Google maps, a photo of cars in a driveway and a hand-scrawled address found in so-called “hit package” comprise the evidence federal prosecutors say ties former Charleston banker Chris Latham to an alleged plot to kill his estranged wife.
A federal agent testified Monday that these items have been linked to Latham through an examination of his work computer, phone and handwriting, showing the Sullivan's Island man was an active participant in a scheme to rub out his wife, Nancy.
While Chris Latham's attorney insisted he would never do anything to harm his family, the evidence and the severity of the charges against him were enough for U.S. Magistrate Judge Bristow Marchant to deny Latham bail and order him detained until trial in the murder-for-hire case.
The 50-year-old suspect, who until recently commanded an annual salary of nearly $700,000, shuffled into the courtroom shackled, clad in a pin-striped jail jumpsuit and sporting grey stubble on his cheeks. He avoided eye contact with his estranged wife but frowned and shook his head when Assistant U.S. Attorney Nathan Williams said he was a key player in a plot to kill her.
He also listened attentively as his wife and their eldest daughter, 19-year-old Emily, pleaded with the judge to keep him locked up, saying they remained frightened for their safety.
“I really do wish I didn't have to stand here and ask you to keep my father in jail, but I am terrified,” Emily Latham said. “Please don't give him the opportunity to do any more harm to us.”
Nancy Latham, a Mount Pleasant real estate agent and state lottery official, said her husband went out on the town and vacationed with friends while she and her daughters huddled in fear in their home with the blinds drawn these past few months. She said they deserved to “get a sliver of our lives back.”
“I am begging you, please, please protect us,” she said to the judge. “If you think he wanted me dead before our divorce hearing, think how he is going to feel before a criminal charge.”
Stephen Schmutz, Chris Latham's attorney, said there is no evidence his client ever threatened or harassed his wife and, despite having the means to flee, never attempted to do so in the more than four months he's known he was a suspect in the case. Friends and Latham's 76-year-old mother also vouched for his character, contributions and dependability, saying he was not capable of committing the acts with which he is accused.
“He loved his family, and he still loves them,” his longtime friend, Bill Lemacks, said.
The Lathams were nearing a final hearing in their contentious divorce case when the alleged plot came to light on April 5. That's when Russell Wilkinson of Kentucky alerted police to the scheme after Charleston police stopped him while he was trying to buy heroin on Charleston's East Side, authorities said. Soon, Wilkinson and three others were in custody.
Charged in the plot were 38-year-old Samuel Yenawine of Louisville, Ky.; Yenawine's ex-wife, 37-year-old Wendy Annette Moore, Chris Latham's girlfriend and former assistant at Bank of America; Yenawine's girlfriend, Rachel Palmer, 36; and Wilkinson, 39, a former cellmate of Yenawine's from Louisville. Yenawine, however, committed suicide in June, hanging himself in the Georgetown County jail.
U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Agent Robert Callahan testified Monday that Wilkinson detailed how he and Yenawine had traveled to Charleston, 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.
Investigators later determined a set of Google maps found in the package had been printed from Chris Latham's computer at Bank of America on the day Moore met with the would-be killers, Callahan said. His computer also showed Internet searches for information on a friend of Emily Latham's who was staying with her family — a young man's whose name also ended up in the “hit package,” he said.
Around the same time, Moore used her work computer in a neighboring office to print Nancy Latham's photo from the web site for the state lottery and photos of Nancy Latham's residence, he said.
Agents also found a photo on Chris Latham's phone and iPad that matched one found in the “hit package” showing Nancy Latham's car parked in the driveway with the license plate showing, Callahan said. The photo was taken the same day and time Chris Latham picked up one of his daughters for a trip to the circus, he said. Another photo in the package of his wife and one of their daughters had been obtained by Chris Latham as part of the couple's divorce proceedings, he said.
Agents also found an address scrawled on a schedule in the “hit package,” and handwriting analysis showed a “strong probability” that it was written by Chris Latham, Callahan said. “They are virtually certain he wrote this information,” he said.
Schmutz did his best to sow doubt, pointing out that the handwriting sample was not a solid match and that no DNA evidence or fingerprints link Chris Latham to the package or any part of the alleged plot. There is no indication he met or communicated with Wilkinson or Yenawine and there is no evidence to prove he was the one using his computer that day, he said.
Through his attorney, Chris Latham indicated that he wished to address the court as well and speak to the charges. Marchant cautioned him against such a move, as prosecutors would be free to use his words against him. After conferring with Schmutz, Latham abandoned that plan.
Schmutz told the judge Latham had previously written a letter to his wife and daughters in April to explain he had nothing to do with any plan to harm them, but his attorneys advised him against sending the letter.
The revelation didn't seem to sway his wife and daughter, who fell into one another crying and hugging in relief in the front row when Marchant announced he was keeping Latham locked up.
Reach Glenn Smith at 937-5556 or Twitter.com/glennsmith5.