"In God We Trust"
L&O, Episode 15.23
Production number: E5326
First aired: 11 May 2005
  th of 456 produced in L&O  
th of 456 released in L&O
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Hannah Wilder
Written By
Richard Sweren

Directed By
David Platt


A gun found at the scene of a fatal fire is linked to an unsolved killing and the investigation produces a defendant whose attorney claims is a different person since becoming a born-again Christian.


An arson fire occurs in an apartment, and a firefighter is forced to jump out and he dies. Detectives Joe Fontana and Nick Falco arrive. Since the fire was so powerful the firefighter had to jump out and died, it means the arsonist is responsible for the death, making it murder.

At the 27th Precinct, Joe and Nick's boss Lt. Anita Van Buren and a CSU tech tells them there was an accelerant used. Van Buren tells his men that they need to go talk with the residents since the top floor was obviously the target.

They speak with one man who says he saw someone banging and yelling at another tenant's door. That tenant is a woman who refuses to tell them anything. Joe and Nick subsequently talk to the woman's daughter, who reveals her father hates her mother.

Joe and Nick go into the father's apartment, where they find a bus driver's jacket with gas all over it. They find and arrest him at a girlfriend's house. He soon admits that he set the place on fire to kill his wife, but never intended to kill his daughter or the fireman. His motivation for the arson was that his wife wouldn't let him see his daughter.

Joe and Nick charge him with felony murder, but then the M.E. tells them the fireman didn't die from the jump: he died from a gunshot wound to the leg.


Main cast

Recurring cast

Guest cast



Well, I take my hat off to you guys. Personally, I'd rather dodge bullets than run into a burning building.

–Joe Fontana to Chief Daniels

Borgia: There are more people in this country who believe in angels than in evolution.
McCoy: I doubt if Judge Taylor is one of them.
Borgia: Then we lucked out. There's a judge or three who could be sympathetic to this.
McCoy: Such as?
Borgia: Judge Scalia wrote that our laws derive their authority from God. William O. Douglas wrote that we are a religious people whose institutions pre-suppose a Supreme Being.
McCoy: How does that translate to a free pass for murder?

I don't care if he comes to court with a hair shirt and a scourge. Murder is murder.

–Jack McCoy

Borgia: Forgiveness is a Christian ideal.
McCoy: And if you don't believe in Christ, well, then you'll just have to serve your time? The logical outgrowth of this insanity. The defense is asking the judge to recuse himself.
Borgia: Why?
McCoy: He has an anti-Christian bias.

No one could argue with a straight face that Bruce's faith and rehabilitation aren't sincere. So here's the $64,000 question, Judge. Will the law recognize his rebirth in Jesus Christ? Or is it too scary to acknowledge that there's a higher moral authority than what's written in a law book somewhere? Bruce Elwin rendered himself unto the very Power we openly acknowledge is the inspiration, even the source, of our legal institutions. God is woven into the fabric of our laws. Our legislative and our judicial open their sessions with prayer. Witnesses who come into this courtroom are asked to swear on a Bible. Over your head, Judge, higher than the law itself, is a simple statement, "In God We Trust". Is that just lip service? Let's put our money where our mouth is? Look at what God's done for Bruce Elwin. Can the justice of men do better?

–The defense's closing argument

Is Ms. Weiss serious? If you really, really, really turn to God, you can murder someone and walk away with a clean slate? That doesn't put Mr. Elwin in line with any higher moral authority I'm aware of. It places him above the law. We can all acknowledge the existence of a higher moral authority! We see it in action, when our collective conscience compels us to reject unjust or immoral laws. But while our actions may guided by our faith, we deliberately don't conduct them under the guise of religion. Our Founders left "God" out of the Constitution, not for lack of faith among them, but because of what they knew about the toxic combination of state and religious power. So, if Mr. Elwin regards his prosecution for a hate murder as unjust or immoral, let him present his arguments without the cloak of religion. To that, the People say the defendant's virtuous conduct after Justin Leonard's murder should be a factor in his sentencing. But to dismiss this case outright, would be a miscarriage of justice that contradicts more than 200 years of American jurisprudence. If you kill someone, Mr. Elwin, you have to answer to the State first. And to Justin Leonard and his family. And then, hopefully, someday, to your Maker.

–The prosecution's closing argument

Borgia: I'm just curious, Jack. What were you going to offer?
McCoy: I was considering going as low as man one, praise the Lord.

Background information and notes

  • Alexandra Borgia revels she goes to a church.
  • Goof: Michael Louis Wells is credited as "Matthew Clemens" in all previous episodes save one, but in this episode his first name is given as "Kevin" by ADA Alexandra Borgia.

Episode scene cards

1 2 3

Mallon Hotel
Coffee Shop
605 Ninth Avenue
Thursday, April 1

P.S. 322
361 West 43rd Street
Friday, April 2

Home of
Jenna Tarantino
Astoria, Queens
Monday, April 5

4 5 6

Broadway & 108th Street
Tuesday, April 6

Apartment of
Bruce Elwin
369 West 49th Street
Tuesday, April 6

Arraignment Court
Part 21
Wednesday, April 7

7 8 9 10

Supreme Court
Allocution Hearing
Friday, April 16

Westside Family Center
556 West 58th Street
Wednesday, April 21

Supreme Court
Motion Hearing
Wednesday, May 12

Supreme Court
Motion Hearing
Thursday, May 13

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"Sport of Kings"
"In God We Trust"
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