Michael G. Malaghan
Special to The Hawai‘i Herald
Editor’s note: We continue Michael G. Malaghan’s serialized historical novel, “Picture Bride — A Family Saga,” based on the Japanese immigrant experience. Malaghan’s trilogy takes readers from turn-of-the-20th-century-Japan to Hawai‘i in the picture bride era; the Islands during World War II, highlighted by the exploits of the Nisei soldiers; and beyond.
The novel, which is now available as a printed softcover book, opens with 12-year-old Haru-chan, fleeing her home in Amakusa, Kyüshü, for Hiroshima, where she becomes the picture bride of a Buddhist priest in Hawai‘i.
Author Michael Malaghan is a retired businessman who divides his time between Hawai‘i, Georgia and Japan.
April 7, 1932, the first day of the murder trial, dawned with soft breezes pushing puffs of cotton clouds over Honolulu Harbor’s silky blue waters. Four blocks inland, Taka signed in at the courtroom he had gotten to know so well from last year’s rape trial. He had arrived early, even though this first day would deal only with jury selection. He took his same seat in the press box, second row, at the end. It came with a polished mahogany post that obstructed his view. He had to move his head either right or left to see any of the court action. But he was the kid reporter and he knew his place.
With Makino’s law career suggestion still fresh in his mind, Taka shifted his perspective. He put himself in the shoes of the combatants, the dueling attorneys, refereed by another attorney, the judge. As Taka watched the judge chastise Darrow and Kelley for their delay tactics in finding sympathetic jurors, he wondered if a Japanese lawyer would ever sit on the bench in Hawai‘i. Sure, there had been Japanese attorneys in Hawai‘i for decades. But in big cases like a murder trial, even with Japanese defendants, the lead attorneys, the prosecutors and the judges were always haole, as were the key police witnesses. Haole justice ruled.
Taka speculated as to what he would do in Darrow’s place. In his mind, there was only one issue: How would the great Darrow convince 12 jurors that despite Tommy Massie’s confession that he pulled the trigger, extenuating circumstances demanded a verdict of not guilty? An honor killing? That sounded too biblical for Taka’s Buddhist ears. It’s one thing to demand such in newspaper editorials or around a bar . . . but 12 men of varying backgrounds sitting in a jury room? That seemed a stretch to Taka. Temporary insanity? Taka had done his research. Recent insanity pleas to stateside juries had not gone well. Very risky. Still, it would be Darrow tugging on the jury’s emotions.
* * *
While Taka observed the jury selection and daydreamed about Darrow’s strategy, across the street, Governor Judd was reading Seth Robertson’s report. The overhead fans swirled at mid-speed as he nibbled on his mid-morning doughnut filled with pineapple jam. His chewy smile broadened as he read Robertson’s key summary: “Navy claims of unsafe streets and a breakdown of law and order have no basis in fact.”
Judd sat back in his leather-upholstered chair and gazed through his window at the courthouse. He smiled. “F— Stirling,” he said without the usual circumspect sensibilities of his social class. Of course, his door was shut and only the wall heard him. He smiled, imagining Stirling’s response to the same report.
* * *
At Pearl Harbor, Stirling threw the report down on his desk. “Crap! It’s all crap! Robertson missed the whole point,” he said to himself. “The f—— natives are taking over the island and tearing down everything the white man has built. Stirling punched the intercom on his desk. “Get Judd on the line!”
“I take it that I owe the honor of this call to the Robertson Report,” said Judd, unable to hold back a note of triumph in his voice.
“This mendacious political misrepresentation of the facts needs to be sorted out before we release any info to the press,” snapped Stirling.
Judd, who had already gotten a call from Walter Dillingham, asking him to suppress the report because it criticized the local press coverage of events, told Stirling what he had told Dillingham. “Someone has already leaked it to the New York Times.” He couldn’t resist the next dig: “Can you imagine someone leaking an official government report to the press?”
“Damn, damn, damn!” blurted out the admiral before he slammed down the phone.
* * *
Once the trial moved from jury selection to hearing testimony, Taka compared the battle of the old warrior Darrow to the Young Turk Kelley with all their competing motions, clever questions and objections — it was like watching the last World Series. Taka likened Darrow’s battle-wrinkled face to veteran spitball pitcher Burleigh Grimes of the St. Louis Cardinals, the last of the spitballers, who was grandfathered in after the 1920 ban. Opposing Grimes had been the younger 31-game winner for the Philadelphia Athletics, Lefty Grove, who Taka equated to the youthful prosecutor, John Kelley. In their only direct match-up of the 1931 World Series, Grimes bested Grove. A few days later, Grimes won the seventh and deciding game to give the Cardinals the World Series title. Taka fantasized calling the game unfolding in front of him as if from the press box in Sportsman Park. He hoped Darrow was more past his prime than Grimes.
Taka was taken aback by Darrow’s opening statement. He’s going for temporary insanity, Taka realized, which means Tommy Massie has to be the distraught triggerman. Taka shared Kelley’s innuendo that Darrow, violating the ethics of his profession, coached Massie’s confession. Taka placed his own bet on the nasty-eyed Grace Fortescue as the shooter. She had the steel. Tommy, though a naval officer, seemed a bit of a wimp. Taka dismissed the other two defendants, enlisted men, as possible shooters. It wasn’t their fight.
Taka admired how Darrow set up his proposition. He spent days in front of the jury, establishing his case, including testimony from a California psychiatrist who claimed that Tommy was not in his right mind when he pulled the trigger. Darrow was the low-key professor weaving a new truth — until his four-and-a-half-hour summation was broadcast live to the states. Then he turned it on. He thundered, whispered, cajoled, pleaded. And, finally, after a pause so long that Taka thought he might be having a heart attack, Darrow finished.
“There is the great unwritten law dating back to biblical times, one that says what is right transcends the law. What would you do if these beasts raped your wife?”
Prosecutor Kelley was Darrow’s opposite. During the trial, he laid out the facts: A man is dead. One of the defendants has confessed. All participated in the kidnapping, a premeditated kidnapping as evidenced by the planning required. There is no question of guilt.
Kelley saved his best words for a short counter to Darrow’s Broadway performance. Facing the jury, he said, “You have the most vital duty to perform of any 12 men who ever sat in a jury box under the American flag. Do not pay any attention to what the admiral says,” referring to his remarks earlier of the threat of military rule in Hawai‘i. “I say the hell with the admiral. If you do what is right, you will have nothing to fear. I put this case in your hands. I pray that there will be no racial lines. In Hawai‘i, there are no excuses for murder. You have no choice other than to bring back a guilty verdict.”
Taka wanted to jump up and yell and applaud, not only because he admired Kelley’s closing, but also because at that moment, that exact moment, Taka knew. Yes! he thought to himself. This is what I want to do, why I was born. Let someone else write about me.
To be continued . . .