Based on the story "Mob Rule" by Norman Krasna. Joe Wilson and Katherine Grant are in love, but he doesn't have enough money for them to get married. So Katherine moves across the country to make money. But things go disastrously wrong for Joe when he stops in a small town and is mistaken for a wanted murderer. Through the course of the movie, Fritz Lang shows us how a decent and once civilized man can become a ruthless and bitter man.
Hard worker Joseph "Joe" Wilson and teacher Katherine Grant are in love with each other, but they do not have enough money to get married. Katherine gets a better job in Washington and together with Joe, they save money to get married one year later. Joe quits his job in the factory and uses his savings to buy a gas station, working with his brothers Charlie and Tom. He makes enough money to get married with Katherine and buys a car. While driving with his dog Rainbow to meet his fiancée, Joe is stopped in Strand by the redneck Deputy "Bugs" Meyers as suspect of kidnapping a boy in the Peabody Case. When they find peanuts in his pocket and a five-dollar bill in his pocket with the numeration of the money paid for ransom, Joe is arrested in jail for investigation. "Bugs" Meyers makes a comment in the barbershop about the prisoner and sooner the gossip is spread in the little town. As a tale never loses in the telling, Joe is accused by the population of kidnapper and they try to invade the police station to lynch him. For political reason, Governor Burt does not send the National Guard to help Sheriff Tad Hummel to protect Joe and the Police Station is burnt down by the vigilantes. Katherine witnesses the action and has a breakdown. Joe is presumed dead but out of the blue he appears at his brothers' apartment seeking justice. He had learnt that in accordance with the laws, Lynch Law is murder in the first degree and his brothers open a case against twenty-two dwellers of Strand. The prosecutor Mr. Adams accepts the case and Katherine Grant is the prime witness. Joe's revenge is set in motion.
Passing through a small town, Joe is arrested for kidnapping. A lynch mob burns down the jail and Joe is believed killed. The incident has been captured on newsreel film and, for revenge, Joe urges his brothers to use the film to prove the mob guilty of his murder.
When a wrongly accused prisoner barely survives a lynch mob attack and is presumed dead, he vindictively decides to fake his death and frame the Mob for his murder.
- The film begins with Joe Wilson and Katherine Grant window-shopping together. They are looking at a bedroom set in a store window, and we learn that Joe and Katherine are engaged but cannot afford to get married. As they walk down the street Joe reaches into his pocket and pulls out a handful of peanuts. It begins to rain and Joe wonders out loud why it had to rain that night of all nights. Katherine reassures him and they kiss under a bridge as a train rolls by.
Joe and Katherine are next seen at the train station where Joe's coat gets caught on a handrail and tears. Katherine fishes a needle and blue thread out of her suitcase and insists on fixing the tear for Joe before she leaves Katherine has found work in another city and is leaving to save up money for her and Joe's wedding. Just as she finishes her sewing her train arrives and Joe and Katherine walk onto the platform. Outside Joe buys Katherine a souvenir, telling Katherine that he bought it as a momentum. Katherine corrects him, telling him, It's memento darling, not momentum. Joe tells Katherine the mistake is an old habit of his from wearing braces as a kid and Katherine tells Joe that he is still a kid in many ways. Katherine has a gift for Joe too a ring that was once her mothers. The inscription inside reads From Henry to Katherine to Joe. The train whistles and as Katherine boards the train Joe promises her that he will come for her soon.
Outside of the train station Joe hears a bark and discovers a small, shaggy black stray. Joe tells the dog, You look the way I feel, lonely and small. He brings the dog back home with him and names her Rainbow. Not long after arriving home Joe's two brothers Tom and Charlie come home from the movies. Tom is drunk and Charlie explains that after seeing a movie they had a few drinks with Donelli, a local crime boss. Joe urges his brothers to leave their life of crime and go straight. Charlie tells Joe not to interfere with his life and leaves.
In the town of Strand Katherine has settled into her new apartment. She is looking through a stack of letters mailed to her from Joe. Joe writes that his brothers decided to leave behind their life of crime and that the three of them opened up their own gas station. Joe has been saving up money and will soon have enough for their wedding. Katherine's landlady arrives with a telegram marked special delivery. Katherine rips it open and reads that not only does Joe finally has enough money for their wedding but that he has bought a car as well and is on his way to come get Katherine.
Back in Chicago Joe packs up his new car and says his goodbyes to his brothers. Halfway to Strand he stops for the night and camps out in the woods. While eating dinner over a campfire the newspaper headline reads KIDNAP RANSOM PAID. As Joe is camping out Katherine is preparing a picnic lunch for her and Joe. She tells her landlady that she is planning on meeting Joe at a local hot dog stand at 11. The next morning while driving down an old dirt road Joe is stopped by Bugs Meyers, a local police officer. Bugs notices Joe's Illinois license plate and orders him to keep his hands on the wheel. Joe assures him he doesn't have a gun, just some peanuts. Bugs asks Joe if the peanuts are whole shell and when Joe tells him that they are he orders Joe out of his car and brings him to the county jail.
At the county jail the sheriff asks Joe about where he had been the night before and Joe answers him truthfully. The sheriff looks at a report from the ransom case that was in the newspapers which says that an examination of the ransom note revealed that it had been carried in a pocket along with peanuts. Suspicious of Joe, the sheriff offers him some peanuts. Joe cheerfully tells the sheriff that he loves peanuts and always carries them in his pockets. The sheriff interrogates Joe again about his whereabouts the night before and Joe asks what he is being suspected of. The sheriff hands Joe a reward flyer for the capture of any of the men associated with the kidnapping of Helen Peabody. The description of one of the kidnappers meets Joe along with his keeping peanuts in his pocket. Joe insists that he is innocent and urges the sheriff to call his brothers to clear his name. The sheriff tells him he will but first asks Joe to empty his pockets. Joe does so willingly, eager to clear his name. Among his possessions are a few dollar bills and the sheriff asks Bugs to cross reference the serial numbers on Joe's money with a list of serial numbers from the ransom money. One of Joe's $5 bills matches but Joe insists that he does not know where he got the money from and tells the sheriff that it likely came from his gas station. Bugs searches Joe's car but finds no further incriminating evidence. The sheriff puts Joe in jail and assures him he will look into Joe's case.
Bugs decides to go next door to the barber shop where one of the customers is threatening a local high school teacher to get a law banning the teaching of radical ideas in schools. The teacher calmly replies that it's not possible to pass a law that takes away ones right to say what they believe because the constitution protects that right. One of the barbers, an immigrant named Sven, suggests to the customer that he read it some time. The customer changes the subject by asking Bugs about the kidnapping case and Bugs tells him he arrested a man that morning that might know something about the kidnappers. Sven wonders out loud what causes a man to kidnap a child and the other barber comments that all men have wild impulses; those who can control those impulses are sane and those who can not either wind up in a mental ward or in jail. The barber tells his customer that he often has an impulse to shave off mens adams apples. He turns his back to his customer and tells Bugs, "An impulse is an impulse. It's like an itch, you gotta scratch it." When he turns back around his customer is nowhere to be found and the front door is swinging. Angry, the barber calls his wife and tells her that he lost one of his regular customers because of Bugs Meyers bringing the news that one of the kidnappers had been caught. After hanging up the phone, the barbers wife runs next door to tell her neighbor and soon the news spreads all over town.
At the local bar three members from the towns city council are discussing Joe's arrest. One suggests that his conviction would be good publicity for their town. Another suggests that they go down to the jail themselves to speak to the sheriff about the case and the rest of the men agree. At the county jail the sheriff tells the city council men that he is trying to get ahold of the district attorney and that until then he can not comment on Joe's arrest. The city council men urge the sheriff to make a statement anyway because the town deserves to know about the kidnapper. The sheriff points out that they don't know if he is the kidnapper yet and the city council men leave dejected. As they walk out onto the street there is a small group of people waiting who throw rocks through the windows of the building, presumably because of the lack of information. The sheriff calls the district attorney who reassures the sheriff they will be prepared in case of a national emergency.
Back at the bar a group of men have gathered, angry that the sheriff would not tell them the facts about Joe's case. Rumors have been circulating that Joe had up to ten thousand dollars in his car. Bugs walks into the bar and the men begin demanding information from him about Joe. Bugs tells the men that he didn't find a single thing in Joe's car and that the only ransom money he had on him was a single five dollar bill. The crowd becomes unruly and starts to discuss going back down to the county jail. One bar patron shouts for every one to be quiet and tells the other men that they are getting too excited and that Joe's case was none of their business. A stranger in the bar steps forward to say that if this were his town he would make it his business and calls then men in the bar soft boiled for letting a kidnapped girl go without vengeance. The bar patron asks who he is and the stranger replies that he is just passing through. The other men in the bar begin to agree that the stranger is right and an angry mob marches down to the county jail.
The sheriff and his men stand guard in front of the jail with tear gas as Joe watches the scene helplessly from his cell window on the second floor. The mob demands to speak with Joe and the sheriff tells them that there is no proof that he is guilty or innocent and assures them that the district attorney is looking into his case. He also reminds the mob that Joe is protected by the law and tells them that the National Guard is on their way. The scene quickly changes to the district attorneys office where the governor is stopping the order to call in the National Guard. When asked why, his explanation is that people always resent troops moving in on them and that the district attorney could cut [their] political throats.
Back at the jail the crowd is getting more and more rowdy. The sheriff tells them to use their heads and reminds them that they are up against the law. The mob responds by throwing food and rocks at the sheriff and his men.
At the hot dog stand Katherine is still waiting anxiously for Joe, having no idea that he was arrested that morning. The restaurant owner tells Katherine that the police in Strand arrested a man they suspected of being involved with the kidnappers named Joe Wilson. Hysterical, Katherine begs the restaurant owner to loan her his car and screams at him that she has to go.
At the jail the mob has become increasingly unruly and the sheriff and his men have had to retreat back into the jailhouse. From a nearby building a cameraman and his crew see the mob and set up their camera to capture the event. The mob below begins to ram down the door to the jail and Joe screams at the sheriff that he will talk to the mob if he would just give Joe a chance. Meanwhile Katherine is running down the street, trying to flag down passing cars but no one will stop for her.
At the jail the mob knocks down the front door and storms inside. The sheriff uses tear gas and tries to hose the men back but they pile through the door and knock the sheriff unconscious. The mob runs upstairs and demands the key from the jailer but he insists that he doesn't have it. One of the men begins to choke the jailer and he points to where they keys are laying on the floor, slid under one of the locked jail cells.
Katherine finally arrives at the county jail, having traveled there on foot. The mob outside is calm and quiet and Katherine realizes that the jailhouse had been set on fire. Joe is seen, still in his jail cell, holding Rainbow and telling her that things look bad. He peeks his head through the cell window and Katherine sees him helplessly standing there in the burning building. One of the women in the mob falls to her knees and begins to pray but most of the mob is excited by Joe and they begin throwing rocks and food at him. Katherine faints and falls to the floor as Joe disappears into his cell again. A boy runs into the mob shouting, Soldiers are coming! Soldiers are coming! The mob scatters and as they do two strangers notice Katherine laying on the ground and pick her up. At the last minute a few men decide to throw a stick of dynamite into the burning building before running off to keep the National Guard from being able to save Joe.
In the next scene the district attorney is seen telling the governor that, the very spirit of government has been violated. He blames himself for letting the governor talk him out of sending in troops. The governor tells him to forget the incident and that the majority of the telegrams they had received about the event were positive. The district attorney asks him what the telegrams will say when people discover that Joe Wilson was innocent. The governor tells him that he didn't know Joe was innocent and the district attorney shows him that days paper. The headline reads, "KIDNAPPERS CAUGHT; CONFESS. G-MEN NAB WHOLE GANG."
The scene changes to a Chicago newspaper. The headline reads, "INNOCENT MAN LYNCHED, BURNED ALIVE BY MOB!" Charlie tosses the paper into the trashcan, saying, NOW he's innocent! Tom tells him he hasn't slept since the incident because he can't get the thought out of his head every time he closes his eyes. He asks Charlie why they haven't head from Katherine and Charlie shouts that she probably thought Joe was guilty too. Charlie angrily tells Tom he wishes he could get his hands on whoever was responsible and kill them like they killed Joe. Tom agrees and tells Charlie he'll go with him. A dark voice is heard off camera telling Tom and Charlie, "That's five and ten cent store talk." Tom and Charlie turn to see a dark figure standing in the doorway. Tom jumps up, realizing that the man in the door is Joe, but when he sees Joe's hardened face he slowly backs away from his brother. Joe orders his brothers to lower the shades as he steps into the room. Joe has changed dramatically; where he once was a cheery and optimistic man he is now dark and hardened. He sits in an armchair and tells his stunned brothers, "Do you know where I've been all day? In a movie, watching a newsreel of myself getting burned alive. I've watched it ten times, or twenty maybe. Over and over again I don't know how much. The place was packed. They like it. They get a big kick out of seeing a man getting burned to death. A big kick." He explains to his brother that he escaped the jail after the dynamite caused an explosion that knocked apart the building, but killed Rainbow. He burned his side during his escape but tells Tom that it didn't hurt because "you can't hurt a dead man and I'm dead. Everybody knows that." He laughs at himself, remembering all the times he preached to his brothers to be decent and live right. Charlie tells Joe that they'll get a lawyer and Joe tells him that it's not enough that they get charged for disturbing the peace or destroying the jail house; he wants them to be charged for his murder and be sentenced to death themselves but with the chance that Joe never got a legal trial. But Joe needs his brothers help as he is supposed to be dead.
Back at Strand a group of women are sitting around a kitchen table. One of them says that it would be a blessing if the whole town could forget about what had happened. The doorbell rings and when one of the women opens it a woman named Mrs. Garret comes in. Mrs. Garret asks if anyone had heard any news about the investigation from her husband. The other woman reassures her that no one in town would name names to save themselves and that many of the townspeople had decided that the lynching was a community matter, not an individual matter, and that everyone should band together against the district attorney.
In a hotel in Strand Joe and Charlie are speaking to their lawyer. The lawyer explains that no one in the town will testify to Joe even being at the jail at all and that he can't bring anyone to trial for murder until he can prove that a murder took place. Desperate, Tom and Charlie travel to Katherine's apartment. Katherine's landlady opens the door and explains that Katherine is very sick, but when Tom and Charlie introduce themselves as Joe's brothers she lets them in. Katherine is sitting in an armchair, staring off into the distance. When Tom and Charlie say hello, Katherine does not even acknowledge their existence. The landlady explains that she has been that way since coming home. While he thinks of what they should do Charlie lights a cigarette. When he strikes a match Katherine suddenly turns towards them. The fire of the match brings back Katherine's memories of the jail burning down and Joe's helpless face in the cell window. She begins to scream and Charlie tells Katherine to try and remember who they are. Suddenly Katherine remembers they are Joe's brothers and she tells Charlie that she saw Joe being burnt alive and breaks down into tears. Charlie realizes that Katherine is the witness that can testify to seeing Joe at the jail.
Back in the hotel room Joe has arrived in town and is excited about the trial. Charlie is upset that Joe came into town because he could be seen but Joe angrily tells him that he will be in hiding. Tom agrees with Joe wanting to be there and suggests that one day Joe might want to see Katherine. Joe tells his brothers that Katherine is not to know he is alive because she would crack and tell everyone.
At the lawyers office the governor is visiting and warning him not to let the trial get out of hand. The governor tells the lawyer that he can't bring a town full of John Does to trial and the lawyer angrily tells him that he is not bringing John Doe to trial but twenty two citizens of Strand who were named as being part of the mob. The scene fades into that of a courthouse where twenty-two people are sitting in court being accused of murdering Joe Wilson. The lawyer is passionately speaking in front of the court, saying that, when a mob takes it upon itself to identify, try, condemn, and punish, it is a destroyer of a government that patriots have died to establish and defend. As the camera pans slowly across the courthouse you can see that the room is overflowing with people and that local radio stations are there to cover the trial. People can be seen listening to the trial on the radio, including Joe who is in his hotel room. As the trial begins the lawyer tells the judge and jury that instead of first establishing the crime he will begin by establishing the whereabouts of the defendants during the commission of the crime. The lawyer calls Edna Hooper to the stand and she is sworn in. Miss Hooper testifies that she is a dressmaker and that on the day of the jail burning down she was at the home of Mr. Garret where he and his wife were at home the whole day. A shot of a clock is shown advancing several hours and the next witness we see is Miss Franchette, the owner of the Green Light Inn. The lawyer asks four of the defendants to stand and asks Miss Franchette if she had seen any of them on the night of the jail fire. Miss Franchette testifies that all four of them were in her café until eleven at night. The lawyer wonders out loud if he hasn't been calling the defense's witnesses by mistake. A radio commentator is seen speaking into a microphone, explaining that the lawyer had been spending the last five hours trying to establish the whereabouts of the defendants. Joe is seen sitting in front of a radio in his hotel room. Just wait, he says out loud, rubbing his hands together.
The next witness is the sheriff. The lawyer asks if he can identify the defendants as having been part of the mob that burned down his jail. The sheriff pauses to look at the defendants and finally tells the lawyer that he cannot identify any of them. The lawyer asks if he could name anyone who was part of the mob then and the sheriff replies that he could not and that the men from the mob must have been strangers from out of town. The lawyer asks the sheriff about the injury that he sustained and the sheriff says that while he and his deputies tried to hold off the mob with tear gas and rifle butts he was hit on the head from behind. The lawyer asks if the burning of the jail was an attempted lynching after all and the defense attorney quickly objects to the question. The lawyer retorts that the question was entirely proper as he asked about an attempted lynching. The defense attorney accuses the lawyer of using his sarcasm to hide from the judge and jury the failure of its own witnesses to back up its shallow case. One member of the audience watching the case begins to applaud and accuses the judge of being busted. The judge has the man removed from the courthouse and the rest of the audience becomes angry and restless. One man shouts out that the trial is a shame against the good name of their town and the judge has the man brought before the court. The man shouts that he isn't afraid of the judge, saying he can't do anything. The judge holds the man in contempt and fines him one hundred dollars or ten days in jail. The man protests against this injustice and the judge changes the punishment to two hundred dollars or thirty days in jail and the man is dragged away. The judge announces that if there are any further demonstrations he will have the courthouse cleared.
The defense attorney reminds the court that the plaintiffs lawyer had yet to establish that the men on trial were even at the scene of the crime. The lawyer tells the judge that bringing up his witnesses so far was not to prove anything other than the fact that they were all liars and asks that they all be indicted for perjury based on his next piece of evidence. Against the protests of the defense attorney the judge allows the lawyer to bring forth this new piece of evidence footage from the cameraman and his crews camera, which filmed the entire event. As the film reel rolls the lawyer points out the defendants who are seen ramming down the jail door, pouring gasoline on a pile of busted up furniture, lighting the jail on fire, and cutting the firemen's hose in half with an axe. One of the women in the audience stands up, shrieks that it's not true, and faints to the floor. The courthouse becomes chaotic as people run from the room. Reporters rush to the phones to call in the news of the film. Different news headlines flash over the scene such as, "IDENTITY OF 22 PROVED," "MOVIES IDENTIFY DEFENDANTS IN WILSON LYNCHING TRIAL," and "22 FACE DEATH! JUDGE HOPKINS CLEARS COURT ROOM."
Charlie, Tom, and Katherine are all seen walking into the courthouse. Charlie is complaining that they're going to be late as the three of them pile into the elevator. Inside the crowded elevator Katherine notices that Tom is wearing Joe's old coat she recognizes the tear she mended with blue thread before she first left for Strand. Charlie asks Tom for a cigarette and when he reaches into his pocket he pulls out a handful of peanuts. The elevator stops and the three of them enter the court room where the defense attorney is telling the judge that so far no one has been able to testify that Joe Wilson was inside the jail when it was set on fire. The lawyer calls Katherine to the stand who is sworn in. Katherine testifies that her and Joe were engaged and that on the day that the jail was burnt down she had prepared a lunch for herself and Joe, bought him some neckties as a gift, and stopped by the ministers office to remind him that they would be by later. She continued, saying that she and Joe had been apart for over a year and that she loved him. Joe listens on the radio from his hotel room and is visibly upset by Katherine's testimony, as is the audience. The defense attorney questions Katherine next, telling her that according to psychology the mind can see what it expects to see, weather it is there or not, and asks Katherine if it is possible that she had not seen Joe but rather a figment of her imagination. Katherine testifies that she is positive she saw him. The defense attorney asks if Katherine is sure that Joe is dead, and Katherine replies that one can assume that he is. Excuse me, the defense attorney tells her, but that is exactly what must not be assumed but proved. The state is asking the lives of twenty-two people for one. Katherine shouts, I don't care about the lives of twenty-two people! They can't bring back the one life I cared about. The defense attorney reminds the jury that they can not charge the defendants for the murder of Joe Wilson if his body was never found and that to prove Joe had died they would need at least a body part or an article known to be worn by the deceased. The defense attorney requests that the judge remove the charges for murder against the defendants. The judge replies that he will take the matter under advisement until the state's arguments have been made the next day. Joe throws his radio onto the ground in anger, breaking it. The headlines the next morning read, "IS THIS MAN ALIVE?" along with a picture of Joe.
The next day in court the judge announces that he was mailed an object that, if authentic, should be considered as evidence. The judge takes the witness stand and presents the evidence to the lawyer. The evidence is a letter mailed special delivery to the judge containing a ring and a note made from letters cut from a newspaper. The letter states that the sender was a citizen of Strand who helped to clean up after the fire and who picked the ring out from the rubble for a momentum. The lawyer, who is reading the letter aloud, corrects this mistake and reads instead memento. The ring has been melted and warped as if by fire but the lawyer can read the inscription to Joe inside. The defense attorney objects, saying that there is no proof the ring actually belonged to the Joe in question. The lawyer calls Katherine to the witness stand, who testifies that the ring was a gift from her to Joe. A woman in the audience screams suddenly and leaps up, saying that she wanted to confess and that they were all guilty. As she is dragged out of the courthouse she begs for forgiveness. The lawyer tells the jury that the ring is the answer to the case.
As the jury deliberates Charlie, Tom, and Katherine sit outside. Katherine comments that they sure were lucky the letter showed up and Tom urges her not to talk about it. Katherine asks, "Why didn't you tell me Joe was alive?" Charlie tells Katherine to be quiet but Katherine shouts that he can't keep her quiet and asks whether Joe has realized what he has done. She asks Charlie where he is and Charlie replies that she saw Joe in the fire and accuses her of losing her mind. Katherine says he must be right and tells him that she hasn't been sleeping.
Back at the hotel room Charlie tells Joe about how his letter caused Katherine to suspect that he was still alive. Joe shouts that his letter was the best idea he ever had and that losing Katherine's ring was worth it. Joe goes over the events of the trial with his brothers, saying it must have been a sight when that woman fainted. Tom shouts out that he can't take it any longer and accuses Joe of being just as bad as the lynchers. Charlie agrees with Tom and the two of them begin to regret their decision to help avenge Joe. Tom begs Joe to tell the judge he's alive but Joe calmly pulls a gun out from his pocket and aims it at Tom, telling him he would kill him first. From off camera Katherine tells Joe he might as well kill her too. Joe quickly stands, knocking over his chair to see Katherine standing in the doorway. Joe accuses his brothers of telling Katherine but she tells him that she figured it out on her own when she saw Joes misspelling of the word memento. She begs Joe to kill her saying, what difference does it make? Twenty-two, twenty-three, twenty-five? Katherine calms down for a moment and tells Joe that she understands how he feels and why he feels that way but she wants them to be happy and have the life they always planned to have together. Joe tells her, You ought to have a couple of violins playing when you talk like that. Katherine pleads with him to understand that the people being held on trial were part of a mob and that mobs don't have time to stop and think but Joe tells her that it's their turn to know what it's like to be lynched. Katherine shouts that they have had enough because they have had to deal with this trial for months, wishing they could go back in time and re-live that one day. She pleads Joe to go to the judge and confess so that they can be happy together again. She tells him, If those people die Joe Wilson dies, you know that. Joe shouts that he doesn't need anybody and that he is going to go out into the world alone.
Joe goes out to a restaurant where he is sitting alone at a table. A live band is playing and the dance floor is crowded with couples. Joe orders bourbon but the waiter says with their license they can't serve hard alcohol. Joe leaves, telling the waiter that he doesn't like crowded places. He walks down the street and stops at a window display of bedroom furniture similar to the one Katherine and he were admiring at the beginning of the film. He hears Katherine's phantom voice asking him if he is planning on doing a lot of running around in that bedroom but when Joe turns Katherine is nowhere to be found. Across the street he spots a bar and decides to go inside for a drink. When he opens the door the bar is empty except for the bartender who asks what he drinks. Joe orders a double bourbon and sits at the bar to sip his drink. The clock chimes midnight and the bartender walks over to the calendar to rip the page off but the pages become stuck together and when he tears them away the date is the 22nd. Joe jumps back in surprise and throws his money on the counter, leaving quickly. Walking down the street Joe stops at a flower shop whose windows are filled with white lilies. The image of the twenty-two people charged with Joe's murder fills Joe's mind and he hears Katherine's phantom voice again from their conversation earlier asking, What difference does it make? Twenty-two, twenty-three, twenty-five? Joe turns around but Katherine is not there, the streets are empty. He runs back to his hotel room shouting for Katherine but when he gets inside it is empty. "Don't leave me alone," Joe says as he looks around the empty room.
At court the next day the jury has reached a verdict. The bailiff begins to read the verdict out loud. The first two men are found not guilty, but the names following theirs are all found guilty. One man jumps up out of his seat, shouting that it wasn't him and he isn't guilty. The other men begin to shout as well and one man leaps over their chairs and attempts to make a run for it. He is stopped in his tracks by Joe Wilson who is calmly walking towards the judge. Joe stands before the judge and tells him that he is Joe Wilson and that he knows that by coming clean about being alive he is saving the lives of those twenty two people but that isn't why he is there. Joe tells the judge, "I don't care anything about saving them. They're murderers. I know the law says they're not because I'm still alive, but that's not their fault. And the law doesn't know that a lot of things that were very important to me, silly things maybe like a belief in justice and an idea that men were civilized and a feeling of pride that this country of mine was different from all others. The law doesn't know that those things were burned to death within me that night". Joe continues by saying that he came to the court for his own sake and that he hopes that after he has paid for what he has done he will have a chance to begin life over again. Katherine runs forward and she and Joe embrace and kiss.