May 20 2024

CSI Files

An archive of CSI, NCIS, Criminal Minds and crime drama news

CSI: Crime Scene Investigation--'If I Had A Hammer'

By Kristine Huntley
Posted at April 29, 2009 - 9:56 PM GMT

See Also: 'If I Had A Hammer...' Episode Guide

Synopsis:

Eighteen years ago, Catherine's first solo case as a CSI was the murder of Thomas Harrott, a ninety-one-year old man who was beaten to death during a robbery. Catherine recovered a print on a rock used to break Harrott's window and matched it to Jeremy Kent, a teenager in the neighborhood. Her evidence combined with an eyewitness testimony from a neighbor and testimony from Kent's cellmate claiming Kent had confessed was enough to put Kent away in 1991, but when Kent discovers his cellmate was talked into testifying by the lawyer they shared, Kent realizes he has cause to get the case reopened. With the team's help, Catherine pulls out the old evidence and starts going over it, armed with new technologies that didn't exist in 1991. Archie and Greg listen to Harrott's 911 call and work on matching the vehicle they hear in the background to the Pontiac Kent was driving at the time. Doc Robbins and Langston go over the autopsy report, which they find was shoddily done. Both conclude that Harrott was beaten to death brutally. Catherine responds to a subpoena from Kent for a pre-trial meeting, during which he tries to ruffle her feathers by challenging both her professional inexperience at the time and her personal life with her ex, Eddie. He also tells her he's challenging the print on the rock. While Riley works on the rug Harrott's body was found on and discovers the outline of a hammer in blood, Catherine examines the print on the rock with 21st century technology--and confirms the match to Kent.

Langston examines a boot print found at the scene and finds it's deeper in the toe than the heel, indicating the person who left it might have leapt up. He and Catherine return to the scene to examine the exact place the print was found--just by the fence separating Harrott's house from his neighbor's yard. Recalling that the neighbors' motion detector lights came on, Catherine tells Langston that she searched the neighbors' yard twice and found nothing. Looking at the roof, the two CSIs decide to search it. While they scour it, Catherine is surprised to catch sight of a hammer in the tree--literally sealed in by the bark, which appears to have grown around it. The team recovers the hammer and finds two bloody prints on it. While Hodges is able to confirm that, based on the rate of the tree's growth, the hammer is in all likelihood the murder weapon, Nick and Mandy analyze the prints and aren't able to match either to Kent. Catherine suspects the man had an accomplice, so she visits Kent to try to lean on him to give up the name of the person with him. She tells him she's reconfirmed that his prints are the ones on the rock, but all Kent will admit to is robbing the house--and finding the old man already dead when he got there. Her assurance of Kent's guilt shaken, Catherine turns to Brass, who reminds her they had no doubts about Kent's guilt eighteen years ago--and shouldn't now. Catherine calls on the team to help theorize why Kent might be protecting his accomplice, and they come up with several possibilities: the person is likely a family member, someone he loves or someone he fears.

Archie matches the car engine from the 911 call not to a Pontiac, but to a Dodge. Greg finds the connection in Kent's high school yearbook: a picture of Kent and a young woman named Sabrina Littee standing in front of a Dodge registered at the time to the girl's father, Arthur. Brass visits Sabrina Littee, now Owen, a married mother of two. After Brass asks her about the car, she admits she dated Kent secretly in high school and sometimes loaned him her father's car. Brass hands her a warrant for the Dodge, which is now in her possession. The team goes over it and Catherine finds a bloody shard of glass behind one of the seats, which Hodges is able to confirm is the same glass from Harrott's shattered window--and the blood on it is Sabrina's. Brass questions Sabrina with her husband, a lawyer, present. She admits that Jeremy got her pregnant in high school and he had promised her they would go to Los Angeles together--but first they needed money. He committed several robberies that night while she waited in the car--until she heard a commotion in the Harrott house after Kent went in. She went inside and found Kent standing over Harrott's body--and then he gave her the hammer to throw away. Her husband storms out in disgust while Brass tells her that the felony murder rule allows him to arrest her for a murder committed during a felony regardless of whether or not she struck the fatal blow. Catherine tells Kent that one of the prints on the hammer is a match for his upper finger--while the other matches Sabrina. Kent is shocked to learn Sabrina made a statement confirming Kent killed Harrott. Kent tells Catherine he's never met his child--and hopes that if Sabrina testifies against him, the boy will be there. Catherine reminds him that he had a choice years ago--and that Thomas Harrott didn't.

Analysis:

Catherine takes center stage in this engrossing episode that takes her back to her first solo case. Episodes that go back to older cases are always fun, if for no other reason than to see just how much technology and methods have changed since the older case was first investigated. Doc Robbins disdains his predecessor's careless work on the autopsy, noting that "you couldn't get away with shoddy work like this now." Catherine is able to enhance the print with photoshop and confirm that it without a doubt belonged to Kent. Archie uses audio technology that didn't exist in '91 to isolate the sound of a car engine on the recording of the 911 call and is able to match it to a specific car engine. 1991 doesn't seem all that long ago--until we remember that the internet wasn't in common use back then. Forensics no doubt has similarly made incredible advances. Indeed, in that regard, CSI is very much a show of its decade.

Henry Thomas's earnest performance casts real doubt on his guilt. We never do find out why his own lawyer got his cellmate to testify against him--perhaps Sabrina Littee's wealthy father found out about his daughter's dalliance and wanted to make sure the low life who knocked her up and then made her a party to murder got put away for good? Kent has convinced himself that he's been wronged, if not by the system then by Sabrina, who never came to visit him or introduced him to their child. Catherine rightfully reminds him that he had a choice the night he killed Thomas Harrott--he could have just as easily fled the house when he discovered the old man there. Though he plays the pity card with her about never meeting his child, Catherine, who doubted herself for much of the episode, tells him she's "saving [her] sympathy" for Thomas Harrott.

Sabrina doesn't get off scot free, either--after years of keeping quiet about her part in the murder, Kent's bid for freedom ends up implicating her. Brass calmly informs her that because she was present during Harrott's murder during the commission of another felony, she can be charged with murder as well. No doubt if she'd come forward to testify against Kent in 1991, she could have cut a deal--and perhaps she'll be able to now in exchange for testifying at his retrial. Either way, given the way Sabrina's husband walks out declaring that he "doesn't know who she is," it's likely she'll suffer consequences one way or another, even if they're of a personal rather than legal nature.

Marg Helgenberger shines in the episode; though she focuses on the case and getting to the bottom of the truth behind Kent's assertions, her conversation with Brass makes it clear that the case is weighing on her. It's particularly nice to see Catherine turn to Brass for some quiet and frank reassurance, much in the way Grissom would at times go to the grounded detective for the straight story. And Brass gives Catherine just that: he reminds her that both of them zeroed in on Kent as their suspect right away, and that all of his elaborate legal trickery is intended to hide something. No one sums things up quite like Brass; Paul Guilfoyle gives the character a weathered, grizzled demeanor that speaks to his years of experience as a cop who's seen it all.

Catherine opens up to Brass, confiding in him not only about her doubts regarding Kent's guilt but about an indiscretion years ago with Eddie when a moment of carelessness could have changed her life. Because she was the "responsible one" of the pair, Eddie handed her the keys after a night out and Catherine, somewhat tipsy, got behind the wheel and would have hit a man if Eddie hadn't grabbed the steering wheel and turned it at just the right moment. Catherine imagines how her life would have been different if Eddie hadn't grabbed that wheel from her. Brass brings her back down to earth by reminding her that indeed, she was the responsible one--she would have called the cops and taken responsibility for her actions. "Don't let Jeremy Kent live rent-free in your head," Brass tells Catherine.

The line is just one of the many examples that can be pulled to illustrate why CSI is simply one of the best written shows on television. The lines on this show really pack a punch and sometimes one little line can say so much about the character saying it. When Greg is going through Kent's yearbooks, Riley teases him, and when he tries to turn it around on her, she tells him that she burnt all of her high school yearbooks. We're still just getting to know Riley, but the line is incredibly indicative of what we do know about her: she's a woman who doesn't look back, because the past holds nothing good. Riley is very much a woman of the present: she lives to the fullest while making off the cuff comments that suggest she doesn't take anything too seriously. Whether this is in fact true or quite the opposite remains to be seen, though I strongly suspect the latter.

Despite the fact that this is truly Catherine's episode, "If I Had a Hammer" is, like "The Descent of Man", yet another example of great ensemble work. Everyone pitches in on this case: Wendy steps in to help Riley run the ALS light over Harrott's rug, Doc Robbins and Langston team up to go examine the autopsy records, Archie and Greg listen intently to the 911 call to pick up background noise, Nick has Mandy double check his work on the print analysis. Nine seasons in and, yes, even with two new members, the Vegas lab is still a well oiled machine and it's gratifying to see everyone come together to help Catherine reopen her first solo case.

Discuss this reviews at Talk CSI!

Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.


Kristine Huntley is a freelance writer and reviewer.

You may have missed