Injustice in the legal system is a hot topic following the release of “Making a Murderer” on Netflix.
Today, many remember a grave injustice that happened right here in Hawaii.
Flowers and mementos still mark the final resting place of Joseph Kahahawai Jr., 84 years after he was abducted and killed, on Jan. 8, 1932.
His killers were caught and convicted, then freed within hours after an order from the President of the United States. It was a case that divided Hawaii.
In 1932, Honolulu became the focus of international attention when mainland socialite Grace Fortescue was arrested for murder along with her son-in-law, Navy Lt. Thomas Massie, and two of his Navy friends.
Kahahawai, who was 22 years old, had been shot to death.
A few months earlier, Kahahawai and four other young men were charged with the gang rape of Massie’s wife, despite the fact that several witnesses placed them at a party in town at the time Thalia Massie claimed she was abducted in Waikiki.
Although she told police she could not identify her attackers, when the suspects were paraded before her on several occasions, her memory improved.
But the jury in the trial of the five men could not reach a verdict.
That’s when the killers abducted Kahahawai, drove him to Fortescue’s rented house in Manoa, and shot him.
They were speeding toward Halona Blowhole in East Oahu to dump his body in the ocean when police stopped their car.
Despite the best efforts of Clarence Darrow, America’s most famous criminal defense lawyer, the jury convicted Fortescue, Massie and his two friends.
In Washington, Congress was outraged that four white people would go to prison for killing a Native Hawaiian. So President Herbert Hoover ordered Hawaii’s territorial governor to free the killers.
Reluctantly, Gov. Lawrence Judd reduced their 10-year prison sentences to one hour, served sitting in his office at Iolani Palace.
The Massies, Fortescue, and the two Navy men left Hawaii almost immediately.
Kahahawai was carried to his final resting place in a cemetery alongside School Street in Kapalama.
The Massies were divorced a year later.
As for the case itself, it’s resulted in many books, films and the handling of the case is also a subject of discussion in many schools.