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The Most Intense Deathbed Confession In Law & Order History

As one of the longest-running procedurals that often reused certain formulas and archetypes, to the extent that stand-up comedian John Mulaney famously mocked the show's cliches, the iconic NBC drama "Law & Order" and its spinoffs have always featured flawed but heroic cops whose gut instincts about suspects were usually correct. Even when episodes ended with hung juries or unsatisfying verdicts, the detectives usually knew what they were doing. This has led to more recent criticism about the franchise's overly positive depiction of police, though another season of the original series has already been ordered by NBC.

That's what makes this 2005 episode of "Law & Order" so unusual and outright disturbing. It not only starts with a dying criminal's confession — unraveling the bedrock of an unresolved murder case — but the script also shows how even a seasoned official like Detective Fontana (Dennis Farina) can make a terrible mistake on the job. This is the most intense, jarring deathbed confession that ever occurred on "Law & Order."

This deathbed scene made Fontana realize he made a terrible mistake

In the Season 16 episode "Ghosts," Dan Flood (Ari Fliakos), a petty crook who's been fatally shot by cops after mugging two women, confesses to Detective Fontana that he and his accomplice Johnny Zona (David Vadim) raped and murdered child star Sandy Dolan 10 years ago. Fontana at first doesn't believe Flood, as he'd worked on the Dolan case and had been certain that her father, Robert (Raymond J. Barry), had been responsible, even if he couldn't prosecute him.

Once the case is reopened, however, the evidence mounts that the detective was wrong. It turns out that Zona and Flood really were the true culprits, leading to Johnny being convicted for rape and murder. But the damage has already been done to the grieving Robert. On the stand, he attacks the incompetence of the police, and when Fontana later visits to apologize, Dolan just shuts the door in his face.

"Ghosts" then is memorable not just for the horror of Fliakos' last scene as Flood, fervently praying as Fontana tries to question him, but for how it shows the detective's fallibility. It's easy to rely on gut instinct, but for a person in a position of power like Fontana, that can lead to serious, lasting harm.

You can currently watch "Ghosts" and other "Law & Order" episodes on Peacock.