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Pledging Mr. Johnson
Mr Johnson
WriterJosh Berman,
Anthony Zuiker
DirectorRichard J. Lewis
Original AirdateOctober 27, 2000
Previous Episode: Crate 'n Burial
Next Episode: Friends & Lovers

Pledging Mr. Johnson is the fourth episode in season one of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.


A woman's severed leg found in Lake Mead leads Grissom and Catherine to uncover a case of adultery. Meanwhile Sara and Nick investigate a fraternity student's apparent suicide, but find out that it may have been caused by the student's pledging going terribly wrong.


Grissom and Catherine are called to Lake Mead where the body of Wendy Barger is found floating in the water. Autopsy shows head trauma and signs of recent sex. Catherine calls Wendy’s husband, Winston, and the CSIs are surprised to learn that he did not report Wendy missing, although she was in the water for two days. They question him and learn that his marriage was on the rocks – the couple had not had sex for several months.

Further inspection of the body reveals splinters in her head wound and shows that Wendy was dead before she fell into the water. Her stomach contents lead Grissom and Catherine to a restaurant near the lake. A waitress recognizes Wendy’s picture and remembers that she had dinner with a Phil Swelco. Grissom and Catherine track him down and question him. He is distraught at the news of Wendy’s death and admits that they were having an affair. He says that after their date, Wendy took her boat across the lake back to her house.

As they leave Swelco’s house, they see Winston waiting for them outside. He says he was following them and asks how Swelco is related to Wendy’s death. Later, Grissom and Catherine discuss how much they should tell Winston about Wendy’s affair. When Catherine later tells Winston, Grissom angrily reprimands her for compromising the case because of her personal feelings.

Grissom and Catherine find Wendy’s boat and discover that it ran out of gas. They realize that Wendy tried to restart the engine, dislocated her shoulder, lost her balance, hit her head, and fell into the water. They visit Swelco to tell him the news and find him dead in his house. Winston sits nearby, sobbing that Swelco killed his wife. However, they inform Winston that Wendy's death was an accident and that he killed an innocent man.

Warrick goes to court to testify in a case but is frustrated to find that the case has been continued. Judge Cohen, who considers Warrick to be in his debt, tells Warrick to compromise the evidence for a rape case because he owes the rapist’s family. Warrick protests but Judge Cohen does not let him refuse. Warrick returns to the lab and attempts to sign out the evidence in the rape case but cannot bring himself to do so. Morally conflicted, he turns to Grissom for guidance.

Warrick meets Judge Cohen and asks him for assurance. He leads the judge into outlining his exact wants, and Brass appears to arrest him. Warrick reveals that he was wearing a wire, and defiantly tells the judge that nobody owns him.

Sara and Nick arrive at a fraternity house (Phi Alpha) where James Johnson, a pledge, is hanging in an apparent suicide. Autopsy shows signs that James suffocated, but his tongue is missing teeth marks, a common side effect of hanging. They also find ink on his penis. They question two members of the fraternity, Matt Daniels and Kyle Travis, and learn about an initiation that all pledges must go through: going to sorority row and having different parts of their bodies signed. James Johnson was caught signing his own "Johnson" and was humiliated in front of the other pledges as punishment.

James’ autopsy also reveals a strip of raw liver with threads of fabric in it in his throat. When Sara and Nick accuse Matt and Kyle of hazing, they explain that James asked for one more chance to prove himself, so Matt made him swallow raw liver. When James choked on it, they performed the Heimlich maneuver to no avail; they staged the hanging to avoid suspicion. However, Sara and Nick find no evidence of the Heimlich on James’ body. Closer examination of James’ penis reveals a signature: Jill, followed by two deltas.

Sara and Nick question Jill Wentworth of the Delta Delta sorority and learn that she is Kyle’s girlfriend. They search Kyle’s room and discover a twine noose in the trash basket. They confront Matt with this information, and he finally confesses that Kyle, angry over his girlfriend signing James’ penis, tricked James into swallowing the liver, assuring him that he would pull it out as part of a trust-test, and then yanked the noose so that the liver remained lodged in his throat.


Main Cast

Guest Cast

  • Eric Szmanda as Greg Sanders
  • Judith Scott as Dr. Jenna Williams
  • Harrison Young as Judge Cohen
  • Jim Ortlieb as Winston Barger
  • Vyto Ruginis as Phil Swelco
  • Mark Famiglietti as Matt Daniels
  • Craig Allen Wolf as Kyle Travis
  • Grant Heslov as Coroner Corbett
  • John Livingston as THD Audio Tech
  • Deborah Landis as Anne Vickers
  • Robert Dolan as Hank - Fisherman #2
  • Mark Daneri as George - Fisherman #1
  • Paul Terrell Clayton as Homicide Detective Kane
  • Amy Collett as Martie, the Waitress
  • Nicole Tarantini as Jill Wentworth
  • Chris Demetral as James Johnson (victim)
  • Elliott Grey as Barger's Attorney
  • N/A as Wendy Barger (victim)


  • Last appearance of Harrison Young as Judge Cohen.
  • This episode was inspired by an actual hazing death: the 1959 death of Richard Swanson, a pledge at the Kappa Sigma fraternity at the University of Southern California.

See Also

CSI:Las Vegas Season 1
PilotCool ChangeCrate 'n BurialPledging Mr. JohnsonFriends & LoversWho Are You?Blood DropsAnonymousUnfriendly SkiesSex, Lies and LarvaeI-15 MurdersFahrenheit 932BoomTo Halve and to HoldTable StakesToo Tough to DieFace Lift$35K O.B.O.Gentle, GentleSounds of SilenceJustice is ServedEvaluation DayStrip Strangler