Old ways die hard, and even now in the fast-changing American South, some old ways die harder than others. It's the lesson learned by Carl Lee Hailey, a Mississippi factory worker, when his 10-year-old daughter is brutally assaulted by two racist thugs on a drunken spree. It's the lesson learned by eager young lawyer Jake Brigance, called upon to defend Carl Lee in court after Hailey shoots both men in an act of passionate retribution for the shattered innocence of his little girl. And it's the lesson learned by Ellen Roark, an energetic, ambitious and razor-sharp Boston-born law student at Ole Miss. As Jake fights to defend Carl Lee, his own life and the safety of his family and colleagues become increasingly jeopardized. And now, as a full-scale conflagration simmers just below the surface and threatens to explode in this small, Southern community, Jake and Carl Lee must find a way to transcend their fundamental differences and work together for the same cause, equal justice.