Raul Esparza Exits ‘Law & Order: SVU’ After Six Seasons

Warning: This story contains spoilers from the Wednesday, February 7, episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.

Assistant District Attorney Rafael Barba has left the courtroom. Raúl Esparza exited Law & Order: SVU on Wednesday, February 7, bidding farewell to his beloved role as the NBC procedural drama’s lead prosecutor after six seasons.

Barba, who was first introduced in season 14, stepped down from his post as ADA at the end of Wednesday’s emotional episode after pulling the plug on a brain dead child. While he was acquitted of all charges for the crime, Barba ultimately decided to resign. Chicago Justice character Peter Stone (Philip Winchester) has taken over as the new ADA.

Mariska Hargitay Raul Esparza Law & Order: SVU
Mariska Hargitay as Lieutenant Olivia Benson and Raul Esparza as ADA Rafael Barba on ‘Law & Order: SVU.’ Michael Parmelee/NBC

“I’ve done six seasons, I felt like it was time to go,” Esparza, 47, told Entertainment Weekly. “I had explored a lot of what I thought Barba was about. I just felt it was time to move on. I was also feeling like the role has changed over the years in a way that has been an interesting experience for me. Again, I’m a theater guy, so it’s like having a script in front of you that keeps changing every time you go to do it. The learning process of how roles grow over a period of time with a series has been kind of fascinating, and I just felt I had reached the end of what I wanted to explore where they were writing.”

The actor explained that the showrunners decided not to kill off Barba in case he ever decides to return in the future. “I think that Barba’s become a part of the SVU family, and I think there’s a life for him,” he said. “I don’t know necessarily, but it’s possible that there’s a life for him as the series goes on. I’m glad they left that door open.”

Mariska Hargitay, who plays Lieutenant Olivia Benson, said goodbye to Esparza on Twitter after the episode aired, writing, “One of the great honors of my life is to have shared the screen with the incredible scene partner, beautiful friend, giant heart, brilliant artist, kindest of men @RaulEEsparza. #SVU has been graced and great with you in it. Family always gets to come home… come home soon.”

Law & Order: SVU airs on NBC Wednesdays at 9 p.m. ET.

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