The Springdale, NE, bank is held up and robbed by a well organized gang. One of the members is Eddie Campbell (Robert Vaughn), a onetime resident of the town and orphan who was brought up in part by Ben Cutler (Fred MacMurray), an ex-lawman-turned-rancher. While pursuing the robbers, the town marshal, Hiram Cain (Emile G. Meyer), is shot dead by Campbell, who in turn is wounded and captured by Cutler. The town council appoints Cutler as temporary marshal, and the prosecution seems like an open-and-shut case -- he begins to see signs of trouble when his own daughter Laurie (Joan Blackman), who was raised with Campbell and was once his sweetheart, refuses to believe that he's guilty of the crime. Ben's fiancée, Ruth (Maggie Hayes), also feels the boy deserves leniency, but the real trouble starts when Campbell's attorney, William Selby (Edmon Ryan), shows up; he first tries to compromise the jury pool by ingratiating himself with the asking the townspeople what we would now call "push" questions, about Campbell's being an orphan and a hard-luck case all of his life, under the guise of building his case. He's also just clever enough at the trial to shake the testimony of the five other witnesses to the shooting, but Cutler's testimony is enough to put the jury into the guilty column. Then Campbell starts working on the sympathy of Laurie and the townspeople who've been persuaded by his lawyer -- it's also been a long time since there's been a capital case like this in the state, and Cutler discovers that the townspeople and even the law may not be as ready to execute a killer as common sense says they should be. Cutler's and Ruth's romance is jeopardized, and he is pushed to the point of resigning when matters come to an explosive head.