Ex-Chief of Detectives Virgil Tibbs returns to Sparta as a full-fledged lawyer. He and his wife Althea have separated, and she has taken their twins back to live in Philadelphia. At Virgil's first appearance in court, Judge Sims appoints him to represent pro bono an accused murderer, Delbert Pike. Pike wants to plead self-defense, but a dying declaration from the victim, Eli Chambers, blames Pike directly. Notorious womanizer Pike was sleeping with Chambers' wife Amanda, who offers to testify against her lover as a witness for the prosecution.