Nancy Cannon asked a federal judge to bestow mercy upon one of the men who was briefly involved in the scheme to kill her.
"Let him breathe the fresh air and start his life again," she said.
It was an unusual sight for U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel, who had never seen a victim offer such support.
Cannon spoke at the sentencing hearing of Aaron Russell Wilkinson, 40, of Louisville, Ky., on Wednesday afternoon in a downtown Charleston courtroom.
Wilkinson's impromptu confession in April 2013 exposed the murder-for-hire plot targeting Nancy Cannon, who at the time, was the estranged wife of Charleston bank executive, Chris Latham. They have since divorced.
Gergel sentenced Wilkinson to four years in prison. But Wilkinson could potentially end up serving only two years. He will get credit for the year he already served in jail and is eligible for release after serving 85 percent of the sentence.
Wilkinson pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting murder-for-hire in January for his involvement in the plot.
As part of his plea agreement, Wilkinson testified last month for federal prosecutors during the trial of co-defendants 51-year-old Chris Latham and his girlfriend, 38-year-old Wendy Annette Moore.
Cannon told the judge she wanted the best for Wilkinson because he saved her life.
"I'm going to stand up for him just like he stood up for me," she said. "Because of his actions, I'm breathing. I get to hug my daughter. I get to wake up tomorrow and start all over again."
Wilkinson, who was handcuffed and in shackles during the hearing, asked the judge if he could turn around to address Cannon directly.
"I'm more nervous than I was at the trial," he said.
In an emotional statement, in a soft-spoken voice, Wilkinson expressed gratitude to Cannon.
"I am overwhelmed and humbled," he said as he read from a blue spiral notebook.
Prosecutors also spoke positively about Wilkinson and said he deserves recognition for his cooperation.
"He didn't always see eye to eye with us," Assistant U.S. Attorney Nathan Williams said. "But he was always very respectful."
The pair shook hands at the end of the hearing.
Wilkinson spent two days testifying in the trial, when prosecutors accused Moore and Latham of hiring Moore's ex-husband, Samuel Yenawine, 38, also of Louisville, to kill Latham's wife.
Wilkinson testified that Yenawine, a former prison buddy, who was also charged in the case, got him involved in the scheme.
Wilkinson, however, said he didn't want to go through with the killing and he revealed the plot to police after he was pulled over on Charleston's East Side while searching for heroin to feed his drug habit.
Wilkinson said he lied to Yenawine in order to foil the scheme.
"The defendant clearly averted a disaster," Gergel said. "He probably saved all of the defendants from the electric chair."
As part of the sentence, Wilkinson will also receive drug and mental health treatment and will be placed on supervised release for three years.
Gergel, who could have sentenced Wilkinson to 10 years in prison, called the sentence "balanced."
Wilkinson's attorney, Ann Walsh, expressed concern about an impending jail sentence from Kentucky. Wilkinson, who had previously served jail time for convictions of check fraud there, violated his parole when he was arrested in this case, which means Kentucky courts are likely to revoke his parole.
Gergel said he would be happy to call the presiding judge in Kentucky and ordered the federal sentence be served concurrently with any Kentucky sentence, but ultimately it's not in his hands, he said.
"We cannot control what Kentucky does," Gergel said.
Latham was found guilty of aiding and abetting murder-for-hire. Moore was found guilty of four charges that painted her as the mastermind and schemer of the plot. Sentencing hearings for Moore and Latham have not yet been scheduled.
But during Wilkinson's hearing, Gergel said he still has much to consider before the other tow are sentenced.
Yenawine, who also was charged in the case, committed suicide last year while jailed in Georgetown County.
Reach Natalie Caula Hauff at 937-5594 or Twitter.com/ncaula.
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