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Thomas Massie Trial: 1932

Mother-in-law Takes Charge, "is This Your Handwriting?"

Defendants: Grace Fortescue, Albert 0. Jones, Edward J. Lord, and Thomas H. Massie
Crime Charged: Murder
Chief Defense Lawyers: Clarence Darrow, George S. Leisure, Lieutenant L.H.C. Johnson, U.S.N., Frank Thompson, and Montgomery Winn
Chief Prosecutors: John C. Kelley and Barry S. Ulrich
Judge: Charles S. Davis
Place: Honolulu, Hawaii
Dates of Trial: April 4-29, 1932
Verdict: Guilty, second-degree murder
Sentences: 10 years imprisonment at hard labor, commuted to one hour in the dock

SIGNIFICANCE: The Thomas Massie trial provides a footnote to history as the last appearance of world-famous lawyer Clarence Darrow in a headline-making case. It provides a penetrating glimpse into the relationship between U.S. personnel stationed in the Hawaiian Territory before World War II and the island's natives and other "foreigners." And it proves that it is possible for murderers sentenced to 10 years to go free after serving only one hour.

In Honolulu, Hawaii, on September 12, 1931, 31-year-old Navy Lieutenant Thomas H. Massie and his 21-year-old wife, Thalia, attended a Saturday night party. Bored with her husband's boisterous U.S. Naval Academy classmates, Thalia took a stroll outdoors. Missing her toward midnight, Tom phoned home. Thalia answered: "Come home at once. Something terrible has happened."

Tom Massie found his wife hysterical, her face bleeding and bruised. She had been seized on the roadside by several natives, she said, driven to an abandoned animal quarantine station, punched in the jaw when she resisted, raped by five men of mixed race, and abandoned. She had flagged down a car whose driver had taken her home.

Tom Massie called the police. Together they took Thalia Massie to the hospital. Medical examination disclosed that her jaw was broken but did not produce conclusive evidence of rape. After examination and treatment, they went to police headquarters. There Thalia Massie suddenly remembered the license number of the car used by her assailants—a number only one digit different from one described earlier in the hospital's busy emergency room in another incident. Soon the police brought in Horace Ida, who admitted that he and four friends had had an altercation with another woman that night but denied assaulting Thalia Massie. The other four—David Takai, Henry Chang, Joe Kahahawai, and Benny Ahakuelo—were equally adamant. Thalia Massie identified Kahahawai, a well-known prizefighter who had a criminal record, as the assailant who broke her jaw.

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1918 to 1940