Chris Latham's blank gaze was frozen. His eyes were fixed upon the bench where U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel had just sentenced him to spend the next 10 years of his life behind bars.
Chris Latham and Wendy Moore were both found guilty of federal charges involving a murder-for-hire scheme targeting Latham's wife at the time, Nancy Cannon.
In February, a jury found Latham guilty of use of interstate commerce facilities in a commission of murder-for-hire.
Moore was found guilty of use of interstate commerce facilities in a commission of murder-for-hire, conspiracy to use interstate commerce facilities in a commission of a murder-for-hire, possessing a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence and solicitation to commit murder-for-hire.
The plot-to-kill was foiled before any harm could come to Cannon when a co-defendant, Aaron Wilkinson, 40, of Louisville, Ky., confessed to police in April 2013.
Wilkinson told authorities Moore's ex-husband, Samuel Yenawine, who he had known from their time in prison together, involved him to help in the plot-to-kill Cannon.
Moore had provided Yenawine and Wilkinson a "hit package" that included photos of Latham's estranged wife and information about her whereabouts, according to authorities.
Wilkinson is now serving a four-year prison sentence for his role in the case.
Yenawine, 38, killed himself in his Georgetown County jail cell while awaiting trial.
The former bank executive wore striped jail garb, handcuffs and shackles with a pair of reading glasses perched upon his head.
During the more than hour-long hearing in a downtown Charleston courtroom Tuesday attorneys, family and friends had hashed out all the reasons to keep Latham behind bars and reasons to give him mercy.
Ultimately, Gergel imposed the maximum punishment possible for Latham, who is accused of taking part in a plan to have his estranged wife at the time killed and who was convicted of aiding and abetting his girlfriend, Wendy Moore, in the scheme.
Latham's first words
Chris Latham had remained publicly silent about his arrest. His attorney, Steve Schmutz, denied several requests for an interview with The Post and Courier.
That silence was at times agonizing and unbearable for the 51-year-old Charleston man who told the judge there was much that needed to be said.
"To say the last 16 months were the most challenging of my life would be a vast understatement," he said.
Latham acknowledged the pain his ex-wife, Nancy Cannon, and his daughters, Emily and Madison, had been through but denied taking any part or knowledge of the murder-for-hire scheme targeting Nancy while the pair went through a contentious divorce in 2013.
"I want to be crystal clear," Latham said. "I am 100 percent innocent."
Latham said he could never hurt his girls or Nancy, who he referred to as the once love of his life and said he'd lived an honest life.
"Even though I stand here before you in these stripes and shackles, I know this day does not define who Chris Latham is," he said. "I'm a good person."
Support and disgust
Friends and family of Chris Latham addressed the court and spoke words of support about the man they said they knew well.
Bill Lemacks, one of Latham's best friends, said the crime was out of character for the man who spent his life giving back to the community serving food to the homeless.
Latham's mother, Dot, described her commitment to her son, whom she and her husband traveled more than 300 miles a week to visit while he's been imprisoned the last year.
She said her son was a victim who lost his career, freedom and "most of all, the love of his daughters."
"Chris wants to be a part of his daughters' lives," she said.
Chris Latham's daughters, however, expressed no desire to be part of their father's life.
"I'm disgusted I have to call this man my father," Madison Latham told the judge. "A father is supposed to protect his daughters from evil."
Her sister, Emily, said all the positive things her father has done in the community don't erase his actions against her and her family.
"I keep hearing what a great person my dad is, but that's what he wanted them to see," she told the judge.
Emily Latham described the tumultuous relationship her parents had behind closed doors.
"There was so much malice between them and it was so unaddressed," she said. Emily Latham's final words to the judge were an insight into her fears - afraid her father will never reconcile his actions and that he will continue living in denial.
With those last words, Chris Latham lowered his head with a sigh as his daughter walked away from the podium back to her mother's side without a glance his way.
Gergel knows this case well. He presided over the three-week trial in February of Latham and his codefendant and girlfriend, who authorities contend was the mastermind of the scheme to have Cannon killed. The pair also worked together at a Charleston bank.
During the sentencing hearing, Latham's attorney, Schmutz, spoke about Latham's character and hard-working background, but Gergel wanted to know more. Gergel said he wanted insight to explain this crime.
"I don't really know what happened," Schmutz said. "The circumstances of this case were just immersed in a divorce case."
Gergel concurred Latham's life, rising from a mill village in the Upstate to a banking executive, is remarkable.
"But it's also remarkable he would participate in such a scheme," Gergel said.
Nathan Williams, one of the assistant U.S. attorneys who prosecuted the case, said Latham's inability to reconcile his conduct makes him more dangerous.
Along with the 10-year sentence, Latham was ordered to pay about $1,500 of restitution. Upon his release from prison, Latham will serve three years of supervised release.
"I wasn't surprised, but I was disappointed," Schmutz said after the hearing.
Schmutz requested Latham serve his sentence at the Pensacola, Fla., prison facility.
Moore is scheduled to be sentenced Wednesday morning.
Following the hearing, Cannon said she wasn't surprised to hear her ex-husband denying taking part in the crime for which he was convicted.
Inside the courtroom, the Charleston woman had expressed her turmoil and pain. She told the judge she still lives in fear for her life.
"I'm asking you to put him as far away from us as possible," Cannon pleaded to the court.
Cannon said she's terrified that Latham will somehow one day carry out the plan meant for her demise, one that never came to fruition, but that came too close for comfort.
"I want you to think about what they wanted to happen," Cannon told the judge as she began to describe what could have happened, what still tortures her thoughts.
She described the scenario: the hired "hit man" wandering through her home at night while she and her daughter slept, making his way into her bedroom armed with a handgun.
"If I was lucky when he walked in, when he shot me he would have killed me instantly. The worst case scenario, what I have nightmares about is that when he shoots me, I don't die immediately, but have to listen as my daughter screams at the gunshot that kills her," Cannon said and then paused as she looked at the judge. "Ten years is not enough."
Reach Natalie Caula Hauff at 937-5594 or Twitter.com/ncaula.
Nancy Cannon walks to court Tuesday for the sentencing hearing of Chris Latham, the former bank executive in Charleston convicted of taking part in a murder-for-hire plot against his former wife.×
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