The Latham murder-for-hire saga took another strange and tragic twist this week when a central suspect in the case committed suicide by hanging himself in the Georgetown County jail.
It remains to be seen how the death of 38-year-old Samuel Yenawine will affect the federal government’s case against his three co-defendants in the alleged plot to kill Mount Pleasant real estate agent Nancy Latham.
Yenawine, of Louisville, Ky., was found unresponsive in the Georgetown County Detention Center at 9:30 p.m. Tuesday. Authorities rushed him to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
The Georgetown County Coroner’s Office said an autopsy confirmed that Yenawine died from hanging, and that he had taken his own life.
Still, the State Law Enforcement Division has been called in to investigate the death.
Yenawine was originally jailed in Kentucky after his arrest in April. Federal authorities later moved him to South Carolina and kept him in a jail a county away from his co-defendants, who are lodged in Charleston.
Yenawine’s attorney, Bill Butler of Kentucky, demanded a full accounting of Yenawine’s death, and said he plans to hire a pathologist to review the autopsy findings.
He said Yenawine had served time in jail and prison before, but he always had been stoic, never suicidal.
“I’ve known Sam for a dozen years, have represented him for a dozen years,” Butler said. “He has been held in solitary confinement and had lots of things done to him before, and he has survived it all.”
Butler said he received an anonymous phone call Friday claiming Yenawine had been mistreated in the jail after a cigarette was found in his cell.
Butler said he had not spoken to Georgetown County officials about the incident before his client was found dead, but he plans to press for details about the incident.
“I don’t know that mistreatment had anything to do with this, but I’m going to get to the bottom of it,” he said.
Carrie Cuthbertson, spokeswoman for the Georgetown County Sheriff’s Office, declined to answer questions about Yenawine’s stay at the jail. She said the agency would have no comment on his detention while the SLED investigation is pending.
Death a surprise
Yenawine faced federal charges of conspiracy to use interstate commerce facilities in the commission of murder for hire, solicitation of murder for hire, use of interstate commerce facilities in the commission of murder for hire, possession of a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence and possession of a firearm by a prohibited person.
Yenawine was one of four people arrested in connection with the alleged plot to kill Latham, who is also a state lottery official. Yenawine’s girlfriend, Rachel Palmer, 36, of Louisville, Russell Wilkinson, 39, of Louisville, and Yenawine’s ex-wife, 37-year-old Wendy Annette Moore, who lives in the Charleston area, also were charged.
Moore’s attorney, David Aylor, called the death a tragedy for Yenawine’s and Moore’s three children. “It’s a really sad place for the children and the family members as a whole,” he said. Aylor also called the death a surprise, considering Yenawine’s prior stint behind bars. “For someone who has done a better part of a decade before, it really adds some shock that it actually happened,” he said.
Aylor indicated that on his end, he doesn’t believe the death will delay the case from moving forward in the judicial process.
Federal prosecutors in Charleston would not comment because it’s a pending case.
Sad and concerned
In addition to facing criminal charges, Yenawine and his co-defendants were being sued by Latham in civil court over the alleged murder plot.
The suit also alleges that Latham’s estranged husband, former Bank of America executive Christopher Latham, was involved in the plot with Moore, his live-in girlfriend. He has denied that allegation, and has not been charged with a crime.
Matthew Yelverton, Nancy Latham’s attorney, said his client is relieved that she does not have to worry about Yenawine getting out and harming her, but she is sad and concerned for his children.
Yelverton said Yenawine’s death well could affect the murder-for-hire case.
“It is one less person who can tell the whole story, and I don’t think we’ve heard the whole story,” he said. “I regret that Yenawine won’t have the opportunity to redeem himself in this life by telling the whole story.”
The alleged plot was foiled when Charleston Police stopped Wilkinson in April while he was shopping for heroin in downtown Charleston. He told them about the scheme and named Yenawine and Moore as conspirators, according to court documents.
Yenawine last appeared in federal court in Charleston on June 5 for a detention hearing. Butler asked that he be released and confined to his Louisville home, but a judge ordered that Yenawine remain locked up until trial.
During the hearing, a federal agent detailed the evidence investigators had gathered against Yenawine, including finding his fingerprints on a “hit package” full of photographs, maps, schedules and other information on Nancy Latham and her family.
Reach Glenn Smith at 937-5556 or Twitter.com/glennsmith5. Reach Natalie Caula at 937-5594 or Twitter.com/ncaula.