Law & Order: Special Victims Unit

Season 4 Episode 14


Aired Thursday 10:00 PM Jan 31, 2003 on NBC

Episode Recap

A cooler containing a dead one-month old infant girl is found in the Hudson River near Battery Park. A plastic bag tied to the cooler handle had contained weights, which broke through the bag and allowed the cooler to float to the surface. Warner determines that the infant died only a day ago of a lethal dose of tricyclic antidepressants, which aren't prescribed to nursing mothers. But in all other respects this child had been well cared for, so she wasn't a throwaway.

Algae, sodium hypochlorite, and a partial logo on the bag narrow down the geographic area where the cooler was placed into the river. Hudson University is in that area. For lack of any other profile, SVU initially seeks out college students away from home who'd faced an unplanned pregnancy. When the university medical center insists on a subpoena before it will identify students who'd had pregnancy tests there, Elliot and Olivia seek one from Alex Cabot. Alex doesn't think they have grounds for it, but reluctantly agrees to ask her boss. To her surprise, SVU Bureau Chief Elizabeth Donnelly insists on getting the subpoena. Donnelly is ends-justify-the-means incensed that this mother didn't make use of the state's hard-won Baby Safe Haven law to give up her child safely, without fear of prosecution. A judge issues the subpoena, and the detectives -- Munch unwillingly -- visit the named students to ask about their pregnancies.

Several invasions of privacy later, Warner determines that the dead infant had Tay-Sachs disease. This was a mercy killing. A medical researcher tells Elliot and Olivia that symptoms the parents would have noticed wouldn't have appeared for about six months. However, the eye discoloration of Tay-Sachs is visible very soon after birth. Any pediatrician would have seen it during a well-baby checkup. Fortunately the disease is rare, so much so that there's only one support group in the area.

Elliot and Olivia visit the support group and tell the rabbi they're looking for a local couple with a one-month-old child. The rabbi remembers one woman from Manhattan who had attended recently. She came only once and had been referred by her child's pediatrician, Dr. Judah Platner. The doctor is a member of the rabbi's congregation.

Dr. Platner refuses to reveal any information about the woman. A check with the Vital Statistics Bureau reveals that the previous week, Platner had signed a death certificate for a Sarah Brown, who died at one month of age from asphyhxiation pneumonia. Elliot and Olivia visit the bereaved parents, Daniel and Andrea Brown. Olivia asks to use the bathroom, and finds in the trash an empty bottle of the adult antidepressant Imipramine -- prescribed for Andrea Brown the previous week by Dr. Platner.

Warner confirms that Imipramine is the tricyclic that killed Sarah Brown. Alex gets a warrant for the discarded prescription bottle, which in turn is sufficient grounds for opening Sarah's grave. The Browns buried an empty casket.

Andrea Brown and Dr. Platner are both brought in for questioning. A DNA test confirms the dead infant was Sarah Brown. Andrea says she acted alone in killing her daughter, and is charged with murder. Platner is charged with supplying the murder weapon, the antidepressant. The doctor staunchly defends his actions. After watching countless other children die terrible deaths, in Sarah's case at least he was able to do something before she suffered.

Dr. Platner testifies that he was Andrea's pediatrician from the day she was born, and sort of a surrogate father after her own father died. When he told her and Daniel that Sarah had Tay-Sachs disease, they felt very guilty over never being tested themselves. He also says both of them wanted to end Sarah's suffering, though he acknowledges having spoken directly only to Andrea about it. She was determined to euthanize Sarah with or without Dr. Platner's help. So he helped her in order to make things as painless as possible for both of them.

Andrea testifies she had acted alone in ending Sarah's life, saying she didn't want her husband to be the one who did it. Later, Alex sees the Browns and Platner arguing outside the courtroom. Platner's attorney tells Alex his client wants to make a deal. Baffled by Platner's suddenly throwing in the towel, Alex and her boss say they'll sleep on it.

Alex tells the detectives that Platner had seemed surprised when Andrea testified she'd acted alone. Munch wonders why the Browns, who must have known the risk of Tay-Sachs, weren't tested for the gene before they married. Answer: There had been no need for testing if Daniel Brown wasn't born Jewish. Confronted with a court order for a DNA sample from him, Daniel acknowledges that he's Jewish by conversion, and that he's not Sarah's biological father. He'd suspected an affair when Sarah was diagnosed, but he didn't know for certain until Andrea told him following her arrest.

In her closing argument to the jury, Andrea's attorney portrays her client as a loving mother who'd done what she did solely to spare Sarah a life of horrible agony. She asks the jurors to ask themselves, "If this were my child, what would I do?"

Alex portrays Andrea as a self-centered woman who sought to conceal her infidelity by eliminating the proof of it. She didn't tell her husband he wasn't her child's father, once she knew. She didn't tell Sarah's father he had a child. She pressured Dr. Platner to engage in criminal conduct to help her end Sarah's life. Since Sarah had not yet begun showing noticeable signs of Tay-Sachs, the longer she lived, the more likely someone was likely to find out the truth. This was no mercy killing, but a clear-cut case of murder.

The jury convicts Andrea Brown of second-degree murder, which carries 25 years to life. Munch, who's against euthanizing children, congratulates Alex on her victory. Alex doesn't feel victorious, saying she won only by portraying Andrea as a whore. She asks Munch the defense's question: "If it had been your child, what would you have done?" Munch answers, "Whatever I could."