A St. Simons Island woman accused in a murder-for-hire plot told an undercover officer she thought was a hit man to kill her brother in a way there could be an open-casket funeral, a Glynn County police captain testified Friday.
Capt. Tommy Tindale said at a preliminary hearing in Glynn County Magistrate Court that Karen Abely Latham, 44, also told the officer that the death of her brother, Washington D.C., lawyer James Abely, could be made to look like an accident while he was on his morning jog.
Latham is charged with attempting to commit murder and solicitation to commit murder after allegedly giving the undercover officer $1,500 for expenses and promising to pay another $10,000 for the murder.
Tindale testified that a nearly hour-long conversation between Latham and an undercover officer from the Lowdnes County (Valdosta) Sheriff's Office Nov. 7 at Dunkin' Donuts, 4435 Altama Ave., Brunswick, had been recorded and video taped.
At one point in the conversation, Tindale said Latham wrote her brother's address on a napkin and slid it across a table to the officer.
The officer repeatedly gave Latham opportunities to back out of the deal, Tindale said. "I think he even gave her three or four opportunities," Tindale testified. "She was adamant she wanted him killed."
Tindale said Latham told the officer she needed a few days to transfer money from one account to another and would call him when it had been done. Tindale said evidence shows Latham transferred $16,000 from a Fidelity account to her Bank of America account.
The undercover officer called Latham Nov. 12 while she was eating at Cracker Barrel, 211 Warren Mason Blvd., Glynn County, and told her he had located Abely and would need $1,500 for expenses, Tindale said.
The officer told her to take the money to the parking lot of Brunswick West Shopping Center, 5420 New Jesup Highway, Glynn County, and put it in the glove box of a silver Jeep Wrangler that would be parked there, Tindale said.
With surveillance cameras running, Tindale said police watched her circle the parking lot in her car and stop next to the Jeep, get out and put the money in the glove box. Police promptly blocked her in with their cars and arrested her, Tindale testified.
In an interview with police at police headquarters, Tindale said Latham explained why she wanted Abely killed: "She admitted she hated her brother. She had hated her brother for 30 years," Tindale said.
He also said Latham admitted to trying to hire someone to kill her brother.
On cross examination, Latham's attorney, Ron Harrison, grilled Tindale about who tipped off police to the alleged plot.
Tindale said Police Chief Matt Doering had passed on the information to him after receiving it from Jim Bishop, a lawyer who has represented the Abely Family for years. Bishop lives on Sea Island, where James Abely and Karen Latham's parents, Joseph and Brenda Abely, also own a house.
Glynn County property tax records list James Abely on a 2013 tax bill as trustee for a trust in Latham's maiden name, Karen Abely, that includes the $1.4 million Sea Island home.
In a telephone interview after the hearing, Jason Tate, a lawyer who periodically assists Bishop with cases involving criminal matters, told The News he and Bishop spent some time corroborating a call Bishop received from James Abely, after Abely allegedly learned Latham may be planning something, before telling Doering about the purported plot.
That information led police to Shannon Tanner, a convicted felon who told Tindale that Latham had given him more than $70,000 over the previous seven months to help him get back on his feet after living in a halfway house.
Tindale testified that Tanner told him Latham had taken a joke he made about giving her brother a "south Georgia boat ride" seriously. Tindale described a south Georgia boat ride as a fishing trip in which two people leave, but only one comes back.
Harrison asked Magistrate Court Judge Timothy Barton to set bail for Latham, who has been in the Glynn County Detention Center since her arrest Nov. 12. Barton refused.
"I find you a danger to the community, specifically (to) your brother," Barton said.
The case now moves to Glynn County Superior Court. If convicted, Latham could face one to 30 years in prison for attempting to commit murder and one to five years in prison for solicitation to commit murder.
* Reporter Michael Hall writes about public safety, environment and other local topics. Contact him at mhall@thebrunswick news.com, on Facebook or at 265-8320, ext. 320.