Dalton Rindell rises in the morning with a killer headache. Killer, being the operative word. As Dalton washes his face he notices blood on his hands, on the shattered mirror and splattered everywhere around the apartment. Dalton is shocked to find the body of a woman with a bludgeoned head on his floor. Dalton, in his horrified state, pukes on the floor.
The detectives investigate the bloody mess of a crime scene. Warner tells Benson and Stabler that there are signs of sexual intercourse on the murder victim and how the deceased was most likely killed in a murderous rage with a hammer. Warner shows Benson and Stabler the victim's cracked watch, which she used to try and shield herself with. The detectives now know what the time of death was: 12:57 am. This means that Dalton was blacked out for six and a half hours while the mystery woman was getting her head smashed in with a hammer. Benson discovers an engraving on the dead woman's watch. It seems as though Audrey, the victim, is married, but not to Dalton.
Benson and Stabler interview a banged-up Dalton. Dalton swears that he doesn't remember anything. When Benson and Stabler press for more information about Audrey, Dalton has absolutely no recollection of who she is or where he met her. Before this morning, Dalton had never seen Audrey before in his life. This baffles the detectives.
Warner is in the process of taking Audrey's body away to pop her in the fridge, when Stabler interrupts. Stabler does not buy Dalton's story and thinks something stinks about it. Stabler says that there is no sign of forced entry, but Warner combats Stabler by saying that Audrey's I.D., clothes, and purse are missing. Stabler thinks maybe Dalton is hiding another player in the murder. Stabler wants to prove that Dalton and Audrey had sex that night.
Benson and Munch take Dalton's fingerprints. Munch has Dalton sign a release allowing the detectives to search his apartment. Dalton, playing the innocent man, complies, stating that he wants to know who killed this woman. Warner flies in and suavely sticks a swab into Dalton's mouth to get a DNA sample, just like Stabler wanted. Benson comes out with Dalton's tool kit and says that a hammer is missing. Dalton bends over and plays like he is going to be sick. Benson isn't so sure about Dalton but Fin is confident that if he is hiding something, the detectives will find it.
At the hospital, the doctor checks Dalton's memory loss, but there doesn't appear to be a reason for it. When Benson and Stabler press Dalton about drug or alcohol use, he swears to his sobriety. He doesn't drink and he thinks maybe someone drugged him. Back at Dalton's apartment, Fin and Munch investigate the bloody bathroom, where they find the hammer washed clean in the shower stall. Dalton is getting frustrated and upset while Benson and Stabler continue to question him. The memory loss problem that he is having is not helping the case. When Dalton reveals that he is a developer and had some unhappy customers, the detectives finally get a lead.
Cragen talks to Dalton's partner, Bill Takach at R-T Developers. Bill tells Cragen that he and Dalton had a cocktail mixer to try and get more money from their buyers. Bill reveals that each of the investors has already given them $200,000-400,000 each. To Cragen, all the investors had motive to kill both Bill and Dalton. Bill admits that Dalton took off before the end of the hour. However, he won't give Cragen the list of buyers in fear of scaring off more business.
Fin and Munch find a tossed-aside duffle bag full of Audrey's clothes and I.D. right outside Dalton's apartment. Fin discovers a possible motive: Dr. Aubrey Hale worked at a local womens' clinic where abortions are performed. Benson and Stabler talk to Michael, Audrey's recent ex-husband. Michael confesses how he had begged Audrey to leave her job in fear for their daughter. A few years ago some pro-life groups posted hundreds of doctors' names and addresses on the Internet. Michael talks about how Audrey and he would get nasty letters. A tearful Michael knew something like this would happen to Audrey. Benson and Stabler continue to ask questions about Audrey's connection to Dalton, but Michael can only assume Dalton is a fanatic.
Munch interrogates Dalton and tries to see if he harbors any hate for abortion doctors. Dalton denies being a fanatic. He maintains that he is innocent and thinks that one of the co-owners at his company set him up. Fin and Munch give Dalton a hard time, as they should. Dalton is being the most difficult witness, blaming everything on his memory loss. He tells Fin that he will give the detectives the investor list, as long as the investigation is discreet. Fin agrees on one condition: Dalton has to tell the detectives if he is "pro choice or no choice." Dalton, still playing innocent, says he doesn't feel strongly one way or the other. This is Munch's last straw with Dalton and he doesn't believe him.
Benson and Stabler go to the womens' clinic where Audrey used to work. Outside the clinic they meet Rita, a young woman who is trying to convince people not to go through with an abortion. Stabler asks Rita if she was happy to hear about Dr. Audrey Hale's murder, and Rita says that she doesn't condone killing, but it's good to have one less murderer out there. When talking to Audrey's co-worker, Dr. Kittle, they learn there are many hate letters. An egging outside startles the detectives and they leave the clinic with a box full of hate mail. Dr. Kittle did give one helpful hint: Audrey was supposed to have dinner with a friend the night before her murder.
A shaken Linda Peters talks to Benson and Stabler and tells them that she and Audrey stopped at a bar after dinner. Linda frantically looks for the card to the bar in her purse. After Benson tells Linda to calm down, Linda reveals that Audrey was talking to a young, white, good-looking man who had been at the bar for awhile. Linda says that Audrey and the guy really hit it off and at the end of the night; Linda left Audrey and this mystery man alone. When Benson presses for a name, Linda can't quite remember, but it was the name of a bookstore. A light bulb goes off in Stabler's head: something like, Dalton.
Benson and Stabler drive Dalton, now their prime suspect, to West Falls Lounge, the bar where he and Audrey were last seen together. Dalton claims he hasn't been to a bar in over a year. Benson gets out of the car and Stabler asks Dalton about it. Dalton shows Stabler a chip from AA to prove his sobriety. Stabler keeps pressing Dalton, who gets out of the car to use the restroom. Dalton runs into the bar while Benson is interviewing the bartender, who makes a positive I.D. on Dalton. Dalton still plays clueless and runs to the bathroom, pretending he is going to be sick. While he is in the bathroom, Stabler gets a phone call and learns the bloody handprint and the DNA from the rape kit are Dalton's. Right then Dalton makes a break for it and runs out into the street. Dalton's jig is up! Benson and Stabler, however, have lost their suspect.
Back at the station, Cragen gives Benson and Stabler the third degree for taking the murderer on a "field trip." Cragen is mad, mad, mad! The detectives messed up and now they need to fix it, A.S.A.P.! At the perfect moment, Paxton walks in ready to bust Stabler's balls for losing the defendant. Then Paxton shows Cragen a horrifying re-creation of the murder in a computer simulation. Paxton is almost giddy at how the video will make it easy for a jury to convict Dalton. However, Paxton and Cragen are not seeing eye to eye on this case. Cragen thinks that the sex was consensual, but Paxton is sure Audrey was raped. Cragen believes Dalton banged his head against the mirror after he realized what had happened, but Paxton is sure that Dalton was trying to fake an attack. Just then Cragen gets Dalton's phone records, which lead the detectives to his ex-wife.
Fin and Munch interview Celina, Dalton's ex. The detectives tell her that they know she spoke with Dalton for 17 minutes on the phone. Celina tells Fin and Munch that Dalton thinks he is being set up. Regardless, Celina would not let Dalton stay at her place. Turns out, Celina and Dalton have a messy past filled with alcohol-related problems. Celina quit drinking, but Dalton couldn't. When Dalton was drunk, he was a monster. Celina talks about how when Dalton hurt her, that's when she walked. Who would help him now? Celina is sure Dalton's partner and old drinking buddy, Bill, would be right there for him.
There is a fist fight happening between Bill and Dalton when Benson and Stabler arrive on the scene! Stabler pulls Dalton off of Bill. Dalton yells at Bill to tell the detectives what happened. Bill says how he only gave Dalton one drink. In the interrogation room, Dalton blames his anxiety medication, benzo, and the combination of alcohol for his blackout. Dalton admits that his drinking problem is bad, he doesn't remember leaving the office and once he has one drink there is no stopping him. Paxton and Cragen are listening in, and Paxton doesn't believe a word of it. Cragen tries to play on Paxton's heart strings by telling her that even he, Cragen, has been sober for over 20 years but struggles with alcoholism every day. It doesn't work. Paxton thinks that alcohol addiction is bogus and people use it as an excuse for their actions. Paxton states, "Intoxication has never been and never will be a defense for rape and murder."
To Cragen's surprise a witness comes in to talk to the detectives about Dalton's character. Glenna Fletcher used to be an assistant at R-T Developers, Dalton's company. Glenna confesses that one day after work Dalton was drinking and exposed himself to her. After that Dalton put his hand on her breast and tried to force his hand down her pants. Glenna is sure that Dalton would have done more if she hadn't screamed. Paxton, sure of herself, tells Cragen she knew Dalton was a rapist.
Dalton cannot get any more breaks! Benson and Stabler hound in him the interrogation room about Glenna's accusation. Dalton says that he took responsibility for his actions already, but Benson doesn't call paying off Glenna taking real responsibility. Dalton says that after that, he never touched another drop of alcohol. Paxton storms in, tired of Stabler and Benson "playing patty-cake" with the suspect. Paxton wants a confession and she wants it now. Dalton says that he can't confess to something he doesn't remember! Paxton mocks Dalton and her hate for him boils out of control. She forces Dalton to watch an extra special computer simulation of the murder, with Dalton's face Photoshopped in as the murderer. Shocked, Dalton protests that Paxton can't show that to the jury. Paxton knows that, but she made this video especially for Dalton.
At the Frye hearing, the defense has Dr. Sopher explain how addiction is different for people who suffer from alcoholism. Paxton is explosive at this, calling it voodoo science and reminding the judge that alcohol as a defense for rape and murder is banned. Defense attorney Kressler reminds Paxton that the rape charges were dropped. Nevertheless, Paxton stays true to her beliefs that intoxication as a murder defense is ALSO banned. Unfortunately for Paxton, the whole point of the Frye hearing is to decide the admissibility of new science at the trial.
Dr. Sopher testifies that in the ongoing research of alcoholics, changes have been found in brain images in the areas critical to memory, judgment, and behavioral control. Thus, when Dalton took his first drink he had no control and had to keep drinking, which then led him to murder. Then, it's Paxton's turn to cross-examine. Dr. Sopher better watch out! Paxton asks Dr. Sopher if it would be possible to "will" a tumor away. Dr. Sopher says no. Paxton adds to this and states, "Because a tumor is a disease and not a behavior." The looks around the courtroom say it all: Paxton has proved her point. Paxton talks about how alcoholics stop drinking by will power, because alcoholism is NOT a disease.
Paxton enters the station triumphantly and tells the SVU how the judge is not allowing the alcoholism defense. While this is good news, Cragen does not condone Paxton's cockiness. Cragen tries to explain Dr. Sopher's work to Paxton and how the doctor is trying to find a cure. Benson, for the first time, takes Paxton's side until Cragen brings up Benson's mother. Paxton coldly asks Benson about her mother, but Benson, trying to mask her hurt, says how her mother was a fallen-down drunk and died when she fell down a flight of stairs. Paxton doesn't think anyone can hide behind a bottle and can't believe that Dalton is claiming temporary insanity due to alcoholic psychosis. Even if there is a sympathetic jury member, no one will hesitate to convict Dalton after Paxton shows them the computer simulation of the murder.
At the trial, Paxton plays the computer simulation, but something is wrong: the copy she played is the one with the likeness of Dalton, something the jury wasn't supposed to see. Angrily the judge dismisses the jury and Dalton protests! Paxton runs to turn off the monitor and tries to apologize, having no idea how it happened.
Later that night, Benson and Stabler find Paxton drinking alone at the restaurant, looking through books. Stabler doesn't take the opportunity to kick Paxton when she's down. Paxton tells the detectives that Kressler purposely played the wrong disc to force a mistrial. Paxton swears it was a mistake, and if the jury can't forget what they saw, then the judge is going to have to call a mistrial. Basically, there may be no way around this and Dalton may walk. What's more disturbing is Paxton's behavior as she tries to get Stabler to stay and have a drink with her. Instead, Stabler leaves and Benson notices that Paxton may be a little tipsy and tries to convince he to call it a night. Paxton says she is going to be up all night trying to fix this, so they better get to work.
The trial begins again and everyone is in the courtroom, except Paxton. Suddenly Paxton rushes in the court, 45 minutes late, and blames it on a fender bender. She drops her purse and claims she is fine to proceed, but the judge thinks that Paxton needs medical attention. Just then, Dalton bursts out with, "She's drunk." Paxton denies drinking anything. She uses Benson as her alibi, claming the two were up all night preparing for the trial. The judge calls Benson into the courtroom and requests a she bring a Breathalyzer. Benson arrives at the courtroom and is shocked when she learns she has to perform the Breathalyzer on Paxton. Paxton pleads with Benson to fix this. Benson tells the judge that she saw Paxton consume two drinks last night. The judge angry now, and knows that Paxton lied to him. It's a tense moment in the courtroom and although Paxton swears her sobriety, Benson calls her out, telling her she reeks of booze, her eyes are read and watering, "Now blow!" Paxton, reluctantly and as if all she has worked for will fall apart in this moment, blows into the Breathalyzer. Benson shakes her head in disapproval and gives the Breathalyzer to the judge. The result: .082. The judge orders Paxton's removal from the courtroom and Benson escorts her out. Everyone is left in shock.
Dalton gets off on a mistrial. Benson tells him that he is the luckiest man alive. Dalton doesn't feel lucky, and after seeing everything, he realizes he killed Audrey. Dalton cries, obviously haunted by his past actions, but he has no memory of it. Dalton has no idea why he killed Audrey and he never will.
There's fallout at the precinct. Everyone talks about how the SVU must have led Paxton to drink. Benson thinks she is a hypocrite. Stabler is about to say something nasty when Paxton comes in. She tells everyone that it has been an honor working with them. Then she hits everyone with another surprise: she is on her way to court-ordered rehab. Paxton intends to make amends to each of them. It's almost heartbreaking for everyone to see the hard-nosed Paxton crumble emotionally in front of them. Later that day Benson visits her mother's grave, the trial and Paxton bringing up things that are unfortunately known all too well by the stunning detective.