Conviction is at its most compelling when the show digs deeper into the flawed individuals at the heart of the CIU, each of whom work to right (possibly) wrongful convictions in the interest of justice while simultaneously confronting their own personal demons. Lady boss Hayes is no stranger to scandal, and her last major offense of cocaine possession is what landed her at the helm of the CIU in the first place; paralegal Tess is dealing with the guilt of putting an innocent man in jail for five years; forensics pro Frankie has a record of his own and a lover still behind bars; and former cop Maxine recently relapsed after more than a year of sobriety for an addiction to pain pills.
But besides being a sore loser over losing the CIU’s top job to Hayes — and a forgettable character in general — we haven’t seen Sam experience a failing or vulnerability on the same level as that of his colleagues. Until now, that is.
Case No. 8: Sierra Macy
Tonight’s episode opens on a desperate woman escaping from what looks like a locked room in a basement. Armed with a crude knife of sorts, she heads upstairs, ready for a confrontation, only to discover a dead man sitting on the couch — and by the looks of the maggots crawling on the corpse, dude’s been dead for a while. She drops the knife and opens the door to her freedom.
We find out the woman’s name is Sierra Macy, a Queens resident who went missing 10 years ago when she was a junior in high school. Presumed dead until now, the police learn Sierra was held captive all these years by a long-haul trucker named Peter Gunther (i.e. the dead guy). Problem is, someone else is already in jail for her kidnapping and murder: Josh Fleck, a teacher from Sierra’s high school who pled guilty to avoid a life sentence. The second complication? Though Gunther did keep Sierra imprisoned in his basement (and committed unspeakable acts against her), he wasn’t the one to abduct her. The NYPD found trip logs in his house that showed he was in Iowa the night Sierra went missing. Fleck obviously didn’t kill Sierra, but he could have been Gunther’s accomplice. Either way, the new information calls Fleck’s 20-year sentence into question — and it’s then we learn Sam was the original prosecutor on the case.
Seeing Sam struggle with the idea he could have made a mistake and bullied Fleck into a plea deal finally gives us some insight into what kind of man and lawyer he is. As a fan of Sam’s portrayer, Shawn Ashmore (The Following), I’ve lamented in previous recaps over his status as an underused member of the cast, so it was interesting to see him go from steadfastly believing he was right to drunkenly licking his wounds when he realizes that’s not the case. I particularly liked watching him make the effort to right his wrong and his solemn acceptance that he can never really atone for what he’s done. Fleck may be free now, but he spent 10 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit — and Sam is the reason why.
Oh, did I give away the ending already? My bad. Let’s back up. What originally made Fleck a suspect in Sierra’s disappearance was the presence of her blood in his pickup truck and an eyewitness who swore she saw the pair leave a diner together the night Sierra went missing. As Fleck tells it, Sierra called him, saying she was running away and wanted to say goodbye — “teenager speak” for “stop me,” he says. He picked her up from the train station and took her to the diner so they could talk, claiming he wanted to be her friend and tell her things would get better. Fleck then says Sierra went to the bathroom and never came back, conflicting with the waitress’ testimony that she saw them get into his truck and drive away.
NEXT: Sam’s search for the truth puts him in danger