With 517 episodes over the past two decades, Law & Order: SVU has had plenty of epic courtroom battles that have left a lasting impression on fans. But what’s perhaps considered its best legal scene came from the season 6 closure. And it was based on a horrifying true event.
The installment, titled Goliath, pitted Casey Novak against the U.S. military. Novak, who was relatively new to the team, stood for David in the story, making the military her biblical adversary. But in this case, the ending didn’t turn out quite the same as it did in the Old Testament.
Novak took the case after two separate veterans began having dangerous outbursts and paranoid delusions seemingly out of nowhere. And one of the men became so unhinged that he sexually assaulted his wife before killing her and himself.
After an investigation, officials found that the Army gave the men an anti-malaria drug called Quinine. And it caused the deadly behavior. But what was worse was that the military was aware of the drug’s side effects before prescribing it—and the doctors never warned the soldiers.
The ‘Law & Order’ Case Was Based on the 2002 Fort Bragg Killings
If the story sounds familiar, that’s because it was based on the brutal 2002 Fort Bragg murders that left four army wives dead after their husbands were given the anti-malaria drug Lariam.
Just as the Army did in real life, the fictionalized military denied that their actions played any part in the murder-suicide that unfolded on Law & Order: SVU. But the naive DA still believed that she could prove the connection and serve justice.
So Novak made the bold decision to charge the U.S. Army with sexual assault and murder. Because the men were under the influence of a dangerous medication, she didn’t believe they were responsible for their crimes. And someone had to pay.
Novak was heartbreakingly unrelenting in her plight to prove that the Army carelessly handed over dangerous medication. But she was against a force much stronger than her. During the courtroom drama, she takes on an Army Colonel and the head of the pharmaceutical company who refuse to cooperate.
She also learns the hard way that outside threats are more convincing than truth and justice when an Army doctor, who had been an anonymous whistle blower, changes his story on the stand. While under oath, he lies and says that Quinium is not dangerous.
In the end, all three of her witnesses lie and convince the Grand Jury finds that neither the drug company nor the Army can is responsible for the death of the soldier and his wife.
While the ending wasn’t satisfying, it was a realistic depiction of the justice system on such a grand scale. And because of that, viewers came to realize that the legal system is far more flawed than most courtroom dramas portray.