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CSI: Crime Scene Investigation--'The Unusual Suspect'

By Kristine Huntley
Posted at April 6, 2006 - 8:32 PM GMT

See Also: 'The Unusual Suspect' Episode Guide


Sofia Curtis and Dr. Robbins are testifying in the trial of Marlon West, a high school boy who stands accused of murdering a classmate, Stacy Vollmer. Stacy was practicing on the tennis court the night she was last seen, and found buried and wrapped in a shower curtain on the football field. Dr. Robbins testifies that she was killed by a cerebral hemorrhage caused by a blow to the head. Bleached clothes and blood and hair from Stacy in the drain of his bathroom led the CSIs to Marlon, but his twelve-year-old sister Hannah shocks the court when she takes the stand claims that she is one who killed Stacy--and she has what looks like blood and dirt on her tank top to prove it. The judge denies a motion to suppress Hannah's assertion, leaving the CSIs with the task of proving her wrong.

Nick consults with Catherine, Sara and Warrick, going over the evidence against Marlon. Though Marlon's videotaped confession was thrown out, the evidence against him was strong. Marlon used a school copier to make 'out of order' signs and put them on most of the showers in the girl's locker room, save for one, which he sabotaged with sodium hydroxide. When Stacy turned it on, it sprayed her in the face, sparking, burning and blinding her. Frantic, Stacy ran from the showers and either fell or was pushed down stairs in the school. From there someone moved her body to the football field and buried her. Nick thinks Hannah wasn't strong enough to move Stacy's body. Hannah is in high school, but she's a child prodigy who skipped six grades. Nick also notes that Stacy's car was left in front of the house of her boyfriend, Scott Baird, presumably to frame him, but the boy was at an away basketball game and was quickly eliminated as a suspect.

Hodges confirms the soil on Hannah's shirt matches the soil from the football field, so Sara and Sofia question the girl. Hannah tells them she hated Stacy. The pretty, popular senior tormented Hannah, constantly playing pranks on her, culminating in giving her a dress for the spring with cruel phrases written on it through Scott, whom Hannah was tutoring. When Hannah showed up at the dance, the blue lights revealed the things written on the dress. Hannah claims the shower was supposed to be just a prank, but she miscalculated. The CSIs don't know what to believe--the blood on Hannah's shirt proves to be her own, not Stacy's, and she could have easily gone to the football field to get the dirt at anytime. The CSIs go to the Wests' house, where Mr. and Mrs. West insist that Marlon, not Hannah, is the guilty party. In Hannah's room, Sara and Nick discover a poster for a science project Hannah did on sodium reactions, as well as the ruined dress and a copy of Stephen King's Carrie.

While Nick discovers Hannah's prints on the shower curtain Stacey had around her, Sara questions Hannah's chemistry teacher, who seems certain Hannah didn't commit the murder. He believes it was Marlon, not Hannah, who stole the sodium hydroxide from the lab. Catherine and Warrick go back to Stacy's car and discover a bloody fingerprint under the driver's seat and are surprised to match it to Scott, Stacy's boyfriend. Scott admits to having sex with Stacy in the car, but keeping it secret because she took a virginity pledge. Scott used a condom, but Stacy bled a little and her blood was on the condom, and when he took it off, he got it on his hands. Hodges tests further and confirms that the blood has spermicide mixed in with it. Scott's story checks out. The CSIs turn back to the crime scene. Warrick brings Tina's niece, Darcy, who is the same size as Hannah, along to help with the experiment. Though she's able to reach the showerhead with a stool, she simply isn't strong enough to drag the body on her own.

The CSIs start to suspect that Hannah and Marlon killed Stacy together, and are now conspiring to cancel out each other's confessions and both get off. In separate questioning sessions, both Marlon and Hannah maintain their guilt. When Sara tells Hannah there's no way she could have dragged Stacy's body that far, Hannah tells her she didn't--she used a landscaping cart parked in the field. Her story about the cart checks out, and there's just no way for the CSIs to prove Hannah didn't kill Stacy. Sara is convinced that the girl did it, but Nick still thinks she's covering for her brother. The DA is forced to continue Marlon's trial. The jury deliberates and comes back with a verdict of 'Not guilty.' Afterwards, Sara tells Hannah she will be charged with murder, but Hannah is convinced that even if she does go to jail, it will only be for five years at most. She reminds Sara that people get away with murder everyday, and then leans down and whispers a secret to the CSI: she didn't kill Stacy; Marlon did.


"The Unusual Suspect" is a perfect example of how human interference can muddy conclusions drawn from evidence, and in this case, even render the evidence murky and ultimately irrelevant. Prior to Hannah West's testimony, the prosecution's case against Marlon is all but airtight. Even without his videotaped confession, they have plenty of physical evidence: Stacy's blood and hair found in the drain of the Wests' upstairs bathroom, the stolen sodium hydroxide from the chemistry lab, the photocopied 'out of order' signs which are traced back to a school copier. But even with all of that evidence, Hannah's testimony is enough to bring in that the crucial element that all juries must take into consideration: reasonable doubt.

Hannah goes to no small length to clear her brother, and yet she doesn't go so far that she's guaranteed herself a conviction. The blood on her shirt is her own, not Stacy's. The dirt is easily explained away since it's from the football field where she attends high school. But she also underscores the things that make her look guilty: the science knowledge, her hatred of Stacy, her sense of isolation. Even when the CSIs find what seems to be the hole in Hannah's story--that she didn't have the strength to drag Stacy's body across the field--she has a counter-story: the landscaping cart.

Though we do learn in the end that Marlon was the killer, we still don't know exactly how Stacy died. Did she just fall, or was she pushed? It makes a big difference, though given the West siblings' subterfuge, it's hard to tell if indeed Stacy's death was the result of a prank gone awry or an intentional murder. Certainly Marlon did his best to cover it up. We're still not entirely clear on how much Hannah may have helped him, but I suspect she had to have helped at least a little. Marlon is supposedly a poor student, so it's possible that Hannah helped him with the science aspect of putting the sodium hydroxide in the showerhead. And it's imaginable that it was her idea to park Stacy's car outside of Scott's house.

The episode also ultimately puts Nick and Sara at opposite ends on the case. Nick sticks to his initial assessment that Marlon is the killer, while Sara's opinion wavers and she ultimately believes Hannah is the guilty party. It's the classic brains vs. brawn argument, and as a viewer, I honestly wasn't sure which side to fall on. I was leaning towards Hannah, though, because along with Sara, I ultimately think brains trump brawn.

And in this case, they sort of did. As Hannah pointed out, you have to be really smart to convince people you did something that you didn't do. She's right in that people get away with murder all the time, and though the CSI shows champion the evidence, the human element can't be forgotten. Ultimately, Hannah's cunning trumps the evidence--evidence is sometimes open to interpretation, and though DNA can't lie, it doesn't always offer all the answers. Stacy's blood and hair are in the West's sink, but that doesn't tell the CSIs whether Hannah or Marlon was the one who put it there?

It wouldn't be completely believable if the CSIs always got the bad guy, but it's always tricky to do an episode where they don't because it risks leaving the audience unsatisfied. That's not the case here, mainly because we're not left wondering who the actual killer is. Hannah knows she can tell Sara--Marlon can't be tried again, and she's innocent and a minor on top of that. She helped her brother get away with murder, and though we're not quite clear how much she helped, the result is the same: the real murderer walks.

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Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.

Kristine Huntley is a freelance writer and reviewer.

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