Former cellmate of murder-for-hire suspect Samuel Yenawine testifies in federal court in Charleston
Before hanging himself in his Georgetown County jail cell last June, Samuel Yenawine jotted down his final thoughts on a napkin, apologizing and saying good-bye, according to his former cellmate, Tyler Tudor.
Tudor, 25, of Pawleys Island, testified Thursday in downtown Charleston in the federal trial of Yenawine's ex-wife, Wendy Moore, and 51-year-old Chris Latham.
Yenawine, 38, of Louisville, Ky., Moore, and Latham were all charged and have been accused of a murder-for-hire plot targeting Chris Latham's estranged wife, Nancy Latham. Chris Latham is a former bank executive. Moore was his administrative assistant and girlfriend, according to prosecutors. Nancy Latham, a former S.C. Lottery Commission member and who now goes by her maiden name Cannon, and Chris Latham were in the middle of a contentious divorce when the alleged plot to take Cannon's life was planned in April 2013.
Also charged in the case is Aaron Wilkinson, 41, who pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting a murder-for-hire plot and testified for the prosecution last week, as well as Yenawine's girlfriend, Rachel Palmer.
Tudor remains detained on pending burglary and grand larceny charges at the Georgetown County Detention Center, where he said he met Yenawine last year. He said the two shared a cell at one point and Yenawine became one of his best friends in jail.
During his testimony, Tudor told the jury about Yenawine's final moments before his suicide.
"He hung himself right next to my cell," Tudor said. "I was talking to him while he was hanging himself."
Tudor told the jury Yenawine had said he was about to kill himself. Tudor said he tried to stop him by banging on the door, hitting an emergency button and even tying a sheet around his own neck in order to get a guard's attention.
Tudor said it took about 30 minutes for authorities to respond to Yenawine's cell and he expressed his anger about how authorities handled the suicide.
Because of that, Tudor said he did not initially tell investigators what Yenawine said to him about the murder-for-hire plot.
He explained to the jury that he told State Law Enforcement Division agent who were investigating the suicide what had happened and that the agent who took his statement left out much of what he'd said regarding the jail officer's delay.
"I didn't trust them," he said.
But earlier this month, Tudor said he met with the U.S. Attorney's Office along with his attorney and told them Yenawine had admitted to being involved in a murder-for-hire plot.
Tudor said Yenawine told him the hit was targeting someone with the lottery and it also involved Yenawine's ex-wife and a banker as well as someone who Yenawine knew, who owed him money for drugs or a favor.
Moore's defense attorney, David Aylor, asked Tudor why he hadn't told investigators any of those details during his interview by federal agents last July or during his initial interview with SLED.
Tudor said he omitted the information because of his anger over how authorities handled Yenawine's suicide and his concern for Yenawine's reputation after his death.
"I didn't want Sammy to be gone as a bad guy," he told the jury. "Believe it or not, while Sammy was incarcerated, he was a pretty good fellow."
Tudor also told the jury Yenawine had told him he'd been in prison before for killing someone and had served 10 years.
The trial is expected to resume Friday with the prosecution's last witness, a federal agent who investigated the murder-for-hire case. Defense attorneys will likely begin calling their witnesses Friday afternoon or Monday morning.
Based on the number of witnesses still expected to testify for both the defense and prosecution, attorneys told U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel, the trial would likely go through Wednesday.
On Thursday, the jury also heard from a State Law Enforcement Division handwriting expert.
SLED's Joyce Lauterbach told the jury she analyzed the handwriting found on document that was in a hit package recovered by authorities. The package included information about Nancy Latham, photos of her, her home and maps to her house. A document contained the handwritten address of Nancy Latham's Mount Pleasant home and her phone number, according to prosecutors.
After an initial evaluation, Lauterbach determined there was a strong probability that the address was written by Chris Latham.
Wilkinson later told investigators he had written that information on the packet. Authorities asked Lauterbach to conduct further analysis using more writing samples from Wilkinson. Based on that testing, she said could not reach a conclusion because similarities were found in both Latham's and Wilkinson's writing.
Lauterbach did determine Nancy Latham's phone number was likely in Wilkinson's writing. The writer of the address remained inconclusive, she said.
Lauterbach also testified that other handwriting on the document was identified as belonging to Wendy Moore.
Also on Thursday, an FBI expert on cellphone history and geographical data, testified to the whereabouts of Yenawine, Moore and Latham, based on cellphone data at the time of the alleged scheme.
Special Agent William Shute told the jury that based on his analysis, Moore and Yenawine were in North Charleston near the Econo Lodge, where Wilkinson testified the two met about the alleged plot.
He also said based on that analysis, Moore and Yenawine were both in the area of Sullivan's Island, where Wilkinson said the two also met about the alleged plot.
Reach Natalie Caula Hauff at 937-5594 or Twitter.com/ncaula.