Based on the true story in 1931 of a navy wife who claimed she was raped by a gang of Hawaiians, leading to one of them being kidnapped and murdered in a scheme hatched by the girl's mother. Clarence Darrow defended the family in Hawaii's Crime of the Century.
Navy officer Tommie Massie (26) and his wife Thalia (21) attend a party in Waikiki but are separated during the evening. When he wakes up in a friend’s house several hours later, he receives an urgent call from Thalia who claims she was raped by a gang of Hawaiians. Five local boys are soon rounded up and charged.
Thalia’s mother, Grace Fortescue, arrives in Honolulu to care for her and to demand justice. With family connections to Theodore Roosevelt and Alexander Graham Bell, Grace is befriended by Navy Admiral Sterling, who warns Governor Judd that the white community is in danger and that Honolulu is on the brink of chaos unless the Hawaiians are convicted.
The rape case ends up in a mistrial. Before the second trial begins, Grace plots an elaborate scheme involving herself, Tommie and two navy men to kidnap and force a confession out of the darkest-skinned local boy, Joseph Kahahawai. When he refuses to confess, there’s a brief altercation and he is shot to death. While attempting to dispose of the body in the city outskirts, they are arrested.
In the murder trial, the Massie group is represented by Clarence Darrow, who raises the “Honor Killing” defense. The jury convicts them of manslaughter, which carries a sentence of 10 years of hard labor each, but the White House intervenes and the Governor is forced to commute their sentences to one hour. However, Tommie is a changed man. While the group celebrates in front of the press, he tells Thalia that he is leaving her.
Tommie and Thalia divorced in 1934. Thalia attempted suicide twice before her fatal overdose in 1963, and Tommie suffered mental illness for the rest of his life and died 55 years to the day of Kahahawai’s murder. By contrast, Grace inherited a fortune and lived comfortably until her death at age 95.