A naked man startles himself awake and, disoriented, looks over damage done to his bathroom. The mirror is cracked and his hands are covered in blood. He manages to make it to his bedroom where he finds the dead body of a woman. Shocked at the scene, he throws up.
Warner, Stabler, and Benson arrive at the scene to investigate. They note that the man (Dalton Rindell) has an injury on his head. The victim was bludgeoned to death. Warner notes that fluids on the victim's thighs indicate that there was sexual intercourse involved, and she can also pinpoint the exact time of death. The victim held her hands up to protect herself from the blows, and her watch on her wrist was broken at 12:57. There is an engraving on the watch which reads "Audrey, with eternal love, Michael." Benson suggests that Rindell was having an affair with Audrey, and that Michael found out about it and attacked the pair of lovers while they were in bed.
Rindell doesn't remember what happened, he must have blacked out between the victim's time of death and the next morning when he called 911. The paramedic claims that the injury on Rindell's head shouldn't affect his memory, but Rindell remembers nothing about last night. He doesn't know who the woman is, and thinks that he was attacked himself. Stabler is skeptical of Rindell's story, as there were no signs of forced entry. However, there is also no evidence of the victim's purse. They decide to get a DNA sample from Rindell.
Rindell is at the station being fingerprinted, and he keeps wondering about why he would be targetted for something like this. Munch gives him a release to sign so that they'll be able to search his apartment without a warrant, and he signs it without complaint. Warner takes a DNA sample from Rindell, and Benson arrives with a toolbox found in Rindell's apartment. The hammer is missing. Rindell claims to feel very very sick, and Stabler says they should take him to the hospital.
The doctor finds a sliver of glass embedded in Rindell's head but otherwise his CT scan is normal. He is dehydrated, however, so was Rindell drinking heavily the previous night? Rindell denies it, he doesn't drink or take drugs. And all he remembers from last night was that he was working. Munch and Fin meanwhile go through the man's apartment. They find that his bathroom is lined with bloody handprints and used towels, and when they check the shower itself, they find a hammer, which has been cleaned of blood and prints.
Rindell still doesn't remember a thing, and still insists that he was working that night. He is a building developer and was at a gathering of people he and his partner had presold condo units to. Construction on the building had to stop because the crew found a problem, so the developers had a get-together to help ease buyers' concerns. Did Rindell drink then? Rindell, again, denies it.
Cragen goes to the development company to talk to Rindell's partner Bill Tattinger. Cragen wonders whether the developers might be just taking the buyers' money without giving them an actual return. Tattinger counters that the company just needs another round of financing to help cover the costs, and that the building will become a landmark. Otherwise, the company will have to file bankruptcy. Cragen figures that this could be motive enough for murder and asks for a list of their buyers. Tattinger doesn't give up the names. Meanwhile, Munch and Fin discover that the victim's bag was tossed out of Rindell's apartment last night. Inside, they find the victim's personal effects, including a purse. She's IDed as Audrey Hale, a doctor at a women's clinic.
Benson and Stabler are questioning Audrey's ex-husband. He claims to have been worried about her job at the clinic, since they do abortions there and their family had been threatened before. During the divorce hearing, he petitioned for sole custody of their daughter, but he lost. He'd always assumed that Audrey would eventually get hurt because of her job. He doesn't seem to have any connection to Rindell or to the development company.
Rindell still believes that he was being set up, even when confronted about the abortion issue by Munch. So Benson and Stabler go to the women's clinic, and confront a protester, who says that Audrey's death was a blessing because now there was one less mass murderer out there. Inside the clinic, the detectives speak to Dr. Kittle, who shows them a box of hate mail that the clinic has received. Benson takes the letters. The detectives find out from Dr. Kittle that Audrey had plans for dinner with a female friend last night.
They speak to Audrey's friend, Linda, who says that they had dinner and shared a taxi home, but then went to a bar for a nightcap. At the bar, Audrey met a guy who matched Rindell's description, and they were getting along so well that Linda decided to go home without Audrey.
The detectives are driving Rindell home and they pass by the bar, but he claims that he doesn't remember the place. He's been sober for over a year and shows Stabler his 1 year sobriety chip. However, when they go inside, the bartender remembers seeing him there last night with Audrey. Rindell says he's going to vomit so he rushes to the men's room. Stabler tries to follow him inside, but he's too late to slip in before Rindell shuts the door. Stabler receives a phone call, so he has to move away from the bathroom to get better reception. The DNA evidence on Audrey matches Rindell. When Stabler goes back to the bathroom, he finds Rindell has fled.
Cragen chastises the detectives for bringing Rindell on a field trip. There seems to be no action on his credit cards or his bank accounts. They're keeping an eye on the garage where he keeps his car, and the airport, train, and bus terminals have all been alerted. ADA Paxton arrives and complains about her missing defendant. She now has to go through a separate hearing since Stabler screwed up on the bartender's ID of Rindell.
Paxton and Cragen study a computer-generated recreation of the crime scene. The victim apparently was in bed, and Rindell attacks her with the hammer, which causes her to fall out of the bed. Rindell then continues to bludgeon her on the floor. Cragen mentions that the sex has to be consensual because they were both at a bar and drinking heavily, but Paxton doesn't think that being drunk is an excuse for obvious rape. The severity of the blows suggests that Rindell should be covered in blood, but no bloody clothes were found. So the tech wonders if Rindell was naked when he did the crime. He must have cleaned up a little and then smashed his head in the mirror after he found out what he had really done. Cragen receives Rindell's phone records. He called Tattinger many times but those calls went unanswered, however, he did manage to call his ex.
Rindell's ex-wife has no idea where he is, and when Munch tells her about the phone call, she tells them about the strange story he told her, about how he was being set up. But as a rental agent, she'd have a lot of places where Rindell could hide. She claims that she doesn't want anything to do with him anymore, since she managed to quit drinking and he didn't. He became a different man when he was drunk, and she left because of that. She says that Tattinger might be the one who'd give him help.
Benson and Stabler arrive at the development company, and discover Rindell and Tattinger fighting. Rindell is cuffed and demands that Tattinger tell the detectives the truth of what happened. Tattinger admits that he slipped Rindell a little alcohol at the gathering, because he still needed to convince the buyers that their investment was safe.
Rindell admits that he's on anxiety medication, which you're not supposed to mix with alcohol. He thinks that Tattinger must have made his drink really strong because he doesn't remember having that many drinks, doesn't remember leaving the office, and doesn't remember what happened afterwards.
Paxton thinks that Rindell is using alcohol as a crutch, and that alcoholism isn't actually a disease because one can stop whenever one wishes. Cragen counters that alcoholism is a recognized addiction, and that he's been sober for over 20 years. He still has to fight with the addiction every day. Paxton says that alcoholism shouldn't be an excuse for rape and murder. Cragen adds that they can pin Rindell on the murder but not on the rape. A woman arrives at the station, who claims to have worked at the development company for awhile. Rindell sexually harassed her by exposing himself and then grabbing at her.
Rindell says that that was the last time he'd taken a drop of alcohol until Tattinger made him drink again, but Paxton still insists that he shouldn't give alcohol as an excuse. She claims that Rindell found out what Audrey did and killed her in a blind rage, but Rindell keeps saying that he's not anti-abortion. He just doesn't remember what happened, and he has had alcohol-induced blackouts before. Paxton shows him a computer screen which plays the recreation of the murder, but Rindell's face has been placed on the assailant's face.
At a Frye hearing, Dr. Sofer is giving testimony on the problem of alcoholism and how much a person's judgment is impaired because of it. Paxton doesn't think the hearing is necessary and objects to the hearing, even though new scientific evidence might be brought in to her case. Addiction is a disease, and people who are prone to addiction have physical changes to various segments of the brain. Even if Rindell took a drink on his own, his addiction to alcohol made it impossible for him to keep any self-control.
Paxton cross-examines Sofer, to get her to agree that not all addicts commit murder. Alcoholism isn't a disease like a tumor. A tumor can't be cured just by thinking about not having the cancer, but people can force themselves to stop drinking. Paxton manages to convince the judge that the "alcoholism as a disease" defense won't be admissible in court. Benson admits that her mother was a drunk, and she died falling down a flight of stairs. The question of alcoholism as addiction isn't so cut and dry, but if there were a cure for it, then her mother would still be alive. Rindell is now claiming temporary insanity for alcohol psychosis.
At the hearing, Paxton shows the computer recreation of the murder, but it's the wrong file. It's the one with Rindell's face on the assailant, which has tainted the jury since it clearly places Rindell at the scene of the crime. Later Paxton is at a bar, drinking, as Benson and Stabler enter. The judge sent the jury home, and the detectives try to console Paxton. But she's having none of it. If the judge polls the jury and finds that they can't disregard the computer simulation, he will be forced to let Rindell go and declare a mistrial. Paxton says she'll need the entire night to prepare for the next day in court.
In court the next day, Paxton is late and harried-looking. Rindell immediately pegs her as being drunk. Benson ends up giving her a sobriety test, and her blood alcohol level is just above the legal limit. The judge tells her she should be removed from the courtroom, and Benson tries to escort her out.
A mistrial has been called on the case, and Benson tells Rindell that he's an extremely lucky man. Rindell counters that no matter what, this case will be haunting him for the rest of his life. He confesses that he realizes that he'd killed Audrey and starts to break down. He was so drunk that he doesn't think a memory of the event formed in his head. The stress from his business probably made him snap, and now that he realizes what he's done, he can't let go of it.
The detectives discuss Paxton's dismissal and Stabler points out that this was why she was such a control freak, that she was a functioning alcoholic trying to control everything she could. Paxton is off to court-ordered rehab and apologizes to the detectives before she leaves. Later, Benson goes to visit her mother's grave, placing a bouquet of roses on her tombstone.