Jury quickly finds Latham guilty of first degree property damage
It took only 18 minutes for an Ozark County jury to unanimously find Gainesville resident Johnathan Latham, 48, guilty of first-degree property damage after hearing the evidence in an Oct. 24 trial with Wright County Associate Judge Lynette Veenstra presiding. The case was filed in connection with allegations that Latham burned a John Deere tractor that belonged to his aunt, Judy Latham. The case was assigned to Veenstra by 44th Circuit Judge Craig Carter earlier this year.
Because the trial was conducted and the verdict was reached so quickly, the second scheduled day of the trial, Friday, Oct. 25, was not needed. Latham’s attorneys, John H. Kizer and Lauren Kate Welborn from the Missouri State Public Defender’s Office, requested a sentencing assessment report, which the Missouri Division of Probation and Parole prepares to provide the court with information regarding risk and related factors necessary in making an appropriate sentencing decision. A sentencing hearing is scheduled for 1 p.m. Friday, Dec. 6.
During the scheduled sentencing hearing, Latham will also be sentenced in a separate case in which he pleaded guilty, during an Aug. 16 plea hearing before Veenstra, to damaging jail property.
Property damage allegations
The case that was presented to the jury involved Latham’s alleged bulldozing down and burning a manufactured home and setting fire to a John Deere tractor in April 2016.
When the case was originally filed by then-Prosecuting Attorney Tom Cline, Latham was charged with property damage and arson. The charge of arson was filed for the alleged burning of the home, and the property damage was connected to the destruction of the tractor. When now-Prosecuting Attorney John Garrabrant came into office after Cline’s retirement, he filed an amended complaint, amending the arson charge to an additional count of property damage based on the evidence and facts of the case. At that point, Latham was charged with two counts of property damage in the case.
On Oct. 2, with the state and defense attorneys present, Veenstra dismissed the property damage charge involving the burned home, citing the statute of limitations that had expired.
According to the probable cause statement originally filed in the case, Ozark County Cpl. Curtis Dobbs was contacted at 8 p.m. Friday, April 8, 2016, by Judy Latham, who told the deputy she had received a phone call from someone who told her John Latham had demolished a manufactured home on County Road 308A with a bulldozer and a John Deere tractor had been burned and pushed into a pile with the demolished home’s debris. She showed the deputy a cell phone photo and explained that the property is part of the estate of her late husband, Jerry W. Latham, Johnathan Latham’s uncle. She also provided court documentation saying she was appointed as the estate representative of a list of assets, including the home and tractor that had been destroyed.
On April 9, 2016, deputies were reportedly dispatched to the property regarding a domestic dispute, and while the deputies were on the scene they identified manufactured-home parts and part of a tractor that had been pushed into a low area and appeared to have been burned. When the officers asked John Latham about the debris, he reportedly told the officers he had called in a controlled burn for the property.
Online documents show that the address of the destroyed property on County Road 308A was the same as John Latham’s residential address, indicating that he had likely resided at the residence for some time despite its ownership by his uncle.
The home was valued at $5,290 by the Ozark County Assessor’s Office, and the tractor was listed with a value of $7,500.
Damage to jail property
The damage-to-jail-property charge Latham pleaded guilty to was in connection with a May 11, 2016, incident in which Latham reportedly ripped a TV from the wall in the B-pod of the Ozark County Jail, shattering the screen, and that he also destroyed an overhead light and smoke detector with a broom handle. The damage was reportedly done by Latham in a fit of anger after an argument with another inmate.
A probable cause statement written by Ozark County Chief Deputy Winston Collins indicates the officer was notified that an inmate had damaged jail property around 2:30 p.m. that day, and when he arrived in the B-pod of the jail, the communal TV was lying on the floor with a shattered screen. Collins wrote that the TV “appears to have been pulled off the brackets that secured it to the wall.” A jailer reportedly told the officer he observed the incident and notified additional personnel for officer safety. Latham also reportedly damaged the satellite receiver, two overhead lights to the jail community area and a smoke detector when he struck the items with a broom handle that was part of the cleaning supplies Latham had been given to clean the jailhouse pod.
Collins and Deputy Vesa Phelan reportedly placed Latham in restraints and escorted him from the jail. He was transported to the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office in Ava to be placed in a padded cell, or “rubber room,” Sheriff Darrin Reed said. While in the vehicle, Latham reportedly made several references to damaging the items. Collins read him his Miranda rights, and Latham told the officers he took his frustration out on the TV after having a verbal argument with another inmate. Latham reportedly damaged the padded cell at the Douglas County Jail, Reed said.