Law & Order

Season 20 Episode 4

Reality Bites

Aired Monday 10:00 PM Oct 16, 2009 on NBC

Episode Recap

Larry Johnson, the father to ten adopted special needs children, tells his kids to stay in their van as he enters their house to fetch their mom. But instead, he finds Joy's lifeless body on the floor.

Bernard and Lupo are called in to investigate. Joy was killed by blunt trauma force to her head, and the murder weapon could be a Special Olympics trophy. Larry explains that he was out to pick up the kids from day care. The Johnsons started adopting once they figured out that they couldn't get pregnant, and they now have ten children in their care. A Hispanic woman was spotted leaving the house before Joy's death.

The Johnsons' oldest son, Tim, who's autistic was sent home early from school and spotted his mom on the floor. Blood got on his hands when he tried to check whether his mom was still alive. Tim is taken in for questioning. He claims to have not called the police first because on television, the suspect is always someone who is found close to the body. Bernard points out that not calling the police could also be a clue that the person is guilty, and Tim says that he'd hadn't thought of that.

As they watch the interrogation, Van Buren speaks with Larry, and Larry points out that Tim wants to be a detective when he grows up. Tim would not suddenly snap and become violent. Tim explains that he left school earlier because he was being bullied. The detectives press on with Tim, wondering how he got into the house, and he says that he has a key. The questioning becomes a little too severe and then Tim confesses that he killed his mom. Van Buren then tries to talk with Tim, who eventually says that a boy from school (DJ Lovell) stole his fanny pack, and his house key was in that bag. DJ already has a record for theft and petty assault.

Lupo and Bernard go talk to the Lovells, and DJ eventually says that he just threw the pack into the trash. DJ's mom mentions that she was over at the Johnsons' home earlier, and she saw Joy arguing with someone over the phone. Bernard has pulled the Johnsons' phone records and there were three calls on the day of Joy's death: from the school, from the Fraternal Order of Police, and from a woman named Belinda Alvarez, who might be the Hispanic woman the neighbor saw leaving earlier.

Belinda has ten kids too, septuplets and three others. She seems very media-savvy and explains that she and the Johnsons were both vying for a spot on a reality show. Joy told her that she didn't want to do the show, and just about gave up the show for Belinda. That made her jump around happily, which was what the neighbor saw.

The detectives return to the Johnson home to find that a reality TV crew has already started to film. They're asked to sign a release to be on the show, but they refuse to add their signatures to anything. Larry has apparently signed the contract to do the show. Joy was a hold-out, and as long as they were married, the reality TV company would have needed her signature on the contract in order to start the show. Now that Joy is dead, they only needed Larry's go-ahead. Larry claims that Joy wanted to do the show.

Van Buren is busy taking a look at her insurance coverage, and worries that with the cost of chemo her lifetime cap will be reached in three months. So if she's cured in three months' time, then everything will be okay. Otherwise, she can give the detectives a really great deal on a used Toyota. The detectives go to speak to the producer of the show.

The producer (Artie Cramer) says that he always knew Larry was willing to do the show, however Joy had misgivings. Larry was apparently holding out for more money. Larry is a real estate developer, so Lupo and Bernard go to his office, and they speak with his female accountant. Things have been slow at the company and a lot of staff have been laid off already. She and Larry have been going through the books, but she says that Larry wasn't in the office in the afternoon when Joy was murdered. Meanwhile, Larry's sister has flown in to help him with the kids.

The detectives find out that Larry was having an affair with their nanny, Suzanne. Suzanne admits that Larry was at her apartment that day and stayed until it was time to pick up the kids. Bernard discovers that there is a man's shirt in the laundry hamper. Suzanne claims it's Larry's, and that he always changes clothes before leaving the apartment. The shirt has bloodstains on it.

Larry explains that in the morning of Joy's death, one of the kids lashed out and cut Joy. That was probably where the blood came from. ADA Rubirosa and Van Buren go through the details of the case, but there's no hard evidence to convict Larry of the murder. Lupo mentions that Suzanne went through the kids' daily routine. When the kids come home from day care, they get out of the car immediately and run into the house. However, on the day of Joy's death, Larry told the kids to stay in the car while he went to get their mom. It looks as if Larry wanted to keep the kids from seeing their mom dead, which meant that he knew what had happened to her beforehand. Rubirosa thinks that this is enough proof to arrest him if they can corroborate the story with the kids.

The detectives are back at the Johnsons, and they try to talk to the kids about that day, but they're having a hard time communicating. Tim comes in to help and the kids mention that their dad told them to stay in the car. This is confirmation enough and they end up arresting Larry while the reality show cameras are rolling.

DA McCoy, EADA Cutter, and Rubirosa watch footage of Larry's arrest. Rubirosa admits that Children's Services will take the kids away from Larry if he can't make bail, so McCoy says to drop the bail to $100k, with the condition that Larry Johnson stop appearing on TV.

Rubirosa is approached by the reality show producer, and they turn out to have gone to the same university. The producer suggests that they take the case to the court of public opinion. In exchange for Rubirosa appearing on the show and allowing them to tape footage of the trial, he offers tapes of interviews with Joy and Larry, with Joy expressing her misgivings about going on TV. Cutter and McCoy agree that getting the tapes would be beneficial to their case, and Rubirosa agrees to be on-camera.

In court, Cutter explains that Larry's failed business dealings have made him desperate for cash. When he realized that Joy wouldn't agree to do the show, he snapped and killed her. Larry's defense lawyer argues that there is no evidence that Larry killed Joy. Belinda and DJ had motive and opportunity, and Tim actually did confess to the crime. So no one can prove who killed Joy.

Rubirosa brings in the tapes of Joy showing her concern about being on camera all the time and what this will do to the children. McCoy says that she didn't actually say that she didn't want to do the show. But Rubirosa points out that there was a witness that Joy said that to.

In court, Belinda is on the stand, and she repeats what she told the detectives. Joy told her that as far as she was concerned, Belinda could have the reality show all to herself. However, Larry's lawyer argues that Joy might have said it to make Belinda leave and that Belinda herself said that she would kill to be on the show, which is evidenced by a taped interview.

Next on the stand is the producer, who admits that he doesn't think Belinda said that statement literally. He also says that he didn't think Joy seemed too eager to be on the show, and that he mainly dealt with Larry when it came to negotiating. He did tell Larry the day before Joy's death that the contract needed to be signed or else he'd take the show to someone else. The producer also says that Larry's accountant called him and "he" asked about payment. However, Rubirosa says that when the detectives spoke to Larry's accountant, it was a woman, not a man. Afterwards, Rubirosa tries to talk to the producer, who still has cameras on him.

Later, Rubirosa says that the callback number the accountant gave the producer is actually a finance company which fronts for a loan shark named Sammy Shiner. Larry must have owed a lot of money, which was why Shiner was checking up on any cash coming Larry's way. If they can find Shiner and get him to testify, then they could convict Larry. If Larry says he didn't do it for the money and doesn't need it, they could bring Shiner in to rebut.

Larry takes the stand, and he claims that he and Joy both agreed to do the show. On the day of her death, he says that the regular routine was broken up because Joy was tired and she went to take a nap, and Larry didn't want any of the kids to wake her up. He says point blank that he did not kill his wife.

Cutter cross-examines Larry and brings up his affair, but everything else in the timeframe seems rock-solid. Larry stopped by to get coffee in between leaving his office, going to Suzanne's, and then going to pick up the kids. Once he says he didn't need the money, Cutter asks Rubirosa to get Shiner in as a material witness. However, Shiner appears to be out of the country at the moment. Wondering how the defense got tipped to their plan, Rubirosa realizes that she had her notepad open and exposed to the cameras the whole time. Anyone could have read her notes from the taped footage.

Without the witness, Cutter goes through with bringing up Larry's arrangement with Shiner anyway, but Larry denies knowing the man and claims that his dealing with Uptown Finance was above the board and legitimate. Cutter mentions that sometimes Shiner's clients end up dead if they don't pay, which leads the defense to request that Shiner be brought in. The jury is deadlocked and the judge declares a mistrial.

They're still in the middle of searching for Shiner when Cutter mentions to the rest of the attorneys that the production company switched up "Larry Plus 10" a little bit. Now Larry and his kids are moving in with Belinda and her kids in a large mansion, where they'll compete to win prizes. A human lie detector is also going to move in with them, so that maybe the public will find out the truth about who killed Joy. The audience will get to vote on whether Larry is guilty of the crime. And Cutter jokes that they asked Arthur Branch to be the judge.