Boles and Hutcherson’s true-crime debut tells the tale of an undercover officer’s brutal murder at the hands of four youngsters.
In June 1979, Reno, Nevada, cop Jimmy Hoff had been in the narcotics division for two and a half years. He’d intended for his latest undercover operation to be his last; it involved buying 10 ounces of high-quality cocaine for $16,000. Unfortunately, the authors say, the seller, 20-year-old Edward “Tom” Wilson, plotted from the beginning to rip Jimmy off, unaware he was a cop, and he convinced three teenage friends to stage an ambush. Hoff’s six-member surveillance team was essentially blind, with no visual or audio, and the boys’ surprise knife attack resulted in Hoff’s death. The perpetrators managed to hide the body before their quick arrest, which resulted in a confession. What followed, however, was what the authors call a “long and lethal string of blunders,” as the boys’ trial was fraught with dubious legalities and ineffective counsel. One of the boys wound up on death row, which led to a series of appeals over the years but few answers. Boles and Hutcherson effectively present the facts, including details from court documents and quotes from relevant parties, objectively and without bias. They leave no question about the young men’s guilt, but they also show those same men to be casualties of a savage justice system. One lawyer, for example, appeared apathetic in his defense of his teenage client, neglecting to point out, for example, that there was no definitive evidence for a kidnapping charge. Hoff, however, is the undisputed victim here, and the book’s latter half concentrates on the repercussions of the terrible crime. Occasional details within the informative, if generally impassive, prose hit hard, as when Jimmy’s car, used to move his body, is called a “makeshift hearse.”
A thoroughly engaging story that explores the question of whether the justice system can truly be impartial.