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Dead Air
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Season 13
Number 11
Writer Joe Pokaski
Director Phil Conserva
Original Airdate January 16, 2013
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Previous Episode: Risky Business Class
Next Episode: Double Fault

Dead Air is the eleventh episode in season thirteen of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.

Synopsis

The CSIs work to solve the murder of a news reporter who was killed during a power cut while in the middle of a live news broadcast.

Plot

Victim: Theresa Shea (deceased)

On the case: D.B. Russell, Greg Sanders, Julie Finlay, Morgan Brody, Nick Stokes, Sara Sidle, Louis Vartann

At the KVKC news station, irascible anchor Theresa Shea berates her assistant before going on air. The news kicks over to reporter Ella St. James, who's standing outside in the middle of a thunderstorm. Because of the high winds, the report ends early and the news kicks back to Theresa. Just then, the lights go out, and everyone is left scrambling to save the program. When the lights come back on 20 seconds later, Theresa falls over dead onto the news desk.

There's only one injury on Theresa - a puncture wound to the back of the neck. Blood spatter suggests that the killer came in from Theresa's left, stabbed her, and exited out to the right. Russell talks to the executive producer, Fred Paulsen, who explains that the lights went out, but not the power. It took 20 seconds for the backup generator to kick in; during that time, everyone was in complete darkness, so there are no witnesses. When asked who would want Theresa dead, Fred hands over the entire crew list; Theresa made many enemies. Whoever killed Theresa had to have been close enough to kill her in that window of time. Fred says there were only three people in the vicinity.

Meterologist Sunny Days believes that Ella St. James should be the prime suspect, as she was being groomed to take over the anchor desk from Theresa. However, Ella was giving a report across town when the murder occurred. Chad Lane, Theresa's assistant, claims to have been getting her coffee from the vending machine when the lights went out. Greg asks for the credit card receipt in order to verify the time stamp, and is also shown a number of sharp objects in Chad's bag. Meanwhile, Morgan questions Denny Jones, the studio's lighting tech. He has a lot of sharp tools in his cage, as he claims his job requires him to cut a lot of things. His hands test negative for blood, but he gives Morgan the creeps with his odd demenaor. Before she leaves, Denny weirdly asks if Theresa was in pain when she was stabbed. In the garage, Nick bags a coffee cup and meets Ella and her cameraman, Robbie. Robbie has an intricate knowledge of the electrical workings of the building, while Ella is more focused on interviewing Nick for a report.

In autopsy, Doc Robbins finds that Theresa had a lot of work done in order to remain looking youthful on camera. The cause of death is labeled as a severed brain stem; the killer jabbed the knife in an area that effectively disconnected the transmission of signals between the brain and the body. Whoever did this knew exactly what they were doing. Bruising around the entrance wound indicates that the weapon was a sharp, single-edged blade. There's a viscous green paste in the wound tract that is collected and sent to Hodges.

Russell follows the dedicated power line that runs from the news station in an effort to find why the power went out. He discovers that the transformer closest to the station got blown to bits, which isn't surprising since there was a thunderstorm. However, he also finds remains of explosive material on the debris. When he also finds a charred piece of cell phone, he concludes that this was no accident; the killer planned everything and patiently waited for the right time to strike.

The explosive contains nitroglycerine and wax paper - dynamite. Russell figures they're looking for someone in construction, demolition or ex-military. The phone, likely a burner, was slipped into the transformer until the killer called it, which triggered the explosion. Sara pieces together the bits of cell phone, while Russell does the same with the wax paper, finding a fingerprint.

The coffee cup from the garage shows evidence that someone urinated into it. Greg figures the culprit is Chad, who did so to get revenge on Theresa for the way she treated him. Hodges also identifies the green paste found in the wound as chromium oxide, which is used to sharpen knives and razors on pieces of leather (also known as "stropping"). The process would leave the killer with an extra-sharp blade to do the deed with.

Rainy stops by the police station with a tape of the previous night's news broadcast. She explains that Ella was giving her report at 11:00 Pacific time; at that time, two storm fronts were crashing into each other, which would cover the skies with clouds. However, during Ella's report, the moon can be seen behind her. Rainy guesses the tape was made before the fronts crashed into each other; therefore, she wasn't broadcasting live. The tape shows that Ella and Theresa didn't have a conversation live on air, and Rainy estimates the report was recorded a few hours before the murder.

Morgan pays Denny another visit and asks him if it's possible to prerecord a report and pass it off as being live. He pulls up a map of the Vegas area to see where the four news vans were located the previous night. The map shows that Ella and her camerman, Robbie, were lying about their location, as the tower they would be transmitting to is blocked by a mountain.

Ella and Robbie are interrogated separately by Finn and Nick. Finn plays a newscast that shows Ella co-anchoring the news with Theresa, a gig that didn't last. In fact, Theresa is the one who decided to have Ella report outside in the storm. When pressed, Ella and Robbie admit to faking the news report and having a private affair, even though Ella is married. Instead of broadcasting live in the middle of the storm, the two decided to sneak away to a motel. Ella tells Finn that she believes Theresa, formerly an investigative journalist, was working on a big story. She suggests the CSIs search Theresa's home to see if they can find what she was working on.

Russell and Sara search Theresa's house, finding her bedroom walls covered in newspaper clippings and internet articles. Theresa also has copies of police and arson reports. Every clipping is about a series of unsolved warehouse and store fires from 17 years ago. Russell wonders why someone who has advanced so far in their career would be spending their free time investigating this. Theresa had company, as Sara finds two wine glasses nearby. Russell finds Theresa's notebook, which is full of notes written in the Gregg style of shorthand.

Finn and Sara decipher the shorthand, which is about the aforementioned unsolved warehouse fires. Theresa dug up lab reports that pointed to dynamite and wax paper, similar to what was used to blow up the transformer. In the journal, she mentioned someone with the initials "G.H.", a retired military demolitions expert. Finn, who just investigated a fire, recognizes that the initials belong to Garrett Howard.

Garrett's body is downstairs in the morgue, as he was the victim in the fire. Doc Robbins notes a lack of soot or scarring on the lungs, meaning Garrett was dead before the fire was started. He was actually stabbed in the back of the neck, similar to how Theresa was; there's even green paste in the wound tract.

Russell goes through Theresa's past newscasts trying to find something that will help with the case, but he comes up empty. Sara fills him in on Garrett Howard, his explosive devices and his manner of death. While the two talk, Sara spots something on the television screen and has Russell pause it. Rainy is on-screen giving a weather report, and there's a section missing in the back of her dress. Since she's standing in front of a green screen, the stain on her dress has to be the same color.

At the news station, Rainy explains that she spent that day with Denny trying to fix a faulty network connection. As Rainy recalls this, Morgan sees Denny pick up his things and bolt off the set. As she goes to follow him, Russell gets a call from Greg - Denny and Garrett served together in the military before Denny received a less-than-honorable discharge. Morgan follows Denny outside the station, where a swarm of cameras are waiting for him. Overwhelmed, he drops his bag and pulls out a knife. He yells that he and Theresa were in love and that he would never kill her. As the cameras continue to roll, Denny turns the knife on himself and stabs himself in the chest, dying in Morgan's arms.

DNA from the wine glass in Theresa's bedroom is a match to the knife Denny was holding. He and Theresa were not only sharing wine, but they were sleeping together as well, as evidence of sexual activity was found on her sheets. But if Denny was in love with Theresa, why would he kill her? Russell comes to a realization and gathers the team.

At the news station, Russell notes that they have three suspects and devises a game - capture the flag. He assigns every member of the team a specific role: Sara will represent Theresa, and a flag is put on the chair behind her; Greg represents Chad, who was at the coffee machine; Finn is Rainy, standing at her Doppler station monitoring the storm; Morgan is Denny, who was working in his cage; and Russell will play Fred Paulsen, the executive producer. Russell instructs everyone to try to capture the flag when the lights go out, and they only have 20 seconds to do so. Whoever can pull it off without being seen is the killer.

The lights go out, and when they come back on, every CSI is within walking distance of "Theresa"; however, none of them could've gotten on and off the set in 20 seconds. They all notice that the flag is gone from the chair, and Russell shows them that he took it. Fred Paulsen is the only one who could've stabbed Theresa and gotten back to his original post before the lights came back on. A flashback shows him blowing the transformer, killing Theresa and getting back to his post before anyone noticed.

Newspaper articles from the arson investigations contain photos that credit Fred as the photographer. It's revealed that the news did a whole profile on Garrett Howard once, so the two men definitely knew each other. Fred also hired Denny as a favor to Garrett. When Denny told Theresa how he got the job, she figured there was more to the story. Knowing that Fred had a secret, she started digging around in the hopes that this would help keep her from getting replaced as head anchor. She eventually connected the fires to Fred; he was the first one on the scene because he lit the match.

Knowing that Theresa was going to expose him, Fred hatched a plan. He asked Garrett for another explosive device, but since Garrett now knew what was going on, he had to go, as well. Fred then borrowed Denny's knife and set him up for the murders. The executive producer claims to not even know how to wield a knife, but Russell shows him a past news story about a killer who stabbed his victims right under the skull. Finally, Russell reveals that Fred left his fingerprint behind at the site of the transformer explosion. The CSIs have all the evidence they need to put Fred away for two murders.

Cast

Main Cast

Guest Cast

  • Alex Carter as Detective Lou Vartann
  • Daniel Roebuck as Fred Paulsen
  • Spencer Grammer as Ella St. James
  • Lenny Jacobson as Denny Jones
  • Abigail Klein as Rainy Days
  • Jacob Zachar as Chad Lane
  • Danielle Bisutti as Theresa Shea
  • Tom Choi as Director
  • Richard Blake as Robbie
  • Felisha Terrell as Competitive Reporter
  • William Petersen as Gil Grissom (voice only/uncredited)
  • Daniel Mitchell as Cameraman (uncredited)
  • Shane Saunders as Reporter (uncredited)

Goofs

  • When a rival news station shows footage of Denny Jones stabbing himself, Morgan's hands are seen. Her hands are red from wiping off blood, despite the fact that Denny hadn't stabbed himself yet.

Notes

  • Paul Guilfoyle (Brass) is credited but does not appear in the episode.
  • This episode marks Alex Carter's final appearance as Detective Louis Vartann.
  • Finn plays a news report that shows Ella's brief stint as Theresa's co-anchor. The top story on the newscast is Bobby Reed, son of attorney Dennis Reed, being arrested on drug charges. This occurred in the episode Strip Maul.

Trivia

  • Spencer Grammer played Ella St. James in the episode. She is the daugher of well-known actor Kelsey Grammer.

See Also

CSI:Las Vegas Season 13
Karma to BurnCode Blue Plate SpecialWild FlowersIt Was a Very Good YearPlay DeadPick and RollFallen AngelsCSI on FireStrip MaulRisky Business ClassDead AirDouble FaultIn Vino VeritasExileForget Me NotLast Woman StandingDead of the ClassShelteredBackfireFearlessGhosts of the PastSkin in the Game


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