This time, it really is a matter of life and death

By Kelli Bamforth
December 06, 2016 at 02:29 AM EST
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RECAP: 12/5/16: All Crops: CONVICTION - "a different kind of death" - RICHARD THOMAS, EDDIE CAHILL MONDAY, DECEMBER 5
Credit: ABC/Sven Frenzel
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The Conviction Integrity Unit’s five-day deadline for each new case has been mostly arbitrary, a time limit imposed by Conner (i.e. the showrunners) as a means of injecting extra drama into each hour. Until now, that is. This week, the team’s race against the clock takes on a whole new meaning because this time, a man’s life hangs in the balance. And coincidentally, his execution is exactly — you guessed it — five days away.

Case No. 9: Earl Slavitt

Conner brings the CIU its next case: That of Earl Slavitt, a death-row inmate convicted 10 years earlier for the shooting death of Assistant U.S. Attorney Tom Simon. Hayes, still smarting from Conner’s betrayal last week, is none too pleased to see him, especially since Conner’s not just assigning this case, he’s working it, a.k.a. taking over what’s supposed to be her job.

As it turns out, Tom was a close friend of Conner’s and a staunch opponent of the death penalty. Earl just lost his last appeal and his execution for Tom’s murder is in five days. Tom’s widow, Susan, is desperate to confirm Earl’s guilt before then, considering her husband’s opinions on capital punishment.

Here’s the story: Earl was convicted on federal fraud charges for embezzling half a million dollars from his employer. He spent three years in jail and allegedly shot Tom — the prosecutor on his case — a week after his release. Tom survived the original shooting but died two years later when some remaining bullet fragments shifted in his brain. Earl’s conviction for attempted murder became one of capital murder, thanks to Tom’s position as an attorney for the government.

We don’t get too many details on the evidence against Earl, other than he professed his innocence on the fraud charge and was seemingly obsessed with getting revenge on Tom for his original incarceration. The weapon found at the scene had been cobbled together from several other guns and was, therefore, untraceable — a favorite method of contract killers rather than embezzlers, as Maxine points out. The team gets to work investigating other cases Tom was assigned and leafing through some files Susan brought in.

Hayes and Conner, meanwhile, interview Bill Newton, the assistant U.S. attorney who prosecuted Earl for Tom’s murder. He, of course, insists the case was open-and-shut, particularly because it was reviewed, re-reviewed, and re-re-reviewed after Earl’s conviction. Hayes steps out of the meeting to take a call from Frankie, who found some unopened mail in the files from Tom’s wife — including a typewritten, unsigned letter from someone confessing to the murder. The note includes details about the crime not released to the press, such as the use of the “ghost gun” and how the killer built it. All Hayes needed was a shred of proof indicating Earl’s potential innocence: She’s now determined to stop the execution.

Conner and Hayes then head to Indiana to interview Earl in prison. Like all the CIU’s defendants, he maintains his innocence and is thrilled to hear about the letter sent to Tom’s widow: “I knew it. I knew if I held on long enough, someone would help me.” This one glimmer of hope should have been enough to let everyone know this case would end in tragedy, but Hayes pushes on.

NEXT: The clock’s still ticking

Sam and Tess seek a stay of execution on the grounds of new exculpatory evidence, but the judge doesn’t think the unsigned letter serves as proof of innocence and denies their request. Hayes scrambles to find something the prison’s superintendent missed in the 30 days leading up to the execution — if even one deadline is missed during the “month of prep,” the clock starts all over and the execution is delayed. Though Braemer makes no secret of the fact he hates this part of his job, he can’t bring himself to purposely make a mistake and give Hayes more time to get to the truth.

But wait! Frankie got the results of the DNA test on the confession letter, tracing it back to an ex-con named Harold Redding, a former hit man. Though the use of the ghost gun now makes sense, Harold died of pancreatic cancer two years ago, so there’s no way to talk to him directly about his involvement in Tom’s murder. What’s worse is that when Earl served time for his fraud conviction, Harold was in a cell block just 100 yards away — and they were released within days of each other. Earl might not have pulled the trigger, but it certainly looks as though he could have paid Harold for the hit.

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Conner takes the allegations to Tom’s widow and asks for access to their banking records, but doesn’t find any unusual activity around the time of Earl’s fraud case. Even though no suspect deposits were made into Tom’s account, a judge grants a stay and Earl’s execution is delayed for now. Score one for the good guys…

… For about five minutes or so. Bill, determined to keep his winning record intact, appeals the stay and succeeds in getting it lifted. Earl’s execution will proceed as scheduled that very same day.

NEXT: It’s too late, baby, now it’s too late

Hayes is so desperate to save Earl’s life, she calls her ex-president father for a favor. Unsurprisingly, daddy declines to get involved, so Hayes and Conner visit Earl one last time to deliver the bad news. Seemingly resigned to his fate, Earl tells Hayes not to attend his execution. She takes it as added motivation to track down the truth in the less than two hours that remain. With the clock ticking, Tess is still trying to find out who purchased the money orders and Hayes is making one desperate phone call after another.

She finally strikes gold when she talks to Nina, who confirms once more that she turned over the memo proving Earl’s innocence to Tom Simon all those years ago… only it wasn’t Tom she met with, it was Bill. He was the one taking the bribes and he had Tom killed to cover his tracks. A relieved Hayes races to the prison and leaves several frantic voicemails for Conner on the way, telling him what she learned and begging him to stop the execution. Unfortunately, Conner wasn’t able to bring his phone into the room to witness Earl’s death — and that’s when it hits me. (Admittedly, I was a little slow on the uptake this episode.) They’re too late… Earl is innocent, but he’s already dead.

It’s a devastating end to the latest episode of Conviction, which seems to get better and better as its own clock starts to run out. A thoroughly defeated Hayes and Conner return to their separate (but adjoining) hotel rooms and find solace in each other’s arms, finally kissing as the hour fades to black. If Conviction gives us nothing else over its last four episodes, I certainly hope it finds a way to bring these two flawed-but-perfect-for-each-other kids back together.

Episode 9 Case Notes:

  • Hayes: “I’m sorry for your loss.”

    Susan Simon: “Nice to meet you. I voted for your mother. Absentee ballot.”

    Hayes: “I keep forgetting to do that. I’m sure that has no deeper meaning.”

  • Hayes: “Capital punishment is immoral, unconstitutional; it is cruel, unusual punishment; it is unfairly applied; it has no deterrent value. And don’t even try to argue it’s a money thing, because it is way more expensive to execute someone than to let them rot in prison until they die.” (Insert praise-hands emoji here.)
  • Hayes, barging into Conner’s room: “Do you have any more of those little cans of almonds?”

    Conner: “Does the concept of privacy mean nothing to you?”

    Hayes: “Oh, relax. I’ve seen you wearing a lot less. Hmm, someone’s been doing his P90X.”

  • Maxine is finally caught popping pills by an angry Sam. Though he’s pretty accusatory when he finds her — “I’m not cleaning up your mess again!” — I’m relieved and hopeful she’ll get the help she needs in the next few episodes.

Episode grade: B+

Episode Recaps

Conviction

Hayley Atwell stars as a former first daughter in this ABC legal drama.
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