Evidentiary Issues at the Massie Trials

Evidentiary Issues at the Massie Trials

Evidentiary Issues at the Massie Trials

dennis njonjo dnjonjo1@gmail.com

AttachmentsMon, May 16, 2016, 8:19 PM

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  • Type of paperResearch Paper
  • SubjectLaw
  • Number of pages10
  • Writer levelUniversity
  • Format of citationAPA
  • Number of cited resources5

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It is almost obvious that many prosecutors assume that the accused is guilty even before they start their trials. They therefore seem to trust any kind of information that might support the conviction of the defendant. The outcome of any given trial can be highly determined by the evidence provided before the court. Many cases have led to the discovery of issues rather than admissibility. This paper examines the evidentiary issues that occurred in the Massies Trials in Hawaii.


In 1931 and 1992, two dramatic criminal trials were conducted in Hawaii; U.S. one was a rape case while the other was a murder case. Both cases involved several defendants. The cases were reckoning and changed the Hawaiian race relations as well as politics. The cases were filled with twists and many unanswered questions. These cases were called the “Massie Affair.” The cases took place in Honolulu. Among those charged with murder were Grace Hubbard Fortescue. They were accused of being in connection with the killing of a local prizefighter who went by the name Joseph Kahahawai. Grace had accused him as being one of the people who raped her daughter, Thalia Massie. Grace was the daughter of Gardner Greene Hubbard, the first president of the National Geographic Society.

Rape Allegation

The allegation of rape occurred on 12th September 1931 when the couple had decided to go drinking in the outskirts of Honolulu. The event they had attended was a Navy event at the Ala Wai Inn, a Waikiki nightclub. Thalia had an argument with one officer and ended up slapping him and later storming out. Massie had not witnessed the event and therefore had assumed that Thalia got tired and went home. He tried calling her just to make sure that she got home safely. He called severally with no response but then finally, Thalia picked answered the call but in a state of shock. Massie had to rush back to know what happened to her. When he got home, Thalia told him that on her way home, she had been raped by some Hawaiian men.

Rounding up of the Suspects

Thalia objected the idea that they call the police, but Massie called them. They arrived immediately to record evidence from the couple. When they arrived, Thalia initially could not provide any details at all since she claimed that it was too dark when the incident happened to identify any of the men or the car they emerged from.

After several hours, the story changed where Thalia described the men as locals. She even provided them with plate numbers of the vehicle they were in. About the same time, another person arrived at Honolulu’s police station to file a statement. People reported that after a near accident, a young man had shoved and hit her. She said that the young man had left her with a bleeding ear. She gave the license number of the suspect as 58-985.

Thalia Massie’s story and that from Peeples surprised the officers since they wondered how two assaults against women could be happen, all by Hawaiian men. Detectives took the cases as related. They assumed that the crimes were conducted by the same gang.

A few hours later, the police went on searching and then arrested Horace Ida. He was not surprised at first since some hours earlier he had been involved in a near collision while driving his sister’s car, although there was no damage, he had participated in an argument with the driver who turned out to be the streetfighter, Kahahawai. When he reached the station, he was dismayed when he heard that the accident had not been mentioned and instead he was being accused of rape and assaulting Peeples.

The two cases became linked after a medical investigation was done. The same was because the plate number given by Massie nearly matched the one provided by Peeples. The only difference was a single digit. The investigators concluded that this could not be a coincidence. The perpetrator had to be the same.

Detective McIntosh was the one in charge of the investigation. When Ida was brought in, he was intensely grilled and finally said the names of his four other friends. They were all in their twenties. He stated that the friends had accompanied him that night to a nightclub where they had drinks together. His four friends were Ben Ahakuelo, Henry Chang, David Takai, and Joe Kahahawai. It took the police some few hours to bring all of them in for questioning.  At this point, the case was starting to become serious. Detective McIntosh asked one of his colleagues to drive the vehicle Ida was using to the crime scene to identify any evidence that could be used against the suspects.

News about the arrest spread all around Hawaii. The white community in the region was so outraged. They hoped that the suspects would face justice. Admiral Stirling, the commandant of the Naval District based in Hawaii, expressed the hope that the “brutes” would be strung up on trees (Menton & Tamura, 2009). After a few days, a banner headline read “gang assaults young wife.” It was followed up by a story of how a reserved, cultured young woman was raped by a bunch of Hawaiian men. Following the case, a group of white men posted a $5000 reward to anyone who would provide evidence that would lead to the conviction of the gang.

As the case continued, the prosecution started to show weakness. It was not possible to prove how the suspects had the time to commit the alleged rapes at almost the same time. The men were placed by witnesses at a distance of between 12.05 or 12:10. They were then at the party at around 12:30 (Federal Defenders of San Diego, 2008). The accident with Peeples occurred at 12:40 at a location that was six miles away from the alleged rape scene. The prosecution was not able to tell how the men could have pulled Thalia six to seven times in the car between 12:50 and 1:00 then leave some time for her to stop a vehicle between the same range. The timeline did not seem to make sense at all.

Hawaii’s Princess Kawananakoa urged William Heen, who was the only Democrat in the territory’s Senate to represent the five men in court. He decided to interrogate the five men after which he was more than convinced that his clients were innocent. William Heen had a counsel by the name William Pittman, who helped him conduct the interrogation.

The Jury’s Decision

The gang was presented in court before Judge Alva Steadman in Honolulu. This was on 16th November 1931. After two days, a jury of two Japanese, two Chinese, and five whites was set to handle the case. They were scheduled to listen to both sides of the story.

When the day came, Thalia took the stand first and gave her encounter and what had happened that day. It was a tearful moment that sent everyone in the courtroom silent. She said that she left Ala Wai Inn at around 11:35 when he was picked up by the defendants along John Ena Road five to ten minutes later. She testified that Kahahawai was the mastermind who came behind her and struck her on the jaw (Packer, 2006). She explained that the gang spent almost twenty minutes dragging her in the car after finally let her out.

When a cross-examination was done, it was noted that Thalia failed to mention the statement she had made earlier of all her attackers being Hawaiians. She didn’t either recall the license plate number of the car her attackers were using. She forgot that she had earlier on said that she could not identify any of the attackers since it was dark.

Then the doctor that examined the victim after the event was set to be questioned. He was asked to tell if it was possible for four to six men to have sexual intercourse with a woman without leaving any traces of sperms. The doctor explained that it was possible for such thing could happen.

Prosecutor Griffith Wight called several police officers to witness on the case. He sent them to investigate the site of the crime. Officer Claude Benton said that the tracks at the scene matched those of the vehicle the suspects were using. They showed that the car was moving at a speed of forty miles per hour (Federal Defenders of San Diego, 2008). Heen, who was on defense, however, raised serious concerns over the officer’s knowledge on treads. This on turned weakened the testimony they had against the five suspects. Finally, Inspector John McIntosh gave the jury the clinching evidence against the suspects where he said Thalia had recalled the plate number of the car the suspects were using. It, however, deviated with a single digit from one their car had.

Fearing backlash for having been so hard on Thalia Massie, the defense adopted a strategy to tell that the police had the wrong men in custody. This was a better way of saying it than telling the public that “No rape had occurred.” They had to treat the case with a lot of caution since Thalia had not provided enough medical evidence to link the suspects with the case.

Many witnesses testified in defense of the defendants saying that they had been seen in the club asking for more beer at the time Thalia claimed to have been raped. Others stated that they had seen Thalia alone at the time she claimed she was raped at different locations from where she claimed she was. There are those who questioned Thalia Massie’s memory that seemed to get better as the case proceeded (Packer, 2006).

The defense attorneys Heen and Pittman raised questions about the integrity of the evidence provided. Officer Sato then later testified to have driven Ida’s car back and forth at the crime scene. This was before the tire track investigations were conducted.

The closing arguments on the case were started on 1st December 1931. The police officers were accused of framing the defendants. This could have sent them to jail. Evidence proved that the defendants were nowhere near the crime scene at the said time. Heen asked the jury to be confident enough to return the verdict on the first ballot. Griffith Wight, on the other hand, asked the jury to vindicate Hawaii and protect their women (Packer, 2006).

The board thought that a follow-up would be done, but this never came. They waited for up to ninety-seven hours before giving up the final vote which was six out of six (Stannard, 2013).

Joseph Kahahawai’s Murder

There was tension all through Hawaii after the hung jury.  This was shame on Honolulu. There were fears that there would be rape gangs and mad youths all across the region. There were numerous fights between whites and no- whites. Horace Ida was then led to a car filled with sailors and led to a remote place at gun point he was battered, kicked and slugged with a gun. When they finally left him. Passersby saw him and took him to the police station. Admiral Stirling was forced to call for a military takeover of Hawaii and canceled all shore leave for Navy personnel (Menton & Tamura, 2009).

Tommie Massie and Grace Fortescue started plotting ways on having their ways to revenge against their assailants. They did not consider to appeal since they knew the results would be no different. Only a confession of one or more of the assailants could give a tangible evidence.

Massie was advised by his attorney friend that a forced evidence would not be accepted. The evidence would only be considered if the assailant confessed without force being used on him. Tommie Massie and Grace Fortescue started focusing on Kahahawai since he seemed to be the only one who would be easy to crack. On 7hth January 1932, Tommie Massie, disguised himself in googles as Kahahawai’s chauffeur as he was coming from the judiciary building where he was supposed to appear daily at 8.00 since he was on probation. Tommie Massie had a soldier in his company hired for the work. They headed for Grace’s rented home in the Manoa Valley.

Police were informed to be on the lookout since a blue Buick sedan was seen kidnapping Kahahawai. After identifying and chasing the vehicle for some time, they managed to stop the car. To their horror, they found Kahahawai’s body lying lifeless on the back of the vehicle.

The occupants of the vehicle; Tommie Massie, Grace Fortescue, and Edward Lord were arrested.

Admiral Stirling, who could not believe that Grace or any of his soldiers were supposed to spend even a single night in jail, decommissioned a ship in Pearl Harbor for the four prisoners. Many people sympathy and support messages to the prisoners terming Kahahawai’s murder as an honor killing (Rosa, 2014).

The killing increased division among the people living in Hawaii as mourners turned out in large numbers for the funeral of Joe Kahahawai. They, on the contrary, termed his murder as a witnesses lynching and not an honor killing.

Clarence Darrow’s Last Trial

On the 21st of January, a jury was convened to accuse Grace Fortescue, Thomas Massie, Deacon Jones and Edward Lord for kidnapping and murdering Joe Kahahawai. The county attorney Griffith Wight came up with witnesses and the twenty-one people taking oaths for two days. Most of the witnesses seemed not to like accusing and probably would not have done it were it not for the efforts made by Judge Albert Cristy. He kept reminding the witnesses that their job differed from the accusation jury. This is because there were not to make conclusions about guilt but to find out if the evidence was sufficient to put the defendants in jail. The jury foreman went to report to the judge that jury 12-9 had opted to stand against accusation the judge called the witnesses back to the courtroom to give them another lecture.

He advised them to ignore their inner feelings and to go on with the accusation if the evidence concerning the case showed that a crime was committed by the defendants. Judge Cristy also suggested that the jurors who could not do their duty should resign immediately. After three days the judge asked the jurors not to fall into victims of race prejudice and should consider the rule of law existence. The judge succeeded in convincing the jurors who 12 to 8 finally voted to accuse all the four defendants of second-degree murder.

Just about the time the accusations returned Clarence Darrow, America’s most famous attorney was seventy-five years old and had seven years to his retirements though he was quite disappointed since his dream of investments allowing him and his wife Ruby to enjoy European travel and quality living had not shown signs of success. He had spent his life defending the society’s underdogs and seemed the not fit person to defend the four whites accused of lynching a Japanese. Darrow, having quite a big requirement of the money he offered to return to the courtroom battlefield which seemed promising from the amount he had been promised. He had been promised thirty thousand dollars plus the expenses. This might have been due to his long thirst of visiting Hawaii and the cases that had raised the issues of psychology.

On 24th March, Darrow, his wife, and his assistant attorney stepped out of the ship Malolo, and they went past some supporters and reporters all struggling to have a chance to see them. They went ahead towards Pearl Harbor to meet his clients. It was pretty evident that the four defendants had killed Joe. So Darrow had the only one choice left of turning the jury into an acquittal. There was a challenge that had arisen that forced Darrow to organized for psychiatrists to meet with his clients.

The prosecutor John Kelley understood well that he did not have to prove which of the defendants had fired the gun to kill Joe. He suspected Jones, but it didn’t matter since if one was determined to have carried the murder then the four involved in the kidnap would be proven guilty. Kelley knew that to be a court lawyer with instincts. Therefore, he suspected that Darrow would have told his jurors of the unwritten law that would justify the action of the kidnappers.

On the 4th of April, the jury began in the packed room of Charles Davis. The case was transferred to Davis Cristy since there was a filed submission referred to as the Affidavit of Prejudice for his handling of the grand jury. One week was spent in the battles over prospective jurors since the panel was against the panel of jurors used and this was finally solved by having seven whites and five nonwhites.

In the opening statement Kelly jurors that the evidence would prove that Joe was shot and then dragged to the bathroom where he bled to death. He then called his first witness Edward Ulii who gave a description of the abduction. He said that he saw Deacon and Grace kidnap his cousin after they had walked out of the judiciary building. For the murder evidence, Kelley presented the next witness who described the defendants capture. Detective Harbottle had identified the three people he had found in the Buick, and the other police identified that they had found evidence in the car with a blood stained shirt with a bullet hole in the left side. Kelly held the shirt and gave it to the jury supervisor, and this made Joes mother weep.

Moving on to the murder Kelly presented drawings that said that Joe was sitting, and his killer was standing. Also I n the evidence came up Grace floors that were blood stained. There was also a rope that was found on Joe’s corpse, and Kelly gave it to the jurors. Sheets that had blood stains were held up for the jurors to see; detective Arthur went ahead to ask he found buttons that matched Joe’s shirt in Grace’s washbasin. A gun salesperson also presented his testimony that the bullet removed from Joe’s body matched cartridge in Deacon’s pocket. He went ahead to say that the bullet could have been fired from the gun he had sold to Deacon. Kelly finished after calling Joe’s mother to identify his son’s clothes.

Darrow presented his first witness as Massie. He went ahead to ask him about what happened on the 12th of September. He asked him if he remembered the events of him going to a party. He started bringing up an issue about the rape of his wife, and this led to the objection of Kelly. He argued that the case was only relevant if it had evidence against one of the defendants. Darrow argued that if the one who shot Joe was insane, then the other defendants should be treated equally innocent. Massie went ahead to identify Joe as to have been the most brutal among the gang of the rapists. Days that followed as explained by Massie his wife kept having nightmares that led to her increased fear and weight loss and this worried him of having his wife pregnant from the attack. He claimed he took her to the hospital and Dr. Withington performed the abortion.

The next day the court was canceled since Darrow had claimed to have been attacked by a sort of stomach inflammation. Tommie, the witness, continued with testimony. Darrow’s question went to the murder scene. Tommie went ahead to say he remembered seating Joe in Grace’s living room. The witnesses continue to tell the jurors that Joe maintained his innocence until he finally broke saying they had the gang. Tommie continued to answer the questions, and he denied shooting Joe. Darrow’s psychiatric experts testified that Tommie was temporarily insane at the time of the shooting. This was due to the strain of his wife Joe’s confession that led to Tommie’s state.

Darrow called Massie to stand, and he went ahead to give a more detailed version of the rape. He said Joe had requested her to pray and hit her so hard on the jaw, and she pleaded for mercy to stop him from beating her. Massie learned of Joe’s murder from Deacon. This made Darrow a little bit worried, about seeing the reaction from the two jurors. There was quite a drama in examination by Kelley. He gave her a piece of paper of a psychiatric questionnaire she had filled a year before, and she cut it into pieces refusing to talk about it. Kelley remarked her of showing her true colors. From the testimony, psychiatrists testified that Massie was sane at the time of the murder. Darrow’s last argument was carried live on the radio of how the suffering of Massie had driven Grace extreme action in defense of her loved one.

Darrow’s voice sank, and he occasionally wiped away tears as he said he was closing black gates of the prison on his clients, and he moved to his conclusion that if the court wanted to send Grace to penitentiary they should. The wife, mother, and husband were confined in one place, and it would be where many would wish to see mother and husband confined. This would make the building the most famous building on the island. Kelley urged the jurors to return to evictions, not emotions. He went ahead to say there was no one law for him and the another for Massie, but they had to abide by the law.

On the 27th of April Judge Davis gave instructions and forty- seven hours later they had not come up with a verdict. After thirty minutes after he consulted the jury foreman, a verdict was announced.  The clerk of the court read the verdict papers. The words were the same for the four defendants who were being guilty of manslaughter. The case changed Hawaiian society by changing individual lives. The Honolulu’s society of the whites fought against the powerful business oligarchy which for long had determined the social order of the islands. This also changed the Hawaiian, Japanese and Chinese leaders of the way they were divided and they worked on their differences. Although Hawaii lost its political uniqueness sill maintained their strong progressive reforms. (Stannard, 2013)


The issue of misconduct in prosecution in our courts is always associated with the fairness in trial. The appellate attorneys and the trial, therefore, have the obligation to curb any conduct that might bar defendants from experiencing their rights. As we all know, there is nothing that can destroy any government more swiftly than its failure to observe the laws it has already set or worse, disregard of the charter that already exists.



Federal Defenders of San Diego. (2008). Defending a federal criminal case. San Diego, CA: Federal Defenders of San Diego.

Menton, L. K., & Tamura, E. (2009). A history of Hawaii. Honolulu: Curriculum Research & Development Group.

Rosa, J. P. (2014). Local story: The Massie-Kahahawai case and the culture of history.

Stannard, D. E. (2013). Honor Killing: How the Infamous “Massie Affair” Transformed Hawai’i. New York: Viking Press.

Packer, P. (2006). The Massie case. New York: Bantam Books.