See surveillance camera video from the Aug. 6, 2021, shooting in the video player above.
COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — When Columbus police launched a series this week spotlighting unsolved homicides, they failed to mention that the first subject was under indictment for felony charges when he was shot dead inside a car.
Dubbed “The Unsolved Cases,” the Columbus Division of Police chose to launch the digital-only videos on Wednesday with the Aug. 6, 2021 killing of Lante Hughes. The series features “never-before-heard interviews with detectives that could bring new evidence to light — or possibly lead to the arrest of a suspect.”
In Hughes’ case, Detective Scott Polgar focused on his background. He called Hughes, 23, a “likable guy” that wanted to own his own business, but also mentioned that he spent time with a troubled group.
“He had a good group of friends, and then he had a group of friends that kind of led him astray,” Polgar said. “He’s not a violent kid, certainly well-loved by his family … Unfortunately he got tangled up with people that are a little more dangerous than he was used to being around, and it unfortunately cost him his life.”
On a Friday afternoon in August 2021, Hughes was found dead in a wrecked Jeep Wrangler with multiple bullet holes. He had driven to the 5400 block of Chatford Square with one other person in the car, and Polgar said he was going to pay money to get some of his belongings back. The other person with Hughes was able to leave without being shot, and surveillance video from the scene also showed a blue Dodge Dart leaving the scene after the shooting.
“I think this was a setup, and they either took the money he came to get his stuff back with, or a dispute took place, but he was shot while sitting in his car,” Polgar said.
Polgar did not go into detail about the dangerous group that Hughes had gotten entangled with in “The Unsolved Cases” video. However, Franklin County Common Pleas Court records documented a case where Hughes had been named a suspect. In November 2020 — prior to the homicide investigation under CPD’s jurisdiction — A Franklin County grand jury indicted Hughes and eight other people after Hilliard police accused them of taking part in a $500,000 theft and drug trafficking ring with around 3,000 victims.
Investigators said the group took the money — which included federal stimulus checks, tax returns and personal checks from birthday cards — mainly through stolen mail and renting properties with stolen or fraudulent identities. When Hilliard police came down on the ring, they said they found more than 11 guns, 90 pounds of marijuana, fake IDs and cars bought with the stolen identities and checks. Evidence seized also included more than $265,000 in cash and assets at multiple homes in both Hilliard and New Albany.
Hughes had pleaded not guilty to felony charges of trafficking in drugs and possession of drugs, both with use of a firearm specifications. Prosecutors dropped his case after he died in the August 2021 shooting. However, all eight other members of the group have since pleaded guilty to at least one felony charge related to the operation.
NBC4 asked Columbus police about the decision to feature Hughes as the first victim in its series, and if investigators believe anyone from the theft ring case could have been involved in his death. CPD had not responded as of noon Friday.
However, Polgar said in “Unsolved Cases” that someone knows what happened to Hughes.
“Was nothing short of an execution, that’s how we treat it … Even the person that he was with may have been involved in this homicide,” Polgar said. “There’s one person out there that I’m sure saw more than we know, or hasn’t stepped forward for whatever the case may be. And there’s a lot of people within a group that knows the suspects.”
Columbus police asked anyone who may have information on Hughes’ death to call 614-645-4196, or email Polgar. Callers can also leave an anonymous tip with Central Ohio Crime Stoppers at 614-461-TIPS.