At a Unitarian Church on the Upper West Side, Olivia takes part in Noah's Child Dedication Ceremony as her squad proudly looks on. At a Baptist Church in Hamilton Heights, a young woman named Michelle Thompson approaches Reverend Curtis after the service. She needs his help contacting Bayard Ellis, a Project Innocence Lawyer, to exonerate her incarcerated father, Derek. Seventeen years ago, she told the police he raped her, but she's now going through her 12 steps to recovery and wants to come forward with the truth: he never touched her. Reverend Curtis contacts Ellis, who asks his old friend Olivia to reinvestigate the closed case.
The case was primarily made on Michelle's testimony, but now she's saying she was pressured by her mother and wants to recant. The lead detective was a guy named Ted McCormack, but Olivia can't seem to get a hold of him. Luckily, Captain Cragen is in town, and he knows Ted as a corner-cutter who was bounced around from precinct to precinct. Cragen also knows the ADA Robert O'Dwyer and goes to talk to him.
Michelle comes into the station to tell her story to Benson and Rollins. Her little brother was hungry, but her mom was out drinking and drugging and her dad was at work, so she tried to make him hot dogs but burned herself. When her parents came home, they started arguing, and her mom started questioning her, pushing her to say the incident was her dad's fault and that he also touched her inappropriately. Her mom then called the police, coaching Michelle to continue to tell her story or people would be mad at her for lying. Michelle's mother, Audrey, however, sticks with her story that Derek raped Michelle and is the cause of all her family's problems. Derek maintains his innocence and explains the detectives had it out for him back then.
Cragen's found something: a letter Michelle's first grade teacher wrote to O'Dwyer saying Michelle came to her crying because her mom made her lie to the police. While O'Dwyer had it out for Derek, he did forward the letter to the defense attorney, Cassie Muir, and says Michelle even tried to recant as a teenager but the detective thought she was on drugs and didn't believe her. When Carisi and Rollins meet with Muir, they find she's a mess who was disbarred a few years back. She remembers the teacher's letter but can't remember why she didn't follow up on it. So Ellis sets up a hearing for an appeal on the grounds of ineffective assistance of counsel, but while the judge agrees the teacher's letter may have been sufficient to cast reasonable doubt on Michelle's testimony, it doesn't rise to the level of ineffective counsel. The motion is denied. Michelle is devastated and blames Benson and Ellis for getting her family's hopes up.
Luckily, Cragen managed to come through and got a hold of McCormack, telling him he's concerned Ellis is looking to reopen the case. So McCormack flies in from Florida to help SVU make sure the case stays buried... hey, whatever way they get info out of him! McCormack swears Audrey would never make Michelle lie - she was just trying to protect her kids from a pedophile. He then admits he keeps in touch with her and knew her pretty well even before the case. He was called to the apartment pretty frequently to break up domestic disputes. Cragen and Amaro thank McCormack for his help - clearly this case shouldn't be reopened.
As soon as McCormack leaves, the squad starts investigating him and learns his marriage broke up two years after the trial… because he cheated with Audrey! Michelle and her brother remember McCormack coming around as kids, and a month prior to the trial, Audrey spent a weekend in Florida. The detectives confirm McCormack and Audrey were both in Key West the same weekend, which they know because Audrey was arrested for disorderly intoxication. With this new evidence, a judge grants a retrial. After the hearing, O'Dwyer offers Derek a deal to save face: if he pleads to criminal sex act in the first degree, he can do time served. Derek would be out of jail, but he'd have to admit to his guilt, have a felony on his record and would stay on the Sex Offenders Registry. Derek can't agree to that - the truth is supposed to set you free, not a lie. So the trial begins…
At the retrial, Ellis questions Audrey about her relationship with McCormack and why they didn't disclose it and why she waited to call the police until the next morning, when McCormack was on duty. Ellis also suggests that Audrey and McCormack accused Derek of sexual assault to get him out of the way of their relationship. O'Dwyer then accuses Derek of coercing his daughter to recant through guilt-laden prison letters, but he vehemently denies it. When O'Dwyer questions Michelle, he suggests she may never have burned her hand at all and her dad convinced her she did, just as her mother convinced her Derek raped her. He talks circles around her to the point where she says she doesn't remember anymore - she was six!
While waiting for the jury to come back, Olivia comforts Michelle. But Michelle isn't comforted - she honestly can't remember if her dad did rape or her not. When the jury returns, they deliver a not guilty verdict, but Michelle and Olivia are both torn. Did they do the right thing?