The Blotter Presents 131: Interrogation and The Power Of Attorney

Plus Theranos disingenuity, Loughlin-anigans, and a vintage 48 Hours

On today’s episode of TBP, Toby Ball and I talk about Interrogation, CBS All-Access's new choose-your-own-watch-order procedural (based, evidently, on a real case). Toby didn’t watch the whole thing, but I did, and yet we still had some of the same issues with it…and I’m really not impressed with the so-called “solution” to the case. Did this all-star project waste a lot of acting firepower (Strathairn; Eric Roberts; D’Onofrio; Whaley; a chunk of veterans of The Wire) on an overly clever concept that doesn’t know what it wants to be?

The Power Of Attorney podcast does know what it wants to be — a look at various aspects of the law in practice from Rutgers Law School — and in Episode 4, it sat down with the guy on whose case Interrogation might be based: exoneree and marathoner Huwe Burton. He didn’t talk much, though, and Toby and I wondered if a different interview structure might have worked better…and whether there’s anyone left in any adjacent field who doesn’t know the issues with interrogating adolescents.

But hey, David Simon projects are still pretty great? I hope Toby watches The Corner; I hope you will listen to The Blotter Presents, Episode 131. — SDB

Did Theranos defense counsel hint at their planned defense? I confess that I am not entirely clear on which hair is getting split here, but during a hearing on Monday, an attorney for Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes argued that whether patients who used Theranos’s fugazi (that’s the technical term) blood tests suffered “harm” is not relevant to the case against Holmes and co-founder Sunny Balwani — because said case is centered on wire fraud, and physical harm does not constitute “loss of money or property.” Holmes’s lawyer, Amy Saharia, seems to be saying that the tests didn’t cause harm in the first place, but even if they did, “those who were covered by insurance suffered no loss of money or property, nor did doctors.”

This argument is not a good look (also the technical term), IMO, but I suppose it’s Saharia’s job to try to limit the scope of the charges. The government is, unsurprisingly, not having it: “Assistant U.S. Attorney John Bostic, arguing for the prosecution, said it didn’t matter whether anyone was harmed. ‘What matters here is the defendants’ intent,’ Bostic said. ‘It doesn’t matter what ended up actually happening. The scheme was the fraud.’” Nor was the judge impressed with Saharia’s attempt to roll shit downhill onto nameless employees who may have made claims on the website without Holmes’s and Balwani’s knowledge: “In response, the judge asked, ‘If they don’t know what’s on their own website they can’t be responsible?’”

I had a joke here about Eve shilling for raisins without my consent, but I couldn’t quite get it to work, so I’ll settle for reminding you that, if we get to two thousand paid subscribers by August, we’ll cover this nonsense in person! Only six months out, so if you were on the fence about subscribing, hit that button! — SDB

No doubt making the rounds of various incredulous Slacks yesterday was the news that feds have released Lori Loughlin’s daughter’s “bogus” crew c.v. The résumé was filed as evidence in the college-admissions fraud case involving Loughlin, her husband, and others, who allegedly made large payments to “advisor” Rick Singer in order to guarantee sports-team spots for their kids at top-flight schools.

Prosecutors attached the c.v. to a response to a motion from Loughlin and her husband, Mossimo Giannulli, requesting evidentiary materials that appear not yet to exist — in other words, the prosecution’s version of an eyes emoji, as the feds are fed up (sorry) with the Loughulli team’s allegations that the government is withholding evidence. AUSA Eric Rosen noted that, “‘While the defendants may, understandably, be upset about the lack of exculpatory evidence, the absence of such evidence is a result of their criminal conduct, not any government disclosure violations.’” Dry as the Gobi, that is.

And they’re not the only ones who could smoke in the shower, as the saying goes; the Boston Herald’s Andrew Martinez keeps it very dry as well in his description of “a redacted list of crew achievements by a daughter of the couple, whose first name is also blacked out. Among the accolades claimed on the resume are top-15 finishes in unspecified categories in 2016 and 2017 at the ‘Head of the Charles-Boston’ event. Records on the Head of the Charles Regatta’s website for the years alleged do not include results for a ‘Giannulli.’” Oh, word?? (hee) — SDB

From the archives, my review of a 48HRS Mystery episode titled “Thou Shalt Not Kill.” It seems hard to believe that fully 85 percent of true-crime newsmag episodes are NOT named that very thing, but anyway, I thought any old blog entry that I had tagged “sometimes they catch themselves” was worth revisiting.

Well, I was correct. And I could have also tagged this with “sexy closet poo.” Yeah, that’s right.


The crime

Bob Fratta, a guy especially for whom the legendary Sopranos phrase "Manson lamps" seems to have been coined, decided to have his estranged wife Farah murdered. Fratta (whose name looks like it's pronounced "frat-uh" -- heh -- but is actually rendered as "frotta," like "frottage," and I do not mention this for no reason) alibi'd himself in sub-zeroically cynical fashion with his kids' catechism class, then brought them back to the house to find their mother's dead body.

Despite having asked fully half the dudes at his gym where he might find a suitable hit man, sans hinting or code words, and leaving a thousand dollars cash in his glovebox for detectives to find, Fratta almost got by with it. Enter the Prestone-blooded Mary Gipp, girlfriend of a suspected co-conspirator, who could have prevented the murder, but didn't -- and wouldn't even give police basic information until they threatened to drag her in front of a grand jury. But give it she did, convicting Bob Fratta in the process.

The story

Gipp also gives viewers the creeps. Shown in B-roll footage just strolling through her life in a cheap suit, carrying a cheap purse, her shrugged "I just didn't want to deal with it" is bone-chilling.

Gipp's inability to control her affect is just one of the fascinating aspects of this episode of 48 Hours Mystery, whose quotidian episode title belies all manner of curiosities -- starting with why Fratta didn't just carry on with his divorce like a normal person. True-crime enthusiasts find themselves asking that a lot, and as usual, the answer here is largely "because he's a psycho."

But there's also a twist. Evidently, Fratta felt that certain information included in the divorce petition, specifically regarding his sexual proclivities, would preclude any significant custodial rights to his three children, all aged seven or younger at the time of the murder. 48 Hours airs in primetime, which forced the program's producers to remain rather vague in their allusions: "Farah told [former co-worker Kitty Waters] Sneed her husband wanted her to do things to him sexually that not only embarrassed her, they sickened her." This of course forced in turn a side bet between me and my viewing partner on what, exactly, Fratta was into -- and a mad dash to Google to settle it when Sneed added, "She showed me some stains in the closet where some things went on."

In the…closet? If our guess that Fratta wanted his wife to defecate on him was correct (spoiler: it was), how was that supposed to work? We spent a good ten minutes trying to formulate a realistic mental image of the couple crammed into your average sliding-doors closet, the late Farah crouched grudgingly over her bonko husband while the occasional ice skate or sleeping bag is sailing down from the top shelf…isn't the bathroom a better place for that sort of thing? And if it takes that much convincing to get the wife to join you over the chocolate rainbow in the first place, wouldn't you maybe plan ahead with a rubber sheet or some Hefty bags? Or is fubaring the carpet part of the thrill? People can't help their turn-ons, and I don't judge, as long as it doesn't hurt anyone, but 1) it did, big-time and 2) it's called "a wet-vac," Bob, jeez.

And it gets better. According to the cops, Fratta blabbed to "15 to 17" fellow gym rats about his nefarious plan, and that fact alone is an amazing entry for the Sometimes They Catch Themselves file -- but it's the footage of Mike Edens that makes it art. Crime shows have created an entire sub-industry from make-work B-roll, i.e., when the narrator notes that "Joey Baggadonuts worked alongside Killy McKnifepants at Their Occupation, Inc.," Joey is then shown industriously…doing This Occupation. The B-roll of Edens is an all-time classic; Edens is one of the jillion people Fratta asked for help offing his wife, and as he's introduced in VO, he's standing in front of a weight-room mirror in pleated khakis and a profoundly erroneous polo shirt with palm trees on it, doing delt lifts. Very diligent, intense delt lifts. What the hell? Stock footage of weight plates sliding onto a bar is the standard here, but I love 48 Hours for not settling.

I also love Detective Davis, who has always been and resolutely remains impatiently disgusted by Bob Fratta. Every comment he passes about Fratta's bland arrogance prior to his arrest -- "He's cheesin' to the camera" is my favorite -- is followed by a silent "…dickhead." And when Fratta finally does get the bracelets, he's wearing a too-small blank tank top and shorts nearly as voluminous as his mullet. My viewing companion, for whom a black tank top is something of a summertime trademark: "Oh well that's just great."

It's not just a face-palm special, though; the Fratta children, raised by their maternal grandparents, have since changed their last names to Farah's maiden name, and all of them participated in the episode. All three seem smart, friendly, and well-adjusted, but issues linger, as of course they must, and listening to each child describe the way they came home from church school to find the ground beneath them missing all those years ago is affecting.

"Thou Shalt Not Kill" is equal parts icky, scary, bittersweet, and outright funny; it's respectful of Farah and the survivors, but snarky about everyone else. I've described much of it here, but the last ten minutes take an interesting turn; it's a worthwhile hour. — SDB, 12/28/12

Thursday on Best Evidence: Lawrence Ray finally gets pinched, another killer clown, and whatever else is on Eve’s mind. (Probably not raisins.)

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