At Hudson Presbyterian, an ERT tells the detectives that Coates was admitted twice -- the first time because when paramedics brought her in she had no information with her. She had lost her purse. Briscoe and Green track down the paramedic who made the Coates call at an FDNY emergency response station. He says Coates flatlined on the way to the hospital and in the confusion the purse was misplaced. His partner, a Dennis Trope, is on disability, but the paramedic has some of Trope's things, taken from his locker, in a bag in his car's trunk. Briscoe searches the bag, finds a T-shirt with the words "Don't Trust Anything That Bleeds for Five Days and Lives" emblazoned on it. The paramedic concedes that Trope had a real problem with females working as paramedics.
At the Trope residence, Mrs. Trope tells the detectives she doesn't know where her son is. They find gun magazines and medical books in Trope's room, and she tells them her son will be a great doctor someday, and that he was almost admitted to Hudson, except that the college gave preference to women. Briscoe finds one of Trope's disability checks, and is convinced Mrs. Trope knows more than she's admitting. Green urges her to tell them where her son is before some trigger-happy member of the police force finds him.
It's Thursday, July 16. Mrs. Trope takes them to the Westside Community Park on West 76th. She points out her son. Trope tries to flee, but collides with a roller skater, and Green catches him. Trope is injured, but Green ignores his pleas for medical help, angrily insisting on a confession until Mrs. Trope cries out for him to stop, and Briscoe tells him to lay off.
At the 27th Precinct, Mrs. Trope informs Lt. Van Buren that she is getting a lawyer because Green brutalized her son. As she leaves, Van Buren asks Briscoe for details. The veteran detective describes it as "energetic police work." Van Buren hopes it doesn't turn into another complaint, since Green already has two for excessive force.
Later, Green tells Van Buren and Briscoe that eyewitnesses couldn't pick Trope out of a lineup and Forensics turned up no powder residue or blood splatters on his clothing. Except for some remarkable coincidences, says Briscoe, they can't actually tie Trope to the killings. Van Buren advises them to try, and quickly, before Mrs. Trope arrives with her attorney.
In the interrogation room, Briscoe tells Trope that women serve on juries now, and that they'll want to cut his "kiwis" off. Green and Van Buren play a scene in which he has to apologize for turning in a late report. When she's gone, Green says not a day goes by that the "bitch doesn't ride my ass." Briscoe had seniority for the lieutenancy, but they gave it to her instead. Green commiserates with the suspect, saying he bets it's the same where Trope works, and that women denied him the opportunity to attend medical school. Worse still, Trope's Children's Services file shows that his mother just stood by while his father beat him. Women are working now when they ought to be home taking care of their husband and kids. Green begs Trope to confess, so as to deny women the power of life and death over him. Trope breaks down, says the "bitch doctors" at the hospitals suggested he apply to nursing school. He confesses that he shot the women in the park to, as Green suggests, put women back in their place. He tells them the clothes he was wearing that day were discarded on the train tracks at West 36th. A moment later, Mr. Powell, an attorney, arrives. Briscoe tells him they're going to have to amend the charge against Trope to fifteen counts of murder.
EADA Jack McCoy and ADA Abbie Carmichael are in the office of Judge Joseph Flint with Mr. Powell, who complains that the police interrogated his client even though they knew a lawyer was on the way. Flint agrees to suppress Trope's confession, telling McCoy that since Trope faces the death penalty the police should be held to a very high standard. Powell wants the clothing thrown out too, since it was Trope's statement that led police to it. Carmichael reminds the judge that the clothing had blood from five of Trope's victims on it. Flint calls the clothing "fruit of the poisonous tree" -- and grants Powell's motion.
In the hallway of the Criminal Courts Building, Lt. Van Buren informs McCoy and Carmichael that since Ballistics can only provide a 50 percent match from the weapon to the slugs, they need technical data from the gunmaker, Rolfe Firearms. But so far the company has ignored all requests.
In the office of Mr. Weber, head of Rolfe Firearms in Connecticut, Carmichael is informed that the company was not ignoring the police requests. But company lawyers had determined that to cooperate would mean divulging trade secrets, and Weber felt an obligation to his employees. Carmichael warns him of the likelihood of a subpoena. Unfazed, Weber says that, according to his lawyers, New York subpoenas don't "travel well."
McCoy and Carmichael meet with Briscoe Green in a conference room in the DA's offices to go over the case. Carmichael says Rolfe is more worried about lawsuits than trade secrets. "We're asking them to help prove their gun killed fifteen people," she says. Briscoe wonders what fifteen dead pre-med students are worth these days, and Green mentions a five-million-dollar judgment in a liability case out in California. "I'd be happy if Mr. Trope gets a five-dollar injection," remarks McCoy. Sifting through the documents on the table, Briscoe discovers that Trope made a toll call to Newburgh last June. He calls the number, tells the others he's gotten an automated response for the Newburgh Arena. Remembering something, he rifles through a gun magazine belonging to Trope -- and finds that there was a gun show in the arena last June. "Thousands of Guns, Barrels of Fun" reads the ad.
McCoy, Carmichael, Briscoe and Green descend on the shop of Art Lydell, who had a booth at the Newburgh gunshow. Briscoe accuses Lydell of selling conversion kits. Lydell claims he only sells instructions, which is legal. McCoy simply wants to know if Lydell sold a Rydell 9 kit that weekend. Lydell checks his records, says one customer bought some instructions and a set of hardware. He mentions that the Rolfe 9 is the easiest to convert, and if they want to put him out of business all Rolfe has to do is redesign the slide bolt. It would cost the company ten dollars a unit. He looks at a set of photos and points out Dennis Trope as the customer in question.
Conferring with DA Adam Schiff in his office, Carmichael says that Rolfe has filed a motion to quash the subpoena. Schiff advises them to prove they had the murder weapon, or else the jury might acquit rather than send an innocent man to Death Row. Though McCoy says he won't deal with Trope, Schiff advises him to do just that before the subpoena is quashed.
At Riker's Island, McCoy and Carmichael meet Trope's attorney, Powell, who wants to know why McCoy is taking the death penalty out of the equation when the city is screaming for blood. McCoy says the families of the victims need closure. Powell says that his client, being a young man, could spend fifty or sixty years in jail if he gets life without parole. Carmichael suggests that he might take up smoking. Powell says he's heard that McCoy has an evidentiary problem, and speculates that McCoy can't prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the gun is the murder weapon. McCoy tells Powell he has "quite a pair of crystal balls" if he's willing to bet his client's life on that. Powell says he'll accept 25 years to life for Trope, all sentences concurrent. That, he adds, is a lot of closure.
In the Supreme Court of New York County, Judge Joseph Flint sentences Dennis Trope to 25 years to life, in accordance with his plea agreement. A man in the gallery, the father of one of Trope's victims, explodes in outrage.
In the DA's office, McCoy complains that Rolfe Firearms stood in the way of the victims' families getting what they deserved, an eye for an eye. Rolfe makes a product that "any clever 12-year-old can turn into a weapon of mass destruction." Schiff cynically tells him to write a letter. Instead, McCoy fills out a grand jury slip, informing the others that last year 284 violent crimes were committed with a Rolfe 9 in New York -- and all but six of the guns had been modified.
In the conference room of Judge William Wright's suite of offices, McCoy and Carmichael listen to the Rolfe defense attorney, Charlotte Swan, protest that 15 counts of criminally negligent homicide is unprecedented. Also present are Weber and a couple of Rolfe representatives. Judge Wright asks McCoy to explain why Rolfe is to blame if a killer tampered with their legal product. McCoy replies that it was obvious that the Rolfe 9 posed an unjustifiable risk. Swan points out that Rolfe does not sell, manufacture, transport or advertise product in New York. But McCoy counters that Rolfe shipped the weapons used to commit crimes in new York to other states with more lenient gun laws; since the victims were killed in New York, they had jurisdiction. Wright accuses McCoy of trying to use his court to make social policy and grants Swan's motion to dismiss.
Back at the DA's office, McCoy informs Schiff that he is filing an appeal. The public wants action.
On Monday, August 17, in the Appellate Division's First Department, McCoy argues before a row of judges that since Rolfe's products were used in New York, he has jurisdiction over the company. Charlotte Swan accuses McCoy of wanting to punish her client for exercising his Second Amendment rights. Judge Eric Goodloe points out that the Supreme Court recognizes a state's right to regulate firearms. Swan urges McCoy to seek legislative redress if he wants to change the law. Goodloe notes that McCoy does seem to want to use the courts to make social policy. McCoy says courts have "always been agents of social change." Besides, the legislative process has been corrupted by special interest groups with deep pockets. He urges the court to allow a jury of twelve ordinary, impartial citizens determine if criminal liability exists.
In the hallway of the Criminal Courts Building, Judge Wright makes the remark that the appellate court, in its infinite wisdom, has overturned his ruling and remanded the case for trial. He tells McCoy that The People must prove the firearm was hazardous, per se, as manufactured, and that Trope used the weapon as Rolfe intended it to be used. McCoy objects to this impossible standard, but to no avail.
In the office of DA Schiff, Carmichael complains that the trial is actually "gun control by other means." McCoy opines that gun control is a joke when people can sell guns on the Internet. Carmichael insists that responsible adults can own firearms "without the entire country sinking into criminal anarchy," but McCoy implies that people don't need guns in modern times. Carmichael believes that people have a right to defend themselves, while McCoy says police shouldn't have to worry about "running into Rambo" when making a traffic stop. Schiff tells them to find a way to win the case.
In McCoy's office, the proprietor of J&P Sports Guns admits that Rolfe never put any restrictions on the sale of its items, and that last year someone from Rolfe who was taking a survey called and asked about sales volume. The man's name was Victor Colby. Carmichael can't find Colby on Rolfe's employment rolls.
At Victor Colby's office (at an unidentified firm), Colby tells McCoy and Carmichael that he signed a nondisclosure agreement and therefore can't talk about his work at Rolfe. Carmichael asks if Rolfe offered him a financial incentive to keep quiet. McCoy sways Colby with photos of the slaughter in Central Park, and Colby produces an internal memo about the Rolfe survey. The company had decided making the Rolfe 9 tamper-proof would reduce sales by 40 percent, and that settling lawsuits would be cheaper. Elated, McCoy believes that with the memo he can meet Judge Wright's standard of proof. He tells Carmichael to refile the indictment first thing tomorrow -- fifteen counts of Murder 2, depraved indifference.
In Judge Wright's chambers, Charlotte Swan argues that Colby had a legally binding agreement with Rolfe. Wright agrees with McCoy that Rolfe can seek redress in civil court, and denies the defense motion. Swan describes the internal memo as privileged communication; Wright agrees, and grants that motion to suppress.
Supreme Court, Trial Part 86, Monday, October 19 -- Weber testifies about Rolfe's funding of safety education programs and expresses regret that criminals use his products, but finds repugnant the idea that the company passively encourages criminal conduct to make a profit. He tells McCoy that Rolfe has no control over the fact that the guns are sold illegally to criminals, and insists the Rolfe 8 design is not flawed. The gun is simply vulnerable to tampering, like all firearms. There would be no point in shutting down production and redesigning the gun, since in six months someone would find a new way to tamper the gun. McCoy argues that by contributing to a special interest group that lobbied Congress to pass a gunowner's rights bill to weaken gun control laws, Weber not only armed Trope but also undermined the law intended to protect people from killers like Trope.
McCoy calls Dennis Trope to the stand. Trope testifies that he needed to convert a semiautomatic weapon to full auto, and the easiest one was the Rolfe 9. He demonstrates how he converted the weapon, and says it took all of a half-hour to do so. Swan asks Trope if he wanted to "kill as many women as possible in the shortest amount of time." Trope says yes, but the Rolfe 9, as he bought it, was not sufficient to the task.
In summation, Swan claims that gunmakers are one of the most regulated groups in the country and that McCoy wants the jury to believe there is a straight line connecting Rolfe with the fifteen people killed in Central Park. But there is no straight line. Trope broke the law, and as long as there are Dennis Tropes around, they'll find a way to kill innocent people, with or without guns. Responsible gun ownership is an American tradition -- as is putting the blame where it belongs.
McCoy disputes that gun ownership is an American tradition. He reminds the jury that they heard expert testimony to the fact that redesigning the Rolfe 9's slide bolt would add less than thirty dollars to the cost of making a weapon that sold for $900. The Rolfe 9 was not what "the framers of the Constitution had in mind" when they approved the Second Amendment. He concludes with a demonstration -- pouring a small quantity of bullets onto his desk (how many Trope could have fired if Weber had made the Rolfe 9 tamper-proof) and a large quantity (the number of bullets Trope was able to fire that day in the park. But for the muffled sob of one of the victim's mothers, the courtroom is very quiet.
On Thursday, October 22, the jury returns to announce that the defendant has been found guilty. The verdict is greeted by gasps and applause in the gallery. Wright excuses the jury, then announces his finding that The People failed to meet his standard of proof. As a result, he sets aside the jury verdict and issues a directed verdict of not guilty. Outraged, McCoy objects, claiming this is outside the scope of Wright's authority. Wright says he will not sanction a verdict that could not possibly be sustained on appeal. It was a verdict based on emotion. "I can't let you use this court to raise a lynch mob," he says. It's not, he concludes, about being right, but about doing right. In disbelief, McCoy lingers as the courtroom empties. Save for the bailiffs, he is the last to leave.
[Summary by Jason Manning, August 2002]