Judge sentences murder-for-hire co-defendant to 15 years

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) -- A judge sentenced Wendy Moore to serve 15 years on four charges against her in the murder-for-hire conspiracy to kill Nancy Latham.

Moore was facing 30 years in prison when she was found guilty of conspiracy to commit murder-for-hire, interstate commerce in the commission of murder-for-hire, a weapons charge and conspiracy to commit interstate commerce in the commission of murder-for-hire.

During Tuesday's hearing, Joyce Dean, Moore's mother, said Moore's time in jail has been productive: she's been leading a Bible devotional and has come to understand the consequences of her actions in the plot.

Dean also said her family has suffered as a result of the criminal case, saying Moore missed her daughter's high school graduation and prom, her grandfather's heart attack, and football games with her son.

Her daughter, a 19-year-old sophomore at the university of South Carolina, said her mother worked her way up to provide for her and said she would be a productive member of society when Moore was released from prison.

Moore sobbed through the hearing.

When she was given an opportunity to speak, Moore said she prayed nightly for the Latham women to find peace now that the case was ending. She apologized for the pain she had caused, and was now working to break the cycle of pain for women in prison. She was using her own experiences of abuse as a teaching tool, she said.

The judge asked her to explain her defense, to explain how she came under the direction of her ex-husband Samuel Yenawine and Chris Latham. She invoked her right to silence, however.

Moore's attorney, David Aylor, said he could not talk about her post-traumatic stress diagnosis as it played into the pending appeal, but would not answer repeated questions from the judge on how that diagnosis played into the commission of a crime.

Even the judge said he thought there was more to this story and how the plot came into being than was told in court. Aylor only said he wished he was in a position to tell more.

"She was caught in the middle," Aylor said.

But it was not enough. The judge sentenced Moore to 15 years, which was more than her counterpart but considerably less than the maximum.

Nancy Latham said the witnesses speaking on Moore's behalf said they were sorry for the losses of life experiences with her family, but said Moore was more than willing to take those same things away from the Latham women.

"The fact is, she was willing to kill me, willing to carry this out," she said.

Nancy Latham said she was worried her daughter Madison, who was pictured in the hit packet, may never be fully independent because of what happened. She implored Moore to take ownership of the crime and explain who came up with the idea and who took what steps to carry it out.

Prosecutors depicted Moore as the woman who orchestrated the murder-for-hire plot, putting her then-boyfriend and boss Chris Latham in touch with her ex-husband and convict, Samuel Yenawine.

Chris Latham was sentenced Monday to 10 years in a Florida federal prison.

The case against Latham and Moore came undone when one of the co-conspirators was stopped in downtown Charleston on drug charges and confessed to police the reason he was in the city.

That man, Aaron Wilkinson, took a plea deal to turn on Latham, Moore, Yenawine and Rachel Palmer.

Moore was convicted on all counts against her. Yenawine hanged himself in a Georgetown County jail cell before the case went to trial. Palmer's attorneys this month filed a request to join the pretrial diversion program. And Wilkinson is serving another sentence in prison, but he was sent back to his home state of Kentucky to be near his family.

Wilkinson, Moore, Yenawine, and Palmer were arrested in April 2013. Latham was not arrested until several months later in August.

Evidence in the trial centered on the contents of a hit package found in a North Charleston motel where Wilkinson and his wife were staying. FBI agents testified that they were able to trace the contents of all but one of the items in the package back to their origin.

However, former FBI computer forensics experts working for the defense pointed to holes in the logic that was used to link Moore and Latham to the hit package.

Ultimately, the case lacked fingerprints and DNA evidence that Moore and Latham handled anything in the package, but there was a positive handwriting match to Moore on a piece of paper.

The rest of the evidence came from computer records and the testimony of Wilkinson, a man who confessed to using 1.5 grams of heroin a day at the time of his arrest.

Defense attorneys tried to show that Wilkinson changed his story repeatedly when he was being interviewed by investigators gathering evidence against the rest of the alleged co-conspirators.

But prosecutors argued that the basics of his story matched the behaviors of a group of conspirators trying to cover up their actions.