Hearing expected to delve into legal payments for suspect in Latham murder-for-hire case

Wendy Annette Moore, 37, is charged with being part of a plot to kill Nancy Latham, a Mount Pleasant real estate agent and state lottery official.

A hearing has been scheduled for Oct. 1 to discuss the legal representation of Wendy Moore, a key suspect in the Nancy Latham murder-for-hire case.

During a past court proceeding, federal prosecutors questioned whether Moore’s defense is being bankrolled by her boyfriend and codefendant, Chris Latham, who is accused of plotting with her and three others to kill his estranged wife.

Prosecutors filed a sealed motion in the criminal case on Sept. 3 listing a number of checks totaling between $25,000 and $90,000 as exhibits. Those exhibits also are sealed, but attached descriptions listed payments to attorneys for Moore and her ex-husband, Samuel Yenawine, a former codefendant in the case who committed suicide while in custody in June.

Moore’s response to the government’s motion also is sealed, and she and Chris Latham have asked that the Oct. 1 hearing be held behind closed doors to preserve their right to a fair trial. A judge has yet to rule on that request.

Federal prosecutors declined to comment on the issue, as did David Aylor, Moore’s attorney, and Steve Schmutz, Chris Latham’s criminal attorney.

No law bars another person from picking up the tab for someone else’s legal bills. In fact, it’s quite common, said Charleston School of Law associate professor Miller Shealy, a former federal prosecutor.

But when the person paying the bills happens to be a codefendant, court officials like to get the details on the record to resolve potential questions of a conflict and avoid a possible appeal down the road. Shealy said.

“The issue becomes: Is the defense attorney truly independent or is the codefendant trying to control the case and protect their own interests?” he said. “It’s about making sure the process has integrity and is working correctly, and that the adversarial system is functioning as it should.”

A judge has the power to the remove an attorney from the case but should tread “very carefully and cautiously” in that regard because case law strongly supports a defendant’s right to have the legal counsel of his or her choice, Shealy said.

Latham, a former banker who earned more than $600,000, and his estranged wife, a Mount Pleasant real estate agent and state lottery official, have been entangled in a bitter divorce proceeding for the past two years. Each has accused the other of infidelity.

Criminal charges were filed against Chris Latham in August, about four months after an alleged plot to kill his wife was exposed.

In addition to Yenawine and Moore, charged in the case are Yenawine’s girlfriend, Rachel Palmer, 36, and his former prison cell mate, Russell Wilkinson, 39, both of Louisville, Ky. Wilkinson told Charleston police about the alleged plot after he was pulled over on the city’s East Side while trying to buy heroin in April, according to court documents.

Reach Glenn Smith at 937-5556 or Twitter.com/glennsmith5.