The Virginian tries to get Cathy a local lawyer but when unsuccessful, wires Judge Henry Garth who comes to town. She reveals to the Judge that she was attacked and was being beaten and choked by a jealous Madden but can not remember stabbing him. In court, Judge Garth makes several motions to the local judge, Roy Shelley (Vaughn Taylor), including reducing the charge from first degree murder to manslaughter due to self-defence, but all are denied by Shelley who is in the pocket of a vengeful Henry T. Madden. The Prosecutor (Harold Gould) argues that Cathy planned the murder and inflicted her own wounds on herself. Meanwhile, another worker at the saloon, Jane Dent (Joanna Moore) hints at blackmail to the Sheriff who she knows also was in Cathy's room on the night of the murder. Judge Garth tells Cathy that he thinks she may be found guilty but they will not sentence her to hang as she is a woman. She is found guilty, and under pressure from the elder Madden, Roy Shelley sentences her to hang in eight days.
Henry Garth knows a major injustice has been done and that he can easily get the whole verdict overturned in the state capital which is a four day round trip away -- so he heads off. The elder Madden forces Roy Shelley to move the hanging up to the next morning. Seeing no alternative, the Virginian breaks Cathy out of jail and they head off pursued by a posse which includes Henry T. Madden. The escapees eventually end up on foot with no water trying to cross the mountains and would have died if not saved by a trail boss (Hugh Sanders). While recovering, the Virginian asks Cathy to marry him but she refuses, saying it is too late.
The next morning the posse catches up with them but the Virginian believes he has bought the time needed for Henry Garth to get the verdict set aside. Madden, however, tries to lynch Cathy but the Sheriff intervenes and reveals he had killed Gordie, albeit in self-defence. He caught Gordie beating Cathy and states the dead man was just plain no good. Madden tries to kill the Sheriff but is himself killed. Back in Santa Rita, Fitz Warren is surprised to see the Virginian leaving without Cathy as he also loves her. The Virginian implies it is now Warren's chance and rides off on the stage with Cathy standing longingly watching him at the window of the hotel.