Teen charged with killing CO ordered back to jail after arrest

Zachary Latham threatened a motorist with a pellet gun that resembled an AK-47 assault rifle during a confrontation


By Matt Gray
NJ.com

LEE COUNTY, Fla. — A South Jersey man charged with aggravated manslaughter in the stabbing death of a neighbor will return to jail to await trial following his recent arrest in Florida for allegedly threatening a motorist.

Zachary T. Latham, 18, of Vineland, was charged last May in the killing of veteran state corrections officer William T. Durham Sr., 51, following an ongoing dispute. Latham was released from jail that same month, over the objection of prosecutors and Durham’s family, and allowed to relocate to Florida while he awaited trial in New Jersey.

Durham worked at South Woods State Prison and had served with the New Jersey Department of Corrections for 19 years.
Durham worked at South Woods State Prison and had served with the New Jersey Department of Corrections for 19 years. (Photo/GoFundMe)

He got a job as a car salesman in Fort Myers, but continued to push the boundaries of his release orders, authorities said.

In September, a judge ordered Latham to stop commenting publicly about the Durham case after he made several comments on social media and after the Durhams’ home address was shared by a commenter on one of his TikTok posts.

Prosecutors allege he then created a new TikTok account and continued posting about the case. They filed a motion last month seeking to revoke his release over these issues.

Before that matter could be heard by a judge, Florida Highway Patrol arrested Latham on Jan. 23 in Fort Myers after they say he threatened a motorist with a pellet gun that resembles an AK-47 assault rifle during a confrontation in which he tried to ram the victim’s vehicle, police there said.

He was charged with two counts of aggravated assault and freed from jail on electronic monitoring after posting bond.

In arguing for Latham’s detention on Tuesday afternoon, Assistant Cumberland County Prosecutor Charles Wettstein outlined the new charges and said the defendant’s recent social media behavior shows a lack of respect for the court’s order.

Latham has also boasted about the Vineland killing, Wettstein alleged.

“The defendant has used this crime as a source of acclaim in Florida, where he presently lives, bragging that he is famous for being a cop killer,” Wettstein said. “He has used this to intimidate others in hopes of preventing them from providing information and cooperating in that investigation.”

Public defender Nathan Perry called the prosecution’s decision to appeal Latham’s original release order “ridiculous,” criticized the “grossly unwarranted” media attention the case has received and accused others of harassing his client, going after him on social media, threatening his life, publicizing his address and even getting him fired from his job in Florida.

Perry shared social media posts, including one by a woman talking about how she planned to kill Latham if she saw him.

“Ever since Mr. Latham was released, some certain individuals have formed like these … modern day lynch mobs,” Perry said. “They’re literally Zach Latham hate groups that are formed online. … One person, I understand, in law enforcement incessantly called his job in Florida and successfully managed to get him fired by calling his employer over and over and over again.

“These people, including family members of the Durhams, constantly bait Mr. Latham.”

Problems between Latham and the Durhams allegedly began after the victim’s wife, Catherine, told Latham to stop speeding in their Vineland neighborhood. Latham posted a video of the encounter on TikTok, and followed up with additional videos mocking the family, authorities said.

The dispute grew more heated in the following weeks and ended in the fatal encounter on May 4, authorities have said. Durham Sr. and his sons arrived at Latham’s property to confront him. They were unarmed, but Latham emerged from his house with a stun gun and knives as his wife recorded with her cellphone, authorities said.

A bloody brawl followed between the Durhams, Latham and two of his friends. Latham stabbed Durham Sr. multiple times and he later died at a hospital, authorities alleged.

Latham claimed he was defending himself and his attorney argued that, “to a very, very fair extent, the Durhams visited this great sadness upon themselves.” An attorney for the Durhams claimed Latham lured the family into the fatal confrontation for “TikTok fame.”

He was charged with first-degree aggravated manslaughter, two second-degree counts of aggravated assault and various weapons offenses, while the victim’s wife and two kids were charged with assault and trespassing.

Latham has yet to be indicted, but one of Durham’s sons was indicted recently on charges of third-degree aggravated assault and fourth-degree criminal trespass.

The Cumberland County Prosecutor’s Office appealed Latham’s pretrial release in May, arguing that he initiated the violence and could have gone back into his home and called police. They also cited a pending juvenile court matter from an unrelated incident weeks before the killing in which Latham was charged with simple assault, terroristic threats and criminal mischief. That matter was unrelated to the Durhams.

An appellate panel rejected the bid.

When Latham was first arrested in the killing, the court’s pretrial services unit recommended he remain detained based on the severity of the new charges, but Superior Court Judge William F. Ziegler found release from custody was presumed, based on his reading of state law.

Ziegler said Tuesday that stood by his original decision to grant Latham’s release, but recent events changed his evaluation.

“Now, I’m confronted with the fact that the defendant in this case has violated three key conditions of his pretrial release,” Ziegler said, including being charged with a new violent crime, a violation involving weapons and continuing to post about the case on social media.

“I can’t any longer fall back on the proposition that this is one instance of aberrant behavior based upon factors that are not likely to recur,” he said of the New Jersey charges. “The defendant apparently has now at least exhibited in the state of Florida as well as in New Jersey with the tragic events that occurred here that he is not capable of governing himself or his emotions and is in fact prone to threats of — or in fact engaging in — violent conduct.”

Ziegler directed the prosecutor’s office to communicate with authorities in Florida over how to detain Latham.

Latham, who turned 18 just weeks before the killing, lived with his grandparents several houses down from the Durhams. He was emancipated at the age of 17, got married and served as a private in the New Jersey National Guard. A spokeswoman confirmed last week that Latham was “separated” from the guard in September.

Latham’s arrest in Florida began with an alleged dispute at a car meet.

He allegedly told a 17-year-old motorist that he had a gun, displayed what appeared to be a weapon sticking out of his pants and tried to ram the victim’s car, according to a probable cause statement. Latham denied he had taken the airsoft rifle out of a bag in his car and said he chased after the other driver after he backed into a friend’s car.

Latham claimed he recorded the encounter, but police said that turned out to be untrue.

___

(c)2021 NJ Advance Media Group, Edison, N.J.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

Recommended for you

Copyright © 2021 Corrections1. All rights reserved.