Andrew Welsh-Huggins is legal affairs reporter with the Associated Press in Columbus, Ohio. He has written extensively on capital punishment, the drug trade, and politics. He is the author of three Andy Hayes mysteries, Fourth Down Out, Slow Burn, and Capitol Punishment.
Photo credit: Emma Welsh-Huggins
The job seems simple enough: Reporter Lee Hershey needs protection for a couple of weeks as he pursues the biggest story of his career with all eyes on swing state Ohio in the midst of a presidential election. Columbus private eye Andy Hayes, broke as usual, doesn’t have much choice but to sign on, even with his girlfriend falling for the charming journalist. Then murder strikes at the Statehouse and Andy finds himself partly responsible for the death.
Almost two years have passed since Aaron Custer supposedly set a fire at a house in Columbus that killed three college students, including the young woman with whom he had argued just hours before. Prosecutors had an ironclad case against Custer, a convicted firebug whose fingerprints were found on the lighter that started the blaze and who quickly pleaded guilty to avoid the death penalty.
The job seems easy enough at first for private investigator Andy Hayes: save his client’s reputation by retrieving a laptop and erasing a troublesome video from its hard drive. But that’s before someone breaks into Andy’s apartment in Columbus; before someone else, armed with a shotgun, relieves him of the laptop; and before the FBI suddenly shows up on his doorstep asking questions.
One day in 2002, three friends — a Somali immigrant, a Pakistan–born U.S. citizen, and a hometown African American — met in a Columbus, Ohio coffee shop and vented over civilian casualties in the war in Afghanistan. Their conversation triggered an investigation that would become one of the most unusual and far–reaching government probes into terrorism since the 9/11 attacks.
Few subjects are as intensely debated in the United States as the death penalty. Some form of capital punishment has existed in America for hundreds of years, yet the justification for carrying out the ultimate sentence is a continuing source of controversy.