The team investigates a trio of murders, and they realize the killer is going after those who escaped justice for past crimes.
Kevin Fetzer is a successful entrepreneur, and he throws an elaborate birthday party for himself and his friends. Unfortunately, he doesn’t survive his own celebration—he’s found dead, with his pants down, in the birthday cake. His childish underwear are on backwards, and all but eight of the candles have been removed from the massive cake. Someone wanted to make Kevin look like a child.
Kevin experienced blunt force trauma, and his two front teeth have been knocked out. He died after choking on his broken veneers. Brass talks to Kevin’s father, who left angry messages on his son’s voicemail after getting into an argument and being kicked out of the party. Kevin’s father says something was wrong with his son when he was a child, but he denies killing him. He came to the party to ask Kevin for money to get his truck back, and he went to the casino to win it after Kevin kicked him out.
Kevin was killed using a wooden ball from arcade bowling. There wasn’t a game like that at the scene, so the killer brought it with them. Catherine finds an old, unsolved case from when Kevin was 15: an 8-year-old boy named Mikey Moran was killed with a wooden bowling ball and left behind the building with his pants down. Kevin worked at the arcade, and he was questioned as a person of interest; however, an arrest was never made—it looks like someone punished Kevin.
Meanwhile, Nick and Sara look into the death of a man who was shoved into a stack of tires and burned. He was killed in a gang neighborhood, and this particular method of death is popular in Mexico. The fire did not destroy the flesh where his arms were pressed against his sides, and a scar identifies him as a gang member called Espectro, aka “The Ghost”. They speak to another gang member in prison, Diego Barra, who may have ordered the hit; he says he wanted Espectro dead, but he lost track of him before he could get the job done. The crime scene makes him think of Marta, who was Barra’s former girlfriend. She was killed in a similar manner nine years ago.
Greg and Morgan head to a motel, where Darlene Crocker died after being loudly attacked. There’s some sort of crystalline substance on the bed, which turns out to be PCP; Darlene killed herself with a shard of broken mirror while she was high, but someone force-fed her the drug. The PCP is vintage, and drugs from the very same batch caused the death of Darlene’s daughter Chelsea 22 years ago. The sample was checked out of the police vault by former Detective Stan Richardson two days before he retired. It looks like Stan is involved, but he’s dying in hospice and could not have left his room—he must have an accomplice. Nick and Catherine look around Richardson’s room, and they locate a locked box containing the bag that previously held the PCP evidence used to kill Darlene.
Sheriff Liston comes into the precinct, and she says Richardson was her first partner. She doesn’t know who is working with him, but she has a bad feeling about his next target: Rex Camford. Camford’s wife filed for divorce 15 years ago, and she vanished the next night. They never found her body, so the District Attorney was hesitant to press charges against Camford based on circumstantial evidence. Meanwhile, Catherine checks Richardson’s phone records and finds a disposable cellphone that made calls to the room around the time of each murder. They are able to track the disposable phone to Lake Mead, which is where Camford is suspected to have dumped his wife’s body. The team rushes to the scene and finds Vega trying to kill Camford, and Vega is shot when he starts to raise his own gun.
“Crime After Crime” is an intense, absorbing episode. It’s always disappointing to see the return of a familiar character only to learn that they’ve become a dirty cop, but it does make the case even more personal for the viewers. Detective Vega has been on CSI for more than a decade, first appearing in “Too Tough to Die” during the very first season. He was last seen in season nine’s “Hog Heaven”, and his return this week takes a tragic turn when it is revealed that he has been working with Stan Richardson. Richardson found out that Vega had killed a confidential informant a few years ago, and he kept the bloody knife as collateral while he forced Vega to mark names off a short list of killers who evaded justice.
Out of all the team members, Brass and Nick were closest to Vega, and his involvement in this case hits them particularly hard. When they find him at the lake with Rex Camford, they try to talk him down and offer to help him. Despite the fact that Vega has a gun, they don’t believe he is a threat to them, but the uniformed officers who accompanied them to the lake can’t know that for sure. When Vega says that the other cops can help him, Brass and Nick realize what is happening, but it’s already too late. Vega raises his gun, pointing it away from the others, and the uniformed officers shoot him.
When the group rushes forward, most of the cops are focused on Vega instead of Camford. DB moves toward Camford, trying to help him as the others realize that Vega can’t be saved. Nick looks up at DB and tells him to leave Camford alone and let the other officers handle it. Brass, who has already called in Vega’s death, reluctantly lifts the phone to his mouth to add that they will also be needing an ambulance. The next morning, DB and Nick are still at the lake. They realize that Camford must have brought Vega to the spot where he killed his wife, and they call in divers to search for evidence. They locate the woman’s skull, which shows that she was shot in the back of the head. The bullet is still lodged in the bone, and they pull it out and match it to Camford’s gun. Sheriff Liston heads to the hospital to handcuff Camford to his bed, but it is no doubt a bittersweet victory to arrest him for murder.
“Crime After Crime” highlights the frustration police officers feel when criminals evade justice. Sheriff Liston is one of the officers who shared her anger with Richardson, and she’s the reason that Camford was on Richardson’s list. However, her role in the story is small. Vartann shares a scene with Catherine earlier in the episode, talking about Kevin Fetzer and his role in the death of Mikey Moran. It was one of Vartann’s first murder cases, and the most damning piece of evidence—a pubic hair found on Mikey’s body—was consumed during the first DNA test. DNA technology was new back then, and they weren’t able to use it to pin the murder on Fetzer, but Vartann was sure he did it. Like Liston, Vartann aired his frustration at the bar with Richardson, but he tells Catherine that he hasn’t spoken to the man since he quit drinking 11 years ago. Catherine presses him a bit, and he admits that some other officers might still go out for a drink with Richardson, including Brass.
There’s plenty of tension between Brass and DB throughout the episode, and it emphasizes the divide between these two men. Brass is a cop who has been wearing a badge for a long time, and DB is very much a scientist first and foremost. They come at the case from very different perspectives, and it creates some very intense interaction between them. Brass may not be cheering Richardson on, but it’s clear that he truly understands where the man was coming from when he made the list and went after killers who got away with their crimes. Like Vartann and Liston, Brass has a connection to one of the cases the team is investigating. He worked the original Crocker case, when 12-year-old Chelsea was forced to swallow a lethal dose of PCP. Even 20 years later, it’s obvious that the image of Chelsea’s dead body still haunts Brass. DB asks him about the case, and Brass reveals that Chelsea’s older brother Ken confessed to the murder, but he hired a private investigator two years into his prison sentence and was able to prove his innocence. Despite the fact that evidence pointed to Darlene as the real killer, the District Attorney chose not to file charges. DB is surprised when Brass says that justice has been served, pointing out that Darlene was murdered. Brass cuts him off, correcting him: Chelsea was murdered, but Darlene “got what was coming to her.”
Later in the episode, DB returns to Brass’s office to ask him about Richardson, and the tension is still thick between them as they talk. Brass doesn’t believe that Richardson would be involved in the revenge killings, and he tells DB that every cop has a “hit list” running through his mind—but they don’t act on that desire. When DB reveals that Richardson checked the PCP evidence out of the LVPD vault, Brass sits down slowly and says that Richardson isn’t a murderer. DB reminds him of his own words, suggesting that Richardson might think of his actions as justice, that the victims ‘got what they had coming to them.’
At the end of the hour, Brass heads to Richardson’s room at the hospice to pick up his personal effects, including a letter explaining his actions. A bit later, DB comes to Brass’s office for one last conversation. The case may be over, but things are still awkward between the men. DB takes the opportunity to tell Brass that while they may not be close friends, he does have a great deal of respect for the detective. He also reminds Brass that they did arrest a man who killed his wife, and that means something.
This is the second episode in a row to end with a closeup of Brass’s expression. As I mentioned in my review for “Brain Doe”, Paul Guilfoyle has a tremendous talent for bringing emotion to the smallest moments. The character’s feelings are written all over his face, and it is clear that the “burden of the badge”, as Richardson referred to it in his letter, weighs heavily on Brass as the hour draws to a close. Before DB leaves his office, Brass reveals that the funerals for Richardson and Vega will take place on the same day. Rather than attend either one, a very subdued Brass suggests that he might get up early and ride a motorcycle out of town.
See also: “Crime After Crime” episode guide