In December of 1957, 19-year-old Charles Starkweather murdered a gas station attendant in cold blood. Though several people fingered him as the murderer, the police did not investigate him, and he got away with it. The next month, the money he stole from the gas station was gone, he lost his job, he was being evicted from his apartment, he learned that he was going blind, and then his girlfriend Caril Fugate broke up with him. A couple days later, Charles murdered Caril's parents and her baby half-sister. For the following week, he and Caril remained in her parents' house, after which time they disappeared on the road, where he killed three people in the vicinity of Bennet, three people in Lincoln, and one person in Wyoming. For these murders, Starkweather was executed in the electric chair.
Caril Fugate was 14 years old when she was dating Charles Starkweather. In January of 1958 she broke up with him because, in her words, "he was crazy." A few days later she came home to find her family missing, and Charlie alone in the house. She claims that he told her that his friends were holding Caril's family hostage, and if she did not do as he said, they would be killed. Her story goes that she was tied up in the house for the following week while he left to do variouis errands, that she placed a clue on the front door as a cry for help, and she kept others from entering the house so they wouldn't be killed. When Charlie went on the road murdering people, He took Caril along. After killing a man for his car in Wyoming, Caril, ran to a nearby police officer who had not yet seen Charlie. As a result, the Wyoming police were able to chase Charlie down. Despite the fact that Caril had caused Charlie's capture, there was still a question as to whether she had been kidnapped, or she had been his accomplice.
District Attorney at the time of the murders, Elmer Scheele was a former member of the FBI. Employing the methods he undoubtedly learned while with the bureau Scheele made himself a major part of the search for Charlie Starkweather, and investigated every murder scene thoroughly to bring him to justice. During the search, he became convinced that Caril Fugate was an accomplice to the murders. After she escaped from Starkweather and Charlie was captured, a great deal of evidence came to light revealing that she may not have gone with him willingly. However, the Nebraska police department was under investigation for not being able to capture Starkweather, and some of the information revealing Caril's innocence also showed the police's incompetence. Either as a result of this investigation, or because he still believed in her guilt, Scheele continued to charge Caril with first degree murder, never seeming to consider the possibility that she may not have aided Charlie.
Assigned by the State to represent Caril Fugate, McArthur had no opinion at first as to Caril's guilt or innocence. However, as he questioned Caril and investigated the case, he found that there was far more to it than the police or the newspapers were letting on. First, she had not been given an attorney for almost an entire week after she was taken into custody, and had not even been properly informed that she would be on trial for murder. She claimed that she had been kidnapped by Charlie, and all the physical evidence backed up her claim. Further, her story never changed, while Charlie, who claimed she was his accomplice, changed his story every time he told it. John soon became so convinced in her innocence that he became personally involved. Even after her conviction, he continued to represent her for 18 years, taking her case all the way to the US Supreme Court.
An affluent lawyer with a love for his profession, Merril Reller took John on as a partner because of his skill and mutual passion for justice and the law. He was not in town at the time of the murder spree, but as John continued his work on the case, Merril became personally involved as well. He adopted Caril as his own daughter, and fought for her rights in prison. Just as matters were beginning to turn their way, Merril died of a heart attack while taking a round-the-world trip.
John's son James was just a teenager when the murder spree occurred. Nevertheless, he attended the trials of both Caril and Charlie. He studied his father's technique, and as he grew up, followed in his footsteps, going to law school, then filling in for Reller after his death. Armed with new laws which guarantee the right to a fair trial for every American, he took over the appeals process, and won freedom for Caril through parole in 1976.