When her husband walked into the room Wednesday in a blue fishing T-shirt and faded jeans, it reminded Nancy Latham of the casual wear he favored during a family vacation to a lake house a couple of years back.
This time, however, Chris Latham's outfit was augmented by shackles and chains.
The 50-year-old former banker was hauled into U.S. District Court in Charleston to face charges that he participated in an alleged murder-for-hire plot targeting his estranged wife. He will remain in custody at least until Monday, when a formal detention hearing will be held.
Federal agents took the Sullivan's Island man into custody Tuesday night while he was vacationing with friends at another lake house in Salem, and he showed up in court still wearing the rumpled clothes in which he was arrested. Grim-faced and frowning, he glanced briefly at his wife and two teenage daughters, who huddled in the front row of the courtroom with family friend Cathy Harrell, wife of South Carolina House Speaker Bobby Harrell.
“How do you reconcile yourself to the idea that this person hired someone to kill you?” Nancy Latham said to The Post and Courier after the hearing. “It's not by any means celebratory, and its certainly not celebratory for my children. It has to be heartbreaking for them.”
His arrest marks a stunning reversal of fortune for a man who recently commanded a $683,000 annual salary as an executive for Bank of America.
Speculation about Chris Latham's involvement in the alleged plot had swirled around the community since the case broke open in April with the arrest of three suspects, one of whom happened to be his live-in girlfriend and former bank assistant. The talk grew louder after Nancy Latham filed a civil lawsuit against her husband and the jailed suspects, accusing Chris Latham of being an active participant in the scheme.
Latham and his attorneys had vocally denied the allegations and accused Nancy Latham and her legal team of bad-mouthing him with fictitious claims to ruin his name in the midst of their bitter divorce battle.
Latham had little to say during Wednesday's court hearing, in which a not guilty plea was entered on his behalf. He answered only “yes” or “no” to a magistrate judge's questions.
His attorney, Stephen Schmutz, said he had just received the indictment shortly before the hearing and could not speak to charges against his client. The indictment, handed down Tuesday by a federal grand jury in Columbia, charges Latham with conspiracy to use interstate commerce facilities in the commission of murder-for-hire, use of interstate commerce facilities in the commission of murder-for-hire and possession of a firearm in the furtherance of a crime of violence.
The first two charges each carry a maximum punishment of 10 years in prison and the third charge carries a mandatory consecutive sentence of five years, according to U.S. Attorney for South Carolina Bill Nettles.
Prosecutors have not divulged the evidence they have compiled against Chris Latham, but Nancy Latham's attorney, Matt Yelverton, said he has been led to believe it is significant and “there are a lot of smoking guns.”
A surreal event
In an interview with The Post and Courier, Nancy Latham said she was relieved by her husband's arrest, but it was also upsetting and surreal for her to see her companion of 24 years in shackles, accused of plotting to take her life.
She said she has not been privy to the evidence investigators have compiled against her husband and she doesn't know if others might still be involved.
“We haven't been aware of all of the evidence, so there is no way I can tell you we feel safe,” she said. “We don't know how deep the rabbit hole is. We just don't know.”
Nancy Latham said she is grateful for the work the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the State Law Enforcement Division and local law enforcement did on the case, and she feels vindicated after months of listening to her husband's attorneys question her credibility. “I have looked forward to truth being known,” she said.
She said the case has been an ordeal for her family and they have been relegated to being prisoners in their own home. Her oldest daughter, Emily, has taken on the role of her protector at a time she should be at college and enjoying life. Her youngest daughter, Madison, has become hypersensitive to what people think about her and worries that her friends will no longer be allowed to visit their home because their parents perceive it as a dangerous place, she said.
“Every single time I think this is as bad as it can get, then we find out one more thing that makes it even worse,” she said. “I have to continually remind myself that no matter how difficult this is for me, it is even more difficult for my children.
They try every day to find something to be grateful and joyful about and they listen to people talk about life returning to normal one day. “But the reality is: there is no normal,” she said. “Our normal has to be rediscovered.”
The alleged plot
The Lathams had accused each other of adultery and other misbehavior, but their already contentious divorce reached a whole new level in April when the alleged murder-for-hire plot was exposed.
Charged in the plot were 38-year-old Samuel Yenawine of Louisville, Ky.; Yenawine's ex-wife, 37-year-old Wendy Annette Moore, identified as Chris Latham's girlfriend and former assistant at Bank of America; Yenawine's girlfriend, Rachel Palmer, 36, and Russell Wilkinson, 39, both of Louisville.
Yenawine hanged himself June 25 inside his cell at the Georgetown County jail. The other three remain in jail.
The alleged plot came to light after Wilkinson was stopped by Charleston police while looking to buy heroin on the East Side. Police found a gun in his car, and he volunteered information about the scheme to kill Nancy Latham to officers, police said. Yenawine was back in Kentucky at that point and was arrested later.
Moore is accused of hiring Yenawine to do the job, and he, in turn, contracted Wilkinson's services to “watch his back,” Senior Agent Joseph Boykin of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has testified.
The would-be killers bought disposable cellphones so their communications couldn't be traced, then traveled to the Lowcountry, where they met with Moore to collect a $5,000 down payment and receive a “hit package” full of photographs, maps, schedules and other information on Nancy Latham and her family, Boykin said.
During a jailhouse interview in April, Wilkinson told The Post and Courier he had also implicated Chris Latham in the alleged plot when he spoke with investigators. He said he had seen a man he later learned was Latham when he met with Moore on Sullivan's Island and that he overheard a phone conversation between Yenawine and Chris Latham.
At the time, federal officials wouldn't comment on Wilkinson's claims and Chris Latham and his legal team strongly denied that he had anything to do with the alleged plot.
In fact, Chris Latham contended he was the one in danger. He sought a protective order against his estranged wife, claiming she and her half-brother, a convicted triple-murderer, wished to harm him. He also accused her of fabricating the allegations against him and getting him fired from his lucrative job as an executive at Bank of America.
Latham was given the choice in late May of resigning, retiring or facing immediate termination from his position at the bank, according to court filings. He chose to retire in May, according to emails filed as evidence in court.
Yelverton said Chris Latham and his spokesmen had “re-victimized” Nancy Latham with their statements that now fall flat in the wake of his arrest.
“This case, as much as any I've been involved in, reminds me of the importance of only speaking publicly on subjects about which one has some actual knowledge,” he said. “Clients don't benefit from peacocks preening and blowhards bloviating. It is irresponsible to maliciously and gratuitously malign others in the name of advocacy.”
Robert Rosen, Chris Latham's divorce attorney and the primary spokesman on his behalf in recent months, said he would love to respond but he took an oath of civility when he entered the legal profession.
Natalie Caula contributed to this report. Reach Glenn Smith at 937-5556 or Twitter.com/glennsmith5.
Brad Nettles/staff Nancy Latham (foreground), her two daughters and Cathy Harrell (left), wife of South Carolina House Speaker, enter the Federal Courthouse in Charleston for a hearing for her estranged husband, Chris Latham.×
Former Charleston banker Chris Latham, 50, of Sullivan’s Island, has been arrested on a federal indictment.×
Nancy Latham (foreground), her two daughters, Madison (second from left) and Emily (right) and Cathy Harrell (left), wife of South Carolina House Speaker Bobby Harrell, enter the Federal Courthouse in Charleston for a hearing for her estranged husband Chris Latham.×
About a dozen law enforcement agents converged on a house on Brownell Avenue on April 11 where Chris Latham has lived to conduct a search warrant in a murder-for-hire case on Sullivan’s Island.×