At the Carlton, a man named Samuels with the Bureau of Territorial Records approaches Paladin at the front desk. He explains that he's there to take a disposition from Paladin about the Groton raid that took place eleven years ago near Coffinville. Paladin concedes that he killed the oldest Groton, Frank, during a stagecoach robbery. He wonders why it's being raised, and Samuels says that a minor error in the case came up. The youngest brother, Justin, was the only one taken alive and was supposed to be executed three years ago. The file went missing and the execution was delayed, Paladin tells the clerk that he's heading to Coffinville.
Later, Paladin rides to Coffinville and comes across a man trying to repair a broken harness son his carriage. Paladin rigs a temporary harness and the man, Circuit Judge Bradford from Boston, offers Paladin a lift. They ride into town together and Paladin assures Bradford that he'll be seeing him again. Bradford insists that the law is impartial and doesn't change just because he's come west. A townsman tells Bradford that he's wasting his time because Justin broke out and the posse is hunting him down.
Paladin rides out of town and picks up Justin's trail. He settles down to eat and Frank comes out of the forest training a shotgun on him. Paladin invites Justin to eat, and Justin says that he's started shooting and is going to continue. The gunfighter easily disarms Justin and goes to get him some food. Justin finds a leaf that he doesn't have in his collection but doesn't know what it is. Paladin identifies it as peppermint.
The posse rides up and the leader, Sheriff Carlton, says that Justin shouldn't have run him back. One of the posse members, Keel, says that they should string Justin up right there. Keel says that he's hung two Grotons and will hang Justin as well. Paladin holds the rifle up and says that he'll take Justin into the town and Carlton can take the posse in.
Later at the jail, Justin stands in his cell and talks about watching his brothers hung. Paladin goes to see Bradford and asks if it's the time or the place to hear the case given Keel and the other "agitators". Bradford doesn't see a reason to grant a delay or a change of venue, and insists that he pass the law impartially and to the letter.
At the hearing, Carlton testifies that Justin says that he was going to get even with everyone who hung his brothers. Justin doesn't remember what he said 11 years ago, and Carlton says that Justin didn't say anything like that and started collected leaves to give himself something to live for. Bradford says that Justin's attempt to escape mitigates against any clemency and fixes a new date of execution. Paladin speaks up, saying that Justin has spent the last 11 years in a cell and it's sufficient penalty given that Justin was 13 at the time. Bradford insists that the law must be followed, and Paladin asks if Bradford would have ordered Justin hung. The judge says that he's abiding by the previous ruling, and Paladin says that 5the sentence was posed by a town choked with hate.
Keel yells for Paladin to be sentenced, and says that the town hated the Grotons because they raided and killed He tells Bradford that he's not much of a judge if he'll let Paladin talk him out of executing Justin. Keel admits that he and the other miners on the Vigilance Committee sat as judges, and Paladin tells Bradford that the procedure was not legal. Bradford says that the case is still valid, and Paladin questions Keel. Keel admits that they set a trap for the Grotons before the raid, and Paladin asks Justin if he ever killed anyone. Justin swears that he didn't, and Keel insists that he would have if they had locked him up. Paladin asks him if Justin killed anyone, and Keel finally admits that he didn't. Bradford concedes Paladin's point and rules that since no capital crime was committed, Justin is free to go. Keel objects, insisting that Justin is a Groton, and Bradford paroles Justin to Coffinville.
Justin goes out and finds Keel and the other townspeople stare at him, guns ready. The young man goes to a candy shop but the owner locks the door in his face. Paladin watches as Justin tries to open the door, saying that the judge said he's free. The owner runs away, screaming for help, and Keel tells the others that it's time to hang Justin. When Carlton tries to intervene, they attack him. Paladin tackles them as Bradford comes out of the jail, and then punches Keel.
As the townspeople leave, Justin tells Paladin that they shouldn't have hurt Carlton. Keel yells that Justin won't always have a gunman around to protect him. Justin says that his brother told him to kill the townspeople before they killed him. Bradford tells the townspeople that they're in contempt of court, and one man throws a rock at his head. Keel goes for his gun and Paladin shoots him dead and helps Bradford up.
The townspeople head for Justin, who grabs Carlton's gun and threatens to shoot them. Paladin tells the townspeople to back off, and then goes over to Justin and says that it's up to him whether he becomes the killer that everyone says that he is. He says that Justin has to earn his freedom because the law ultimately can't grant it, however unfair it is, and all he can do is wear down the townspeople. Justin gives Paladin the gun and leaves.
Written by Gadfly on Jan 27, 2019