Attorneys make final push with closing arguments in trial - WCIV-TV | ABC News 4 - Charleston News, Sports, Weather

Attorneys make final push with closing arguments in murder-for-hire trial

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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) – After two-and-a-half weeks of testimony interrupted by a winter storm and a bomb threat, jurors began hearing on Tuesday afternoon closing arguments in the murder-for-hire case of Chris Latham and Wendy Moore.

Both sides lined up their cases one more time before the judge charged the jury with returning a verdict for the two alleged co-conspirators.

Prosecutors returned again to Nancy Latham, the target in the alleged plot, saying she stood up for herself and became a problem for the budding relationship between Moore and Mr. Latham. Prosecutors said the evidence in the case – specifically the hit package found in the North Charleston motel room – linked each person to the crime and shows what each person's role was supposed to be.

Samuel Yenawine, an ex-convict from Kentucky, was the outsider who would carry out the murder, prosecutors said. He traveled to South Carolina, bought a disposable phone, wired money back to his home and current girlfriend Rachel Palmer, and had texts about Mrs. Latham's trip to Conway – a trip he shouldn't have knowledge of by a woman he'd never met.

Then prosecutors turned to the woman sitting in one of the defendant's chair, Wendy Moore, saying she is Yenawine's ex-wife and the person who links Yenawine and Aaron Wilkinson to Charleston, the plot and Mr. Latham.

Prosecutors say she provided proof that she made calls to Yenawine and Wilkinson, wired thousands of dollars to them, bought a disposable phone so she couldn't be traced, and even bought a hotel room for Yenawine and Wilkinson when they showed up in North Charleston.

Prosecutors pointed out that Moore used her real ID to buy one wire transfer and then a fake identity to buy another. And while investigators could not conclusively say Mr. Latham's and Wilkinson's handwriting was in the alleged hit package, Moore's handwriting was.

Prosecutors also pointed out that Moore even paid for Yenawine's attorney before he hanged himself in jail.

While Moore had money from a good job as Mr. Latham's secretary, Mr. Latham had a lot more.  That's where he comes into the plot, they argued Tuesday afternoon.

They said Mr. Latham kept himself away from the criminal activity because his reputation and job were on the line, but there was no way Moore could do everything without his help. According to prosecutors, Mr. Latham has the income.

Further, things in the hit package traced back to Mr. Latham's computer, they argued.

But Moore's attorney David Aylor told a different story, one of an ex-convict violating parole in another state with a loaded handgun looking for drugs. Wilkinson was violating parole when Charleston police officers found him in Charleston with a loaded gun in his car.

Aylor said from there, he did everything he could to get out of trouble – including implicating Moore and Mr. Latham in a plot to kill Mrs. Latham.

That's when the lies started and continued through 75 interviews with Wilkinson, Aylor said. He lied about the gun, the ammunition, the email address, and the conversations between Yenawine and Moore.

Aylor went on to say that Wilkinson was dope-sick and invented the whole story.

Aylor said the entire case became a game on both sides. And the government turned it into a game, promising proof of Moore's discussions about murder and promising that Wilkinson's story was true.

The entire case came down to two people once in love who were now fighting each other over their life together and the things in it.

And then Steve Schmutz told the court why Mr. Latham was not involved in the alleged plot, telling jurors the government came to its conclusions about the case after making assumptions about the Latham divorce.

Schmutz said Moore, Yenawine, and Wilkinson were all arrested on April 8, but investigators had nothing to tie Mr. Latham to the case – so they focused on money and decided the money would trace back to him.

But Schmutz said nothing could be traced back to Mr. Latham.

Bank records don't show a withdrawal that amounts to the money paid to Wilkinson and Yenawine. Phone records don't show a single call to Wilkinson or Yenawine. Investigators also never found DNA or fingerprints of Mr. Latham's on anything linked to the case, Schmutz said.

Meanwhile, Wilkinson was changing his story again and again, according to Schmutz, who pointed out in a timeline when the self-described heroin addict's story changed.

Schmutz closed, saying the government has a lot of theories, but that's not enough – they need to supply evidence. And that's what they didn't do, he said.

In a rebuttal, U.S. Attorney Rhett DeHart said there was no interest life self-interest. 

According to DeHart, Latham was trying to control Yenawine; he and Moore didn't pay for Yenawine's attorney out of the goodness of their hearts. He said Mr. Latham knew they had to have the entire team on board to make sure no one ratted out the others.

DeHart said money was the motive for the crime and pointed to the two divorce lawyers Mr. Latham used, attorney's fees that stretched into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, and millions of dollars in long-term alimony.

A lot was at stake if Latham lost his case, DeHart said. The week before the trial, he was denying his relationship with Moore even though they were living together, he added.

Then there was the hatred between Nancy and Latham. According to DeHart, the divorce turned into a battle of who could hurt whom. She threatened his job. Nancy even called Moore's ex-husband.

DeHart said the divorce turned into a battle of one-upmanship that culminated in a murder plot.

It took time but Latham finally got on board and joined the plot, he said.

To close out the rebuttal, DeHart played a portion of one of the jailhouse phone calls between Mr. Latham and Moore: "All you need is the seed of doubt," Mr. Latham told Moore.

 

Jurors hear from last two witnesses

Jurors in their third week of testimony heard from the final witnesses for Mr. Latham and Moore, two of the people accused of conspiring to kill Latham's ex-wife, Nancy.

The day began with one of Mr. Latham's oldest and closest friends on the stand.

Bill Lemacks told the court that he had known Mr. Latham since their days at the University of South Carolina in the 1980s. Since then, the two men have remained close.

In fact, Lemacks currently has power of attorney over Latham's estate and he's watching over Moore's children until a verdict comes in the trial.

In earlier testimony, it was revealed that Lemacks received two checks from Mr. Latham and his parents totaling nearly $170,000 that was turned over to David Aylor, who is also Moore's attorney. On Tuesday, he explained those checks and where the money originated.

Lemacks said Mr. Latham's parents wrote an $80,000 check to Aylor and gave it to him to deliver because they were older and did not like traveling downtown. He also said that the money was sent to Aylor so that it would not be used as an asset in the divorce and split between the Lathams.

Lemacks said there was a second check written for $88,000; $46,000 came from a Merrill Lynch account and the remaining sum came from a line of credit.

None of the checks came from personal cash reserves.

According to Lemacks, Mr. Latham was ecstatic the divorce was finally ending.

He also said it was late in 2012 when he figured out Mr. Latham and Moore were seeing each other.

But a year earlier, Lemacks met Moore for the first time. After that, he, Mr. Latham and Moore would gather and watch USC football games and discuss their divorces. All three of them were going through the process of divorcing someone at the time, Lemacks said.

In the early days, Moore, Lemacks and Mr. Latham all had settled on their places around the TV, but in late 2012, that changed and Moore began moving closer to Mr. Latham.

Lemacks said he never heard the couple discuss marriage, but he did hear them talk about living happily ever after someday.

Those plans started to change, however, when Aaron Wilkinson was arrested on Charleston's east side in 2013. The story Wilkinson told investigators led to the arrest of Moore's ex-husband Samuel Yenawine, then Moore's, then Yenawine's current girlfriend Rachel Palmer, and finally Mr. Latham's.

Yenawine died in a Georgetown County jail cell, and according to Lemacks, so did the best piece of evidence for prosecutors because conversations between Yenawine and Moore would tell them more about what was going on than on the testimony of Wilkinson's drug-addled interpretations of what was happening.

Then jurors heard from another former FBI agent who specialized in gathering digital evidence off phones, cameras, and computers.

Alfred Johnson struck a blow to the prosecution's case, saying all of the log files and data they had compiled in the months leading up to the trial was unhelpful. What the investigators should have been gathering were server and router logs – pieces of information that could show where a connection was coming from and when.

Johnson read through 23 different reports of information pulled from devices and said the information only shows half the picture. Server and router logs would show the rest, he said.

That's because routers and servers record the IP address of the machines that access them. A computer sends a join request to a server; part of that "handshake" is location data so that the information is streamed along the most efficient Internet backbone back to the user. Knowing what time zone the server is set to along with those logs will tell an expert where that connection originated, what the request was for, and what time it was made.

Johnson said because those logs were not pulled by ATF and FBI investigators on this case, they have no way of knowing exactly what happened when. According to Johnson, Bank of America's servers reside in Colorado and could be set to Mountain or Pacific time, which means the corresponding hours would be off, leaving incorrect the conclusions by investigators.

Johnson also discussed Mr. Latham's iPhone and the deleted files on it, saying prosecutors never defined how the files were deleted: manually or because it was synced with a computer that overrode the files on the phone.

He also said the state's witnesses never said if they checked Mr. Latham's iCloud for copies of the files since most users have their iPhones set to save to the cloud.

Mr. Latham was asked again if he wanted to exercise his right to testify in his own defense; he declined.


  • Ava Wilhite

    Email: awilhite@abcnews4.com Reporter Profile




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