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Law & Order

Episode 16.3 - Oct. 5, 2005

Lee Tergesen played a defense attorney named Mr. Heller in this episode of the long-running original version of the "Law & Order" franchise. 

When Lee mentioned this guest spot in a  TVGuide.com interview Aug. 31, he said, "I'm ... playing a lawyer. I'm not cutting my hair, but I'm wearing great suits." 

That sums up his role pretty well. Mr. Heller enters about half-way through the episode, defending a man who made a "deathbed confession" a little prematurely.

The criminal, Johnny Zona, had been shot by police following a robbery. As he awaits last rites, Detectives Green and Fontana (series regulars Jesse L. Martin and Dennis Farina) get Zona to admit to the armed robbery, but then he also confesses to a murder of a girl 10 years previously.

It was a case originally handled by Fontana, who had (erroneously, it turns out) identified the girl's father as the prime suspect. 

Zona doesn't die, however, and lives to face prosecution. Mr. Heller is his lawyer. 

It appears that Zona had also told two other people about the killing -- his brother and his prison lover. 

Lee's first appearance is in a snarky exchange that has echoes of "Oz." Heller and Assistant D.A. Jack McCoy (Sam Waterston) face a judge over Heller's motion to suppress the jailhouse confession because Zona made the confession to Kenny Muhammad, who is a Muslim cleric and thus protected on religious grounds.

HELLER: He is an ordained cleric.
McCOY: From an Internet ministry...
HELLER: Mr. Muhammad is serving a life sentence. Attending Yale divinity school was not an option. ... The applicable legal test [is]: Was the relevant communication made in confidence for the purpose of spiritual guidance?
McCOY: Let's call this what it is -- a prison girlfriend telling a prison boyfriend about a past crime. I'm fairly certain, your honor, that's not what the courts had in mind when carving out this particular privilege.
HELLER: Mr. Zona confided in Mr. Muhammad in an attempt to elicit guidance and absolution.
McCOY: Their relationship was based on protection and homosexual sex.

Mr. Heller won suppression of the confession, and things continue to go his way during the trial as Zona's brother becomes a little loose with the truth.

Mr. Heller is also strong in his cross-examination of the dead girl's father -- the original prime suspect. The father identifies Zona as a man he saw on the day his daughter was killed. Heller challenges this ID -- scoffing that it happened 10 years ago and over a matter of seconds. He snaps his fingers to count off how quickly the seconds go by. It's effective and he seems to do a good job of bringing doubt to the father's identification as well as his motives for shifting the suspicion to someone other than himself.

In the end, though, McCoy wins and Zona is found guilty. Because Zona is guilty, and it's McCoy's show, after all.

Episode Gallery

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Video Clip
Lee's first scene

Related Links

Other "Law & Order" appearances by Lee:

First-ever L&O episode

L&O: Criminal Intent