Murder-for-hire suspect faced murder charges once before

By Valencia

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WCIV) - One of the men implicated in a murder-for-hire plot that originated in Kentucky and ended in the Lowcountry with three arrests was sentenced to life in prison in 2001.

38-year old Samuel Arthur Yenawine, his ex-wife Wendy Moore and Aaron Wilkinson have been charged with conspiracy with the intent to commit murder after police say the three were part of a plot to kill Nancy Latham, a well-know Charleston-area woman going through a divorce from her husband, Chris Latham.

Police have not said Chris Latham is a suspect in this case.

Samuel Yenawine was charged with killing a man and then setting fire to his Louisville, Ky., apartment in 2001. Court documents show Yenawine was acquitted of the murder charges, but convicted on first-degree arson charges.

The fire happened in an apartment in the back of Yenawine's home where Yenawine's then wife, Moore and their 3 children lived.

Yenawine was sentenced to life in prison but was later acquitted.

He was sentenced to life in prison - until a 2005 appeal. That's when the Kentucky state Supreme Court overturned the conviction.

"He received a life sentence for the arson conviction, and appeals as a matter of right. We hold that the trial court erred in failing to give an instruction on third-degree arson and accordingly, we reverse the first-degree arson conviction," the appellate paperwork reads.

The court upheld the second-degree wanton endangerment, tampering with physical evidence, and being a persistent felony offender convictions.

The state of Kentucky built a case of murder and first-degree arson against Yenawine in January 2001, after Yenawine's neighbor, Brian Tinnell, was found dead in the apartment. Reports from WHAS, the ABC affiliate in Louisville, say that police would not initially confirm how Tinnell died, only saying it was not from burns or smoke inhalation.

Testimony would later reveal he was stabbed to death.

Appeals records from 2005 show that the Yenawine and his wife, Wendy Yenawine, rented the home and Tinnell rented a rear apartment. The first floor of the home was used for Brooke and Wendy Modeling, an adult entertainment business.

Court records show Tinnell's apartment did not have a kitchen, but he managed to work out a deal with the Yenawines to cut a doorway into the kitchen if he agreed to be a bodyguard for Wendy Yenawine's adult modeling business.

On Jan. 10, 2001, firefighters responded to the home to put out a fire. They found fire-starting materials near Tinnel's body, and Samuel Yenawine was indicted on murder and arson charges eight days later.

Court records show that Yenawine told police he heard Tinnell leaving one of his children's bedrooms and followed him to confront him about molesting his child. When he did, Tinnell came at him with a knife, which Yenawine was able to wrestle away from him and then stab him six times and slash his throat.

In a recorded conversation, Yenawine said he took the bloody clothes and piled them in the middle of Tinnell's apartment and set fire to them with PVC glue and cleaners.

The story was corroborated by medical experts who examined the wounds on Yenawine's hands and fire investigators who were able to confirm how the fire was started.

During Yenawine's trial, the judge only instructed the jury on first-degree arson, leaving out the lesser third-degree option, which an appellate court judge ruled to be in violation of state law.

As a result, the ruling was overturned.

ABCNews4 were not able to confirm how long Yenawine spent in prison for the arson conviction.

Fast forward 12 years and police documents say Yenawine and his ex-wife worked together in a murder-for-hire scheme worth $35,000.

It started when Wilkinson, the third suspect, was pulled over by Charleston Police for a routine traffic stop. Police found a revolver and one box of ammunition in the car. Wilkinson was arrested based on suspicion and questioned. That's when police say Wilkinson gave them detail about how Yenamine pulled him into the plot.

Wilkinson says he was promised $5,000 to play watchdog and that Yenamine planned to rob Latham then kill her.

Court documents for the case have since been closed by a federal judge.