Last time on NCIS, Torres made a huge donation to a charity that Palmer was fundraising for, but his sizable donation was a typing snafu. In the end, he let the charity keep the funds. Torres is definitely a softy under that gruff exterior.

In this episode of NCIS, titled “Burden of Proof,” the team investigates the claim that a convicted murderer was framed. This case puts Senior FBI Agent Fornell (Joe Spano) back in the mix for the first time in season 15.

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A Case of Innocence?

The episode opens with Gabriel Hicks talking to his federal public defender, Jessica Shaeffer. He talks about Navy Lieutenant Edward O’Connell, the man that he was convicted of murdering 10 years earlier. Hicks talks about seeing photos of O’Connell in life and of his remains, with his head bashed in. Hicks cannot escape the gruesome images from his trial. When Shaeffer asks if Hicks committed the crime, he responds that he did not, and he was framed by NCIS. 

In the squad room, Torres is a beacon of cheerfulness since his shirts are too tight because of his macho, bulging biceps. Jack walks by and tosses Nick a pedicure kit as a gift, just because she thinks that Torres also keeps up to date with his pedicures. Bishop and McGee believe that Jack is correct and that Torres would jump at any chance to maintain his perfect appearance.

Gibbs goes to have a chat with Vance. Vance introduces Gibbs to Shaeffer, and she wants to cut to the chase. She details how Hicks was charged with the robbing, kidnapping and murdering Navy Lieutenant O’Connell. She believes that Hicks was wrongfully convicted of the crime, and he has served 10 years on death row. This case pre-dates Vance’s time at NCIS, but Gibbs remembers the joint FBI investigation. Hicks tells Gibbs and Vince that she believes that Hicks was framed but has no evidence to support that.

She does have some reports from NCIS Agent Mark Mason, who has since died. But it is O’Connell’s autopsy report that is setting off alarm bells. It was completed by another medical examiner while Ducky was on leave caring for his mother. Never fear, since Shaeffer has already had the body exhumed and the remains and all the previous reports sent to the esteemed Dr. Mallard. 

Welcome Back, Ducky

Ducky is back, baby! Ducky tells Shaeffer that O’Connell was killed by blunt force trauma to the head. He asks Palmer for his input, and Palmer agrees that the murderer was standing when he struck his kneeling victim with an instrument like a lead pipe. More importantly, O’Connell’s killer used a left-handed swing, and Hicks is right-handed.

The NCIS team digs into the substantial case file. O’Connell was abducted outside of his Virginia home by a suspect in a blue van. The kidnapper made O’Connell withdraw $1,200 from his bank while the kidnapper waited in the van. O’Connell was later killed in the forest. It seems odd that O’Connell would not have tried to escape at the bank. 

The evidence against Hicks is all circumstantial. Hicks was found with over $1,000 in cash on his person, and he drove a blue van. He also said he was at his friend’s house at the time that O’Connell was killed, but that turned out to be a lie. Hicks was in a hunting cabin near where O’Connell met his end. A woman who sold fruit in the bank parking lot, Witness X, was believed to have gotten a good look at the driver of the blue van, but she was never located. 

Gibbs and Fornell meet at the diner to discuss the case. Fornell believes that Hicks is guilty. He gets a little bit prickly when Gibbs points out that the person who killed O’Connell used a left-handed swing, not right-handed. Gibbs adds that the case was all circumstantial. Fornell responds that Hicks had a prior history of armed robbery and that he lied about his alibi. Fornell insists that Hicks is stone-cold guilty. 

A Striking Calling Card

McGee and Torres head out to the crime scene, and McGee has some juicy information to share. The medical examiner in San Diego told McGee that Jack has profiled everyone in their office and kept the files under lock and key in her filing cabinet. Torres also has some information to swap. He earlier told Bishop that Jack was asking questions about her just to drive Bishop crazy. They reach the tree where O’Connell’s body was found. Underneath part of the bark and behind a loose “no trespassing” sign, McGee pulls out the victim’s driver’s license. 

Abby runs the profile of the blood on the license, and it comes back to O’Connell. Meanwhile, Bishop discovers that there are four other murders in the DC area, and all of them shared two commonalities: the victim’s driver’s license was found hidden at the scene, and there was a swipe of the victim’s blood on the face of their license. Yikes! 

Fornell meets with Vance and Gibbs, and it is abundantly clear that he is not on the same page as the other two men. Gibbs and Vance are looking for the missing female witness, while Fornell wants to try and connect Hicks to the other four murders. The two sides agree to pursue their own investigations.

Ducky and Jack have a mutual love-fest over the game “name that profiler.” Yes, really! Gibbs is more interested in a profile of the killer. Ducky believes that the killer is a psychopath who intentionally chooses physically strong victims. He steals money to support himself, but he derives pleasure from the actual murders. Gibbs asks Jack what she was doing while Ducky was busy doing all the profiling. Awkward!

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A Cabinet of Curiosity

Jack was profiling Shaeffer by taking her to lunch. Jack likes Shaeffer and explains that she became a public defender after her uncle, who was wrongly convicted of a crime and died in prison. Shaeffer asked Jack to come and meet Hicks, and Gibbs invites himself along. When a large filing cabinet is delivered to Jack’s office, McGee becomes even more convinced that they are all being profiled. 

In Abby’s lab, the rest of the team meets to gauge how paranoid they are about being profiled. Abby points out that Jack stated that she does not profile people in her spare time, and Abby believes that this is the truth and calls Jack her “friend.” And make no mistake, Bishop takes issue with the fact that Torres told her that Jack said that she had “feet like a werewolf.”

The FBI collected some bags that the missing Witness X used to bag fruit. Two of the three bags had particles from a clear rust protectant that is only used on farm equipment. Abby narrows down the possible sellers and arrives at one: a paint store. 

Jack and Gibbs sit down with Shaeffer and Hicks. Hicks wants them to know that he did not lie. In his nervousness during the questioning, he gave the wrong dates, and he admits to a youthful attempt to steal some beer. Hicks also says that he believed that Agent Mason framed him by moving the body closer to where Hicks was staying. The prisoner also states that if Shaeffer found no evidence that he was framed, then he believes her, and he is a victim of coincidence. He also recalls memories of getting vanilla ice cream with his deceased father. After they leave the room, Jack remarks that she did not notice any signs of psychosis. She asks “Cowboy” what his infamous gut is telling him. An amused Gibbs doesn’t reply.

A Surprising Description

Torres goes to speak with Mr. Rydell at the paint store. Rydell knows who used to sell fruit in his store bags. He calls over the woman’s nephew, his employee Ray, to speak with Torres. Ray takes off running and is finally wrangled down from a fire escape by Torres. They spar for a bit, and Torres renders him unconscious. It is a good thing that Torres has all those muscles. Gibbs sits out the interrogation, and Torres takes the lead. Ray and Torres bond over their boxing skills. Ray finally admits to cashing checks sent to his aunt after she moved away. More importantly, they finally have the name for Witness X: Mary Elaine Smith. 

Gibbs speaks to Mary Smith at a nursing center. She remembers who she saw driving the blue van on that fateful day. She attempted to sell her last couple of oranges to the driver, and he told her to leave. She can only recall one important detail about the man’s face: he was African American. Hicks is white, so in this case he is innocent. Gibbs is shocked when Smith reveals that she did give someone the information — Agent Fornell.

In court, Hicks takes the stand and details why he was at the cabin. He claims that he was at the cabin to write and that the cash he had was earned doing odd jobs. 

An angry Gibbs confronts Fornell, who admits to speaking with Smith. Fornell tries to explain that he knew that Smith was lying about the perpetrator’s description. Gibb reminds Fornell that he remembers that Fornell and Mason both got promotions because of this case. The fate of Fornell’s career hangs in the balance, and Fornell begs Gibbs not to reveal what he knows. Fornell calls Gibbs a hypocrite. 

Doing the Right Thing

Gibbs asks the team what new evidence they have, and they have nothing. Shaeffer arrives, and she is upset that Gibbs found Witness X and he did not alert her. Gibbs tries to dodge her questions, and she announces that she is calling him to the stand to testify.

Gibbs goes to Jack’s office and states that she has no right to give Shaeffer information about the case, particularly Witness X. Jack convinces him that she did not tell anyone anything but offers to listen to him. Gibbs pours out his dilemma; if he tells the truth on the stand, he will torpedo his friend’s career. Jack fills Gibbs in on her mysterious file cabinet. It is empty because her father made it for her mother, but some of the drawers didn’t fit correctly, so it was never used. Jack adds that everyone makes mistakes, but it is how a person responds to those mistakes that matter. 

In court, Gibbs admits to talking with Smith and explains that she identified the van driver as African American. Gibbs reluctantly explains that Smith gave the same information to Fornell. In the hallway outside of court, Gibbs sits beside Fornell. 

The FBI agent admits that he notified Shaeffer that Gibbs had found the missing witness. Fornell knew that, in the end, Gibbs would tell the truth. Hicks, after winning his freedom, thanks Gibbs for his help. Gibbs advises him to celebrate his freedom with some nice ice cream, and Hicks comments that he is going to get chocolate. When a surprised Gibbs reminds him that he likes vanilla, Hicks glibly covers his tracks.

Hicks takes to a batting cage, under Jack and Gibbs’ watchful eye. Hicks sees them watching and hits a ball with his left hand. Jack tells Gibbs that they were played by Hicks, but Gibbs tells her that the game isn’t over yet.

I enjoyed this episode of NCIS, particularly how the team is terrifed of being profiled. 

Are you surprised that Fornell tipped off the attorney? Could Hicks still be the killer? Is the team overly suspicious of Jack? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below.

NCIS season 15 airs Tuesdays at 8/7c on CBS. Want more news? Like our Facebook page.

(Image courtesy of CBS)

Kim Stempel

Contributing Writer, BuddyTV

Kim has been covering television entertainment since 2013. She is addicted to Real Housewives, Pump Rules, Dancing with the Stars, and many more shows.