The Price of Justice
Written November 2005
Synopsis: The rape and subsequent murder of a prominent judge leave the squad with no evidence and no suspects.
Disclaimer: The characters within are property of Wolf Films, Universal Television, Studios USA, and other corporations. No infringement is intended.
“It’s a box. It’s a bed. It’s a stick man by a bed. It’s a stick man by a coffin. It’s a … what the hell is it?”
John Munch snickered. “I knew she’d never get this one.”
“Shut up, Munch.” Olivia Benson squinted at the chalkboard and her partner’s furious scribbles. The oval shaped design with sticks coming down from it had her puzzled. “A UFO? Bed. UFO. Alien abductions.”
“Time’s running out,” he taunted with a tap at his watch.
Elliot Stabler drew a face with bloodshot eyes. Or at least that’s what he thought it looked like. Then he tapped on the face, then on the bed, then on the other drawing. “Come on, Liv.”
She clenched and unclenched her fists, silently mouthing words. “He’s high, he drank too much coffee before bed.” Elliot nodded and pointed again. “He’s not tired. He’s awake. He’s not sleeping.” Elliot rolled his wrist. Closer, closer. “Sleepless! Sleepless in Seattle!”
Odafin Tutuola stomped his foot. “Damn! John, I thought you said she didn’t watch chick flicks.”
“She doesn’t,” Elliot confirmed, wiping down the board.
Olivia tapped her finger on the last drawing. “Wait, what was that?”
“The Space Needle.”
“That’s the Space Needle? Oh, El, you’ve got to go to Seattle. That looks nothing like the Space Needle.”
“Yeah, yeah.” He glanced at his watch. “Okay, we still have a few more minutes until the shift starts. We can do one more.” He flipped through the index cards that he and Olivia had prepared beforehand. He showed her the one where she had written Lethal Weapon, and she grinned. “Who’s drawing?”
Donald Cragen stepped out of his office, his own eyes bloodshot. “People, what are we doing?”
“Playing Pictionary,” Olivia answered. “Want to play? You can join Munch and Fin’s team since they’re losing.”
“I just got a call from the Honorable Marianne Woodward. Benson, Stabler, I want you down at the courthouse ten minutes ago.”
Elliot reached for his jacket. “What’s up, Cap?”
“She wants to report a rape.”
“Whose?” Fin asked.
Criminal Court of New York City
100 Centre Street
Monday, October 18
“Please, Detectives, have a seat. Would you like some coffee?” Marianne Woodward was a striking woman, one whose attractiveness seemed to grow with age. Her golden hair was wrapped in a neat bun atop her head. She was petite in every sense of the word, but when dressed in the black judge’s robe, she looked intimidating.
As a judge with the Criminal Court of New York City, she was a friend to the Special Victims Unit. When remand was requested, it was usually granted. When it was time for sentencing, Judge Woodward gave the strictest punishment allowed by the law. There was always a sense of relief when she was assigned to an SVU case, even before the trial began.
“I’m sorry to have you come all the way out here,” she said as she sat behind her large oak desk, “but I’d like to avoid the media circus for as long as I can.”
“We understand,” Elliot said then cast a glance at his partner. She gave him a small nod, and he flipped open his notebook and readied his pen. “Could you tell us what happened?”
“My sister Carly and I had dinner reservations at eight at Primorski. We were there until ten-thirty. I got home around eleven, I think. The door was unlocked, but the alarm was set, so I didn’t think much of it.”
“Didn’t think much of it?” Olivia repeated.
“My live-in housekeeper, Elena, forgets to lock it sometimes, but we live in a very safe apartment building. Or so I thought.”
“Who else has keys to your apartment?” Elliot asked.
“Just Elena and my sister.” She waited to see if they had any other questions before continuing. “I had an early docket this morning, so I decided to go to bed. I went into my bedroom. I didn’t turn on the lights. I had just started undressing when he…”
Olivia gave her a comforting smile. “Take your time.”
“I think he had been hiding in the closet. There was a loud bang when he threw open the door.” She pressed her fingers to her lips. “He, uh, he blindfolded me, shoved a washcloth in my mouth, and tied me to the bedposts. Then he raped me. He used a condom, too, the bastard.”
“Do you have any idea how long he was there?”
“Not that long. Elena got home at midnight and found me.” She took a breath. “It was her night off, and she wasn’t due in until this morning. If she hadn’t come home when she did, I don’t know what would’ve happened.”
“So he was still there when Elena arrived?” Olivia asked.
“He disappeared when he heard the front door open. I don’t know where he went. I banged my fists on the headboard until Elena came in. I guess he slipped past her.”
“Did you go to the hospital?”
“I called my physician. She took me to Mount Sinai and did the rape kit.” She reached into a desk drawer and pulled out a business card. “This is the name of the officer who took the kit to the lab.”
Elliot made the notations in his notebook. “What’s your doctor’s name?”
“Do you remember anything about the man who attacked you? Any physical characteristics, something he said?”
The judge chuckled to herself. “It was dark in my room. Even darker after he blindfolded me. But he did say something.”
Olivia raised her eyebrows. “What was it?”
“When he grabbed me, he whispered, ‘I love it when a plan comes together.'”
“Wow.” Elliot took a hesitant step out of the elevator. Judge Woodward resided on the top floor of an apartment building on the Upper West Side. The pearl marble tiled foyer swirled with intricate patterns. “This is not what I expected.”
Olivia chuckled. “Why not?”
“I don’t know,” he said, pressing the buzzer beside a cherry wood door with a pastoral scene carved into it. “Guess I pictured something a little more humble.”
“She’s a rich widow, no kids. Her husband was an extremely successful celebrity lawyer. Died in July. She donates a significant amount of money to RAINN, Safe Horizon – all the victim organizations.”
“Sounds like you did your homework.”
She grinned. “Anyone who hands the maximum sentence over to sex offenders is someone I pay attention to.”
“You think it could have been a parolee who raped her?”
“I don’t know what to think yet.”
A young woman opened the door and regarded them with innocent brown eyes. Her black hair was shoulder-length and straight, and she wore black slacks and a white blouse. Elliot found his gaze drawn to a long scar on her neck that ran from her ear to her shirt collar. He held up his badge. “I’m Detective Stabler, this is my partner, Detective Benson.”
“Yes. Ms. Woodward told me you’d be coming by. I’m Elena.” She allowed them into the apartment. “I decided not to stay at my friend’s house last night,” she said without preamble. “I just wish I had come home instead of going to that movie. Then I would’ve been here when Ms. Woodward got back from dinner. Maybe then this wouldn’t have happened.”
They passed through a living room with classically styled furniture that looked like something out of the nineteenth century. A long, elegant dining table for six sat on the right side of the room; behind it was a wall separating the kitchen from the dining area. Shutters had been built into it and were open, providing a view of the oak wood cabinets and marble countertops. Elena grabbed onto the handles of a silver tea cart and pushed it through another door and into a modest sunroom. The windows extended from floor to ceiling, and there were several marble benches and dozens of potted plants. The most striking element was the working stone fountain topped with Themis, the Greek goddess of justice, water trickling down from her scales.
“Ms. Woodward is such a kind-hearted person. This whole thing is terrible.” Elena gestured to the cart and gave them her most polite smile. “Would you like some tea?”
“We’d just like to ask you some questions,” Elliot said.
“And we’d like to see Judge Woodward’s bedroom,” Olivia added.
“Oh.” Elena sat down quickly. “Well, it’s already been cleaned.”
Elliot looked up from his notebook. “Cleaned?”
“Yes. I wanted Ms. Woodward to be comfortable when she got home.” Her lower lip trembled. “Was that bad?”
“What cleaning did you do?” Olivia asked.
“Well, I vacuumed and dusted, and I had the sheets and comforter taken to the cleaners.”
She reached into the pocket of her black slacks and pulled out a ticket stub. “This one.”
While Olivia contacted the company, Elliot sat down on the bench beside Elena. She twisted her fingers together, and her left heel was tapping on the floor. “What’s your last name, Elena?”
“Petrova,” she answered, “but I’ve been here for seven years. I have citizenship.”
“We’re not with the immigration bureau. We’re just trying to find out what happened to Judge Woodward, okay?” He gave her a comforting smile. “What movie did you go see last night?”
She rattled off the name in Russian. “It was at a foreign film theater on Forty-Second Street.”
“What happened when you got home?”
“I came in the front door and went to the kitchen. I heard some banging from Ms. Woodward’s bedroom, so I checked on her. She was tied to the bed. She was … naked.”
“You didn’t see anyone else anywhere in the apartment?”
“Okay. What did you do when you found Judge Woodward?”
“I took the blindfold off, then I took the cloth out of her mouth. She told me to call Doctor Shaw. She came, and we all went to the hospital. Then, while Ms. Woodward was with the doctor, I came home and got her some clothes. When I got back, she was done. Her sister was there.”
“Her sister Carly?”
Elena nodded. “They talked for a little while, then Ms. Woodward left with her sister. I came back here, took a nap, and then started cleaning.”
“What time did you get back?”
“Five or five-thirty. It was a long night.” Her fingers absently rubbed the scar on her neck. “Long night.”
“What happened?” He pointed to his own neck and mirrored her actions.
She realized what she had been doing and jerked her hand down, as if she had been burned. She gazed at him and sighed. “When I came to the United States, I got a job in a Russian restaurant. Ms. Woodward was a regular; her office was only a few blocks away. One night, I was working late, alone, and a man came into the restaurant. He had a knife, and he wanted all the money, but Dimitri had already put it in the safe, and I didn’t know the combination.” She squirmed in her seat. “He did bad things to me. He almost killed me. If Dimitri hadn’t come back…”
Elliot stopped writing and looked at her. He tried to imagine what it must’ve been like for her: moving to a country where she didn’t speak the language, hoping for a chance at a good life, and then having everything – her innocence, her future – taken away in one night. “So Judge Woodward took you in.”
“She always sat at my tables. When I didn’t come back to work, she asked what happened to me.” Elena wiped at her eyes with the back of her hand. “She came to see me in the hospital. She told me not to be afraid, that she would take care of everything, and she did. The man who did this to me went to jail, and I moved in with her and her husband. I learned English, and I went to night school.”
“Elena, Judge Woodward said the door wasn’t locked when she came home last night. Is it possible that you forgot?”
She shrugged. “Maybe. It’s very safe here, sometimes I forget.” A pleasant chime resounded through the apartment, and she stood up. “Excuse me.”
Olivia waited until she was gone before speaking to her partner. “CSU’s on their way over. They also sent a team to the cleaners to pick up the bedding.”
“She contaminated the scene, Elliot.”
“She never should’ve come back here. She may have compromised this investigation.”
“We’ll find out soon enough.” Before she could speak again, he asked, “Heard anything from Munch and Fin?”
“They just finished talking to Brent Davies, the officer who was present during the exam. He claims he followed the chain of command with the kit and will forward a copy of the results to us when they’re ready. They’re on their way to see Doctor Shaw now.”
“Okay. We should talk to the sister, but I want to check out the premises first. Something about this doesn’t sit right with me. We’re on the top floor of a ritzy apartment building with a doorman, cameras in every hallway… Elena probably didn’t lock the door, but that’s not the problem. I want to know how he got into the building in the first place.”
“Disguise?” she suggested.
“I don’t think so. If he came as pizza delivery, maybe, but cable, phone, general maintenance? There aren’t many companies who send their guys out that late.”
“So we’re thinking resident or building employees. Someone who belongs here. Judge Woodward may even know him.” She heard voices in the parlor and glanced out the doorway. “CSU’s here. I’ll go talk to security, see if we can get a look at the tapes from last night.”
Doctor Libby Shaw tucked a lock of ash blond hair behind her ear and looked at the two detectives in her office. “You’re here about Marianne, aren’t you?”
“We just want to ask you a few things about last night,” Fin explained. “You were summoned to Judge Woodward’s house by the housekeeper, Elena, is that right?”
“That’s correct. And when I arrived, Marianne was … shaken but cooperative. She told me that she had been raped. She wanted the rape kit done, so we went to Mount Sinai. I have privileges there. I brought her in the back entrance and took her to a room. Once Officer Davies arrived, I did the examination. He took the photos and kit with him back to his precinct.”
Munch admired the plaques and certificates on the wall. “What did you find during your exam?”
“Bruising, some bleeding, a few cuts and tears of the vaginal tissue. Evidence of penetration. I swabbed everything, but Marianne said he used a condom. I’ll get you a copy of my notes.”
“Do you know the judge well?” he asked.
“Yes. We met through our husbands. They used to golf together.”
“Her husband died a few months ago, didn’t he?”
She nodded. “Chester was young, only forty-five. Aortic aneurysm.” She walked to her bookshelf and brought down a framed photograph. “This is the four of us. We chartered a sailboat to the British Virgin Islands in June, a month before he died.”
“What does the housekeeper do while you’re gone?”
She frowned at Munch’s question. “Elena? I think for the past couple of years she’s gone home to Russia. I’m really not sure.”
Fin faced her. “Can you think of anyone who would do this to Judge Woodward?”
“No. Aside from the usual, that is. Parolees, criminals…” She shrugged. “Everyone likes and respects her. I know she’ll get elected in the spring.”
“Elected to what?”
“The New York Supreme Court. She’s been an acting Justice for two years, and there will be an opening in March. She’s going for it.”
Special Victims Unit
Tuesday, October 19
Cragen stood in the center of the bullpen, a file in his hands. “Okay, where are we on the Woodward rape?”
“Olivia and I talked to the judge and the housekeeper,” Elliot said. “We have an appointment to talk to the sister tomorrow afternoon.”
Munch looked at the captain. “Fin and I took care of the patrol officer and the doctor.”
“Then let’s play show and tell,” Cragen said, leaning against a desk. “Elliot, would you like to begin?”
His smile quickly disappeared as he focused on the case at hand. “The attack happened between eleven and twelve Sunday night and ended prematurely when the housekeeper, Elena Petrova, came home from the movies. She wasn’t even supposed to come home at all. When she arrived, she found the judge blindfolded, gagged with a washcloth, and her wrists tied to the bedposts. Perp used a condom. Judge Woodward banged on the headboard until Elena came to investigate the noise, and he apparently slipped out unnoticed.”
“Anybody see this guy come in or out of the building?” Cragen asked.
“I viewed the building’s security tapes from Sunday night.” Olivia stood by the chalkboard where she had drawn out a timeline. “Seven twenty-two: Judge Woodward leaves her apartment and gets on the elevator. Seven twenty-four – after several starts and stops – she gets off the elevator and heads out the front door. She had dinner reservations at Primorski with her sister, Carly Summers. Seven fifty-two: Elena Petrova leaves the building on her way to Bloomingdales and a Russian movie on Forty-Second Street.”
“So the apartment is empty from eight o’clock on.” Cragen folded his arms across his chest.
“And the housekeeper left the front door unlocked.”
Fin snorted. “Great.”
“The alarm was set,” Olivia continued, “but get this. The next person to take the elevator to the top floor was Judge Woodward, at five after eleven.”
“So he took the stairs,” Munch said.
“There’s a camera in the stairwell, too. It didn’t pick up anything, but unlike the camera fixed on the elevator, it swivels back and forth.”
Fin sighed. “If the perp knew how the cameras worked, he could’ve timed it so that he’d never be seen.”
“So he planned it,” Cragen said. “But he didn’t plan on Elena coming home before he finished the job. Did the cameras pick up anything when he left?”
“Nothing on the elevator, but there was this on the stair camera early Monday morning.” She handed him a still photograph with the time stamp 00:12. “Say cheese.”
The camera had been pointing down the stairwell at the time. It captured the figure of a person, presumably the rapist, wearing a long, dark cape with a wide-brimmed hat that obscured his face from the shot. Cragen frowned. “Okay, he’s tall. Age indeterminate. Race indeterminate. Hair color, eye color, distinguishing features – all indeterminate. Dressed like Count Dracula in a black cowboy hat.”
Olivia shrugged one shoulder. “He didn’t show up on any other cameras after that, stairwell or elevator. So either he started dodging the cameras again or he lives on the floor below her.”
“Perp also likes The A Team,” Elliot added. “At some point during the attack, he told the judge, ‘I love it when a plan comes together.’ I fed the quote into the computer to see if there were any other A Team-loving rapists in the system, but I came up empty-handed.”
Cragen rubbed his forehead. “Anything else of interest?”
“Yeah,” he said. “Elena, the housekeeper, cleaned up the bedroom while the judge was with her sister. Vacuumed, dusted, et cetera. CSU got the bedding from the cleaners before they washed it, and they confiscated the vacuum. Everything’s in the lab. I’ll harass them for the results later.”
“And for what it’s worth,” Olivia added, “Elena’s a rape victim too. Perp’s behind bars, courtesy of Judge Woodward.”
He nodded. “All right, Munch, Fin, what do you have?”
Munch opened his file. “After the attack, Judge Woodward called two people: her doctor, Libby Shaw, and a Queens patrol officer, Brent Davies. We talked to Officer Davies first. He is forever in the judge’s debt because she sentenced the man who raped and murdered his daughter back in oh-two. So when she called him about a rape in the wee hours of morning, he was more than willing to meet her at Mount Sinai.”
“He was in the room while the rape kit was done,” Fin continued. “Said he would do his best to find out who did this to her, that it was the least he could do. He took the rape kit back to his precinct’s lab to be processed, and he said he’d put a rush on the results.”
“What about the good doctor?” Cragen asked. “Libby Shaw?”
Munch flipped to a different page. “Her examination showed evidence of penetration, vaginal only. Also some bruising to her inner thigh, vaginal bleeding, cuts and tears of the tissue. ALS didn’t show any fluids on the body.”
“Did she indicate any possible suspects?”
“No,” Fin said, “but she did mention that Judge Woodward recently announced her decision to run for Supreme Court Justice. Turns out one of the justices is retiring and the position will be open on March first.”
Cragen waited for more, but his detectives didn’t speak. “Okay. Any theories?”
Elliot shook his head. “The doorman who was on duty didn’t report anyone suspicious, and whenever there’s a visitor, be it pizza delivery, cable guy, friend, whoever – he calls up to the resident for confirmation before letting them in.”
“Judge Woodward was the target,” Munch said. “If it was an act of opportunity, the housekeeper’s return home wouldn’t have stopped him. Probably the opposite.”
“And the perp would have to be familiar with the building,” Fin added.
Cragen counted off each finger on his hand. “Building employee, resident, who else?” They were silent. “Anybody? Then keep looking. This is a high profile case, and the last thing we need is One PP breathing down our necks.”
1 Police Plaza
Tuesday, October 19
“All right, what do you have for us?”
The pale-faced lab technician looked up from her microscope with all the seriousness of a school marm. “You’re kidding me, right?”
Elliot matched her expression. “No. Come on, Tara, it’s been a while.”
“A while?” she repeated. “I don’t think I’ve had this evidence for twenty-four hours.”
“Well, have you found anything in the last twenty-four hours?”
She rolled her eyes and hopped off the stool. “We did go through the bedding. Found some fluid on the sheets – probably hers. A few blond hairs – also probably hers. And this.” She stepped back from the microscope and let the two detectives have a look.
“Is that someone’s hair? It’s awfully short.” Olivia asked as she peered down the slender tube. She lifted her head long enough to let Elliot examine the slide.
“Actually, it is a black fiber. One hundred percent polyester. Texturized. Popular for its wrinkle resistance. Dry clean only.” The detectives didn’t look amused, and she cocked an eyebrow. “It’s called wonder crêpe. Commonly used to make judge’s robes. Victim’s a judge, right?”
Elliot heaved an annoyed sigh. “Did you find anything that might lead us to a suspect?”
“You might want to check with Suzie over in Latent. She’s working on the prints they pulled off the door handle. No guarantees though. We’re backed up enough as it is. Not enough scientists, out of date equipment…” Her voice trailed off, and she swallowed her impending rant. “Check back in a few weeks; maybe we’ll have something more concrete.”
“We don’t have a few weeks.”
Elliot opened his mouth again, but Olivia nudged him. He walked out of the lab. “Thank you for your time,” she said before following him. “What’s the matter with you?”
“You’re acting like a child. I told you that the lab wouldn’t have any results, but you insisted we go anyway and then you treat the tech like it’s her fault.”
“Maybe it is.” Before she could object, he continued, “We have no suspects, no evidence, no leads, no nothing. All we have is a grainy black and white photograph and an uncooperative housekeeper.”
“And a cranky detective,” she muttered.
“What did you say?”
Olivia sighed and silently counted to five. “Look, whatever’s bothering you? Take it out on me, take it out on yourself, but don’t take it out on everyone else.” She reached out and squeezed his forearm. “I’ll be here when you need me, partner.”
He watched her walk down the hallway and turn the corner. With a shake of his head, he followed.
Casey Novak strode into the bullpen. Fin and Elliot looked up but said nothing. Cragen came out of his office, red licorice in hand, and tilted his head in greeting. Munch and Olivia remained oblivious to her arrival. “Do you have a television?” she asked.
“Yeah, it’s upstairs,” Cragen said. “What’s wrong?”
“Judge Woodward was raped last night.”
Elliot nodded. “We know; we’re investigating it.”
“Did you know she’s giving a press conference right now regarding it?” From the looks on their faces, they clearly didn’t. “Two of the major networks have interrupted their programming.”
They hurried upstairs to the crib, where Munch turned on the old eighteen-inch set and found a channel that was covering the interview.
Marianne Woodward stood on the steps of the courthouse despite the light rain that had begun to fall. Anxiety and lack of sleep had extinguished the fire in her eyes, but she spoke with a conviction that had everybody captivated. “…and I refuse to be a statistic,” she was saying. “Do you know that a woman is raped every six minutes in this country? Every six minutes. This is a serious crime, and as you know, it can happen to anyone. My housekeeper, Elena … raped during a burglary attempt at the restaurant where she worked. My sister, Carly … raped by a professor in college. And now me, raped in my own home by an unknown assailant.”
“The sister’s a victim, too?” Olivia asked. “Coincidence?”
Elliot shrugged, and Casey said, “That’s how she got into criminal law. Vengeance for her sister.”
“How do you feel about the attack?” a reporter shouted out.
“I feel violated. Humbled. But I don’t feel defeated. The most important weapon that I have is my strength. I have every confidence that the Manhattan Special Victims Unit will find the man who did this to me and put him away. I will continue to serve this city and its people by making sure that convicted sex offenders do not get out on parole. And if I am elected to the Supreme Court in the spring, you have my word that the laws of this state will be changed to protect the victims of these terrible crimes, not the perpetrators.”
“She just had to get that in there, didn’t she?” Fin muttered.
Elliot continued to stare at the television. “I thought she wanted to avoid a media circus.”
“Finally,” Judge Woodward said, “I want all of the victims to know that they are not alone. There are many wonderful support groups available, and to show you just how wonderful I think they are, I am donating ten thousand dollars to each of them.”
“That’s enough of that,” Munch said, turning off the television amidst a round of applause from the press.
Casey shook her head. “One of New York’s greatest sexual assault advocates becomes a victim herself. It’s like a sick joke.”
“Maybe that’s the point,” Olivia said. “No one is safe.”
Cragen nodded absently then looked at the detectives. “Okay, let’s get back to work.” He started to follow them out but stopped when he realized Casey wasn’t following. “Did you know her well?”
The ADA hugged herself, eyes still fixed on the blank screen. “I knew her enough to like her. We’ve talked at social functions, even had lunch a few times. I admire her. She’s tough. Extremely dedicated. She does a lot of good for the victims. No matter how she spun those donations at the press conference, it’s not the first time she’s given money to victim support groups.” Her attention was miles from the conversation at hand, and for a moment, Cragen thought she was finished. “Do you remember that public service announcement I was involved in earlier this year?”
He frowned. “Vaguely.”
“Judicial Advocates Against Sexual Assault. There were the commercials and the print ad-”
“-and the nightly news spot. I remember now.”
“The whole thing was Judge Woodward’s idea. She hoped it would compel more victims to report their abuse if they saw the faces of justice.”
Cragen nodded as she spoke. “I remember having a surge of reported rapes come in around the time the ads appeared. Who else was involved in that?”
“The ADAs from each borough who work with Special Victims and a few judges who hear sexual assault cases: Judges Woodward, Terhune, Leonard, Petrovsky… We had a good turnout. A lot of people wanted to show their support.”
“Could you get me a list of the people who were there?”
“I don’t know about the camera crew, but I’ve got some pictures from the different shoots. I’ll bring them by later.”
“Thanks.” He paused for a moment then folded his arms across his chest. “Do you think she’ll get elected to the Supreme Court?”
“She doesn’t have much opposition, but even if she did, she really is the best person for the job. And after this, she’ll definitely be a favorite.” Casey frowned. “You don’t think she staged her own rape to gain the upper hand, do you?”
“Right now, I think anything’s possible.”
End of part one