Bizarre twists and turns in plot to kill: Key question remains why?
Nancy Latham was selling beachfront property, holding a position of influence on the state Lottery Commission and hanging with powerful friends, such as S.C. House Speaker Bobby Harrell and his wife, Cathy.
Her husband, Chris Latham, was a high-ranking official with Bank of America and a member of the Spoleto USA Board.
But somewhere along the way, things started to unravel.
Sometime in 2011 the couple began living apart, and heated divorce proceedings were under way. That dispute was about to reach a head in court on Monday, but that hearing never occurred.
The reason: Something much more ominous than divorce was at stake. Someone wanted Nancy Latham dead.
A day after an alleged murder-for-hire plot was made public, U.S. Magistrate Judge Bruce Hendricks on Thursday ordered that two of the alleged conspirators, Aaron Russell Wilkinson, 39, and Wendy Annette Moore, 37, remain held on a variety of federal charges that include conspiracy to commit murder in a plot that was allegedly aimed at killing Nancy Latham.
Both remain in the Charleston County jail with no bail set.
A third man, Samuel Arthur Yenawine, 38, is detained in Kentucky and likely will face his initial proceedings next week on similar charges.
Nancy Latham’s divorce attorney, Tim Madden of Greenville, who is chairman of the S.C. Education Lottery Commission, called the events “an unfortunate set of circumstances all the way around.”
He declined to say if Nancy Latham is in hiding or is living under additional security, saying he did not want to broach anything that might affect the woman’s safety.
About a dozen law enforcement agents converged Thursday night on a Sullivan’s Island house to execute a search warrant in the murder-for-hire case. The Brownell Avenue home that agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives searched was where Chris Latham had been living. Agents said he was not the subject of the search.
Repeated attempts to reach Chris Latham or his attorney by phone were unsuccessful.
The alleged conspiracy started to unravel April 5 when Charleston police officers stopped Wilkinson and arrested him for driving under suspension. There was a gun and ammunition in the car.
He quickly volunteered to authorities that he was involved in a murder scheme targeting Nancy Latham.
He said Yenawine had told him to drive from Kentucky to Nashville to pick up drugs, but Yenawine later revealed the murder plan, federal affidavits stated.
The documents stated that the two later met at a North Charleston hotel with Moore, Yenawine’s former wife and a personal assistant in the office where Chris Latham works.
The conspirators later acquired photos of Nancy Latham and details of her schedule, according to the documents.
Wilkinson told investigators that he stood to get $5,000 and that Yenawine would receive more than $20,000 for their roles. The documents didn’t say who would pay the money or who had hired the trio.
All three arrested in the plot have ties in Kentucky, with Wilkinson telling authorities he had met Yenawine behind bars.
The plot isn’t the first time Yenawine has found himself in a lot of trouble.
Yenawine served prison time in connection with the 2001 death of a man who lived in an apartment attached to his house in Louisville, Ky.
He told investigators that he and Moore, who was his wife at the time, were in their bedroom when he heard floorboards creaking near the room where his three children were asleep.
Yenawine got up and saw the tenant, Brian Tinnell, walking from the room, and he worried that Tinnell might have molested his children, according to federal court documents.
When Yenawine confronted Tinnell in the downstairs apartment, he said Tinnell came after him with a knife. During the fight, Yenawine stabbed Tinnell six times and slashed his throat, according to court papers.
The documents also stated that Yenawine set fire to the apartment to cover the evidence, then went back to bed.
Firefighters later rescued Yenawine, Moore and the three children.
Days later, Moore gave a statement to police that implicated Yenawine in the stabbing and arson, the court papers stated.
A jury eventually acquitted him on a murder charge. He was convicted of arson and lesser counts, and sentenced to life in prison.
In 2005 the Kentucky Supreme Court overturned Yenawine’s conviction for arson because of an error in jury instructions during his trial. That left him to serve a 10-year prison sentence.
He was released from prison in October 2009.
Moore has her own history. Court documents contend she had been accused of having an affair with Chris Latham and that before she entered his life, she ran a pornography business.
The Latham-versus-Latham divorce was set to go forward Monday. That was, until an assistant U.S. attorney told the Charleston Family Court that going forward would not be advisable, said Charleston defense attorney Robert Rosen, who represents Chris Latham only in the divorce case.
Allegations raised in court records indicate that the couple’s split had been contentious since they began living apart in August 2011. They fought over computers and even home decor. “Plaintiff denies she disposed of any crown molding,” one entry says.
And they fought over the Harrells.
Records show that Cathy Harrell, the House speaker’s wife, and Nancy Latham were fast friends, even jokingly calling themselves “Thelma and Louise” in reference to the Hollywood film.
Records also suggest that the Harrells were siding with Nancy Latham in the divorce, something that prompted Chris Latham to challenge the judge appointed to the case on grounds that Bobby Harrell, as speaker, holds sway over how South Carolina judges are picked.
A family court judge later issued an opinion that there was no evidence that Harrell influenced the judiciary. On Thursday, Bobby Harrell issued a statement that he has zero influence over Family Court decisions.
He also said he and Cathy have an obligation to Nancy Latham’s children as their godparents.
“She has been traumatized and her life very possibly was in danger,” Harrell said.
He also said, “We took an oath before God to step up and take care of (the children) in all ways. We were fulfilling a promise to Nancy and God, and I do not apologize for that.”
Harrell appointed Nancy Latham as treasurer of the Lottery Commission, one of three lottery appointments he has as House speaker.
Officials are declining to say who might be behind the murder-for-hire plot, where the supposed cash payments came from, and a possible motive.
The affidavit gave no indication why Nancy Latham was targeted, and an ATF agent said the agency does not comment on pending cases.
All three defendants are charged with conspiracy and travel in interstate commerce with the intent to commit murder and aiding and abetting.
Wilkinson and Yenawine also face charges of possession of a firearm by a felon.
As the sun set Thursday, ATF agents still were searching Chris Latham’s rental home.
Dave Munday contributed to this report.