In this emotionally-charged novel, Carl Lee Hailey's young daughter (a black girl, in the deep south of Mississippi) is raped by two men--white supremacists. (They also try to kill her by hanging, but she survives.)
The men are put on trial, and Carl approaches lawyer Jake Brigance with worries that the men will go free in this racially-biased community. Jake acknowledges that it is possible, so Carl takes justice into his own hands. He hides out of sight until the defendants appear in the open courthouse. Carl reveals himself, carrying a rifle, and shoots the two men, killing both--before a group of witnesses. There can be no question that he is guilty of their murders.
Jake decides to represent Carl hoping to exonerated him by using an insanity plea. In this community, all the cards are stacked against him in ways he cannot imagine when he takes the case: Jake is up against almost the entire town, including the KKK.
The question as to how justice will be served if Jake either loses or wins, is paradoxical. How can justice be served in either event?
If Jake loses the case defending Carl for murder, the murder of the rapists will see justice and Carl will be punished, but the attackers' crimes against Carl's ten-year old daughter will not. If, however, Jake wins the case, he not only guarantees the freedom of his client, but he will have proven that Carl was justified in his anger and need for vengeance in that his child had been brutally attacked, raped, and almost killed; justice will be served for the innocent young girl.
John Grisham writes an extraordinary novel that asks the controversial question, Is murder ever justified?