The camera pans the jailhouse corridor. There is lots of yelling, and the camera turns to a cell.
Steve Harmon sits in the cell—sixteen, thin, and brown. His suit and tie for court lie next to him on the cot.
Other prisoners use the john and get dressed, but Steve is not a happy camper.
As a random prisoner voice gives Steve the low-down on life in the slammer, the opening credits of Steve's movie roll across the screen.
As it turns out, Steve is both our narrator and the person on trial for murder. Yikes.
A random prisoner voice tells Steve to get some breakfast, but he's not hungry. No big surprise there—his trial is about to start. We'd be a bundle of nerves, too.
The camera shows a shot of New York City life passing by outside the Detention Center van.
Steve shuffles into the courthouse and sits down in a small room; it's chat time with his lawyer, O'Brien.
O'Brien gives him the skinny: The bad news is that he's on trial with James King for felony murder; the worse news is that the prosecutor is seeking the death penalty.
Her advice? Sit still and pay attention, so the jury thinks it's serious.
Steve asks if she thinks they have a prayer of winning, to which O'Brien cryptically responds with "depends on what you mean by 'win'" (2.36).
The camera shoots to a holding room where King gives Steve a death stare until he turns away.
The prison guards and court stenographer chow down on some coffee and breakfast. According to their assessment, the case is pretty much a done deal: guilty as charged.
A guard taunts Steve, and Steve looks away. Guess we know who's the mature one here…
Everyone heads into the courtroom, where Steve sits alone at one table and King sits at another with his attorneys.
Steve's pretty much terrified.
O'Brien takes her seat next to him and tells him her strategy: she wants to make him look like a human to the jury. Whew—we were worried for a second there that she wanted him to look like an ibex.
Finally Judge Skinny Bored Man (sorry, Judy, this case ain't for you) takes his seat, so now the trial can begin.
Judge Skinny Bored Man says Cruz's testimony is admissible, which displeases the defense… And no, we don't know who Cruz is yet.
Court people chat about their Fourth of July holidays, and then the film heads into a flashback.
Steve's in class with Mr. Sawicki—his favorite film teacher—and Steve likes the ending of a film that Mr. Sawicki is not a fan of.
Why didn't Sawicki like it? Because it was predictable—the "jury" of viewers already knows what they think of it before it ends, which Sawicki thinks is pretty lame.
And now the film shifts back to the present.
The jury comes in, nothin' special, and it's time for opening statements.
The prosecuting attorney, Petrocelli, articulates her main points:
She's the Assistant DA for the State of New York.
The laws in place protect the citizens' rights as well as the rights of society.
Many people work hard and honestly, but not everyone.
Monsters steal, kill, and trample on the rights of others.
Here's the case: Two men entered a drugstore. One of them was "Bobo" Evans and, according to the State, the other was James King. They wanted to rob the drugstore, but Aguinaldo Nesbitt, the owner, defended himself by pulling a gun. A struggle ensued, the gun went off, and Nesbitt was dead. His death is unfair because he was exercising his rights.
There's more, though—Petrocelli says King and Bobo weren't alone, and that there was a getaway specialist and a pre-burgle lookout.
The getaway specialist will testify; Steve Harmon is the alleged lookout.
Steve writes Monster over and over on his notebook until O'Brien takes his pencil and crosses out the words. She tells Steve he's got to root for himself if they're going to win. Ra ra shish koom ba?
Okay, back to Petrocelli's statement:
A medical examiner will testify that this was most definitely a murder instead of a suicide.
James King and Steve Harmon took part in the murder, end of story.
Now it is O'Brien's chance to speak on Steve's behalf:
Sure laws protect citizens, but they also protect the accused.
The State's evidence has some major issues, and these problems make Steve's involvement seriously doubtful.
Steve must be viewed as innocent until proven guilty. So long as the jury remembers to do this, Steve will remain innocent through the end of the trial.
Finally, James King's attorney, Asa Biggs, gets his say:
The prosecution's witnesses are the scum of the earth—criminals, liars, cheaters, thieves, and even an accomplice to murder—which means their argument is pretty weak.
He tells the jury to just be just.
The trial moves on to the witnesses, beginning with Jose Delgado, an employee at the drug store.
Turns out Jose left for some chow and when he came back, the scene was pretty gruesome: Mr. Nesbitt lay dead on the floor in a puddle of blood, and there were some cigarettes missing.
Petrocelli asks Delgado about his martial arts skillz, and apparently dude has a black belt and Mr. Nesbitt always put newspaper clippings of his matches in the window.
Petrocelli asks if police ever came into the drugstore; the answer is yes.
Petrocelli finishes up, and Briggs takes the floor.
He asks Jose how many cigarette cartons were missing and how Jose knew Mr. Nesbitt was a goner. His answers: five and he was pretty sure.
O'Brien has no questions for the kid.
The next witness to go up? Salvatore Zinzi.
Petrocelli gets his story: Zinzi was serving time at Riker's Island (not exactly white sandy beaches…) for buying stolen property. While there, he had a convo with Wendell Bolden, another jailbird, who told him about a drugstore murder. Zinzi called his detective and used the info to get himself out of the slammer.
Petrocelli keeps pressing him, though. Was there anything else Bolden told him—maybe about some cigarettes? Oops, Petrocelli was leading. She rephrases, and Zinzi says Bolden got two cartons of cigarettes from the drugstore blabbermouth.
Petrocelli asks the name of the blabbermouth, but Zinzi doesn't know; all Bolden told him was that he knew the dude was involved.
Now it's Briggs's turn to question.
Briggs gets Zinzi to clarify his motivation for ratting out Bolden: he desperately wanted to escape jail. Why? He was the next gang rape target. Oooh. Not cool.
In other words, Zinzi was scared, so he'd say pretty much anything to get out of jail… he swears he wouldn't lie, though.
Wait—what was that? Briggs nails him: He'd cop stolen goods to land himself in jail, tattle on someone else, crash Bolden's plan by talking first, but he wouldn't lie? Briggs isn't buying it.
Zinzi insists he's not lying, though, so now it's O'Brien's turn to question him.
O'Brien discovers that Zinzi served time for forty-three days, then asks about how stories get used among inmates. For example, Bolden planned to use the drugstore intel for himself, but Zinzi decided to use it first.
"Lots of guys in jail do that" (2.176), Zinzi says.
It worked out quite well for Zinzi—he was able to use the information he had to strike a deal with the District Attorney that got him out of prison.
O'Brien asks if he's happy about all this, and Zinzi's like yup… duh.
Now Petrocelli gets her turn to cross-examine, and she asks Zinzi if he knows when he's lying or telling the truth. He says he knows.
"You telling the truth now?" (2.186) she asks, and he sure is.
Time for another flashback:
Twelve-year old Steve and his friend Tony are hanging out, talking about baseball. Tony says he can pitch and tosses a rock at a lamppost. It misses.
Steve mocks him and picks up his own rock. He throws it too far, misses the lamppost, and clocks a young woman. Oops!
The bad news is she's not alone. Her tough guy friend comes after the boys, asking who threw the rock.
Steve tells Tony to run. Tough Dude thinks that Tony's to blame and gives him a knuckle sandwich as Steve watches. Thankfully, the woman pulls him off Tony before he knocks him out.
Tony accuses Steve: "I didn't throw that rock. You threw it" (2.196).
Steve defends himself: "I didn't say you threw it. I just said 'run.' You should've run" (2.197).
Tony still wants revenge on Tough Dude, who is long gone.