Date of Alleged Crime: July 16, 2000
After a storm at sea, a shrimp boat named “The Bandit,”
containing Alvin Latham and the ship's captain, Raymond Leiker, failed to
return to its home port of Venice, LA. Latham was picked up at sea 14
hours later holding onto a piece of wood. He said the storm came up
suddenly and that while trying to pull fish into the boat, Leiker's foot got
caught in a fishing net. Latham tried to help Leiker free his foot, but
eventually Leiker told him to save himself. Moments after Latham swam
away from the boat, the boat submerged into the sea.
Leiker's body was found five days after the storm. The coroner ruled
his death a homicide, because an autopsy of the body indicated several
defensive stab wounds and a blow to the head. In addition, Leiker was
allegedly attached to the boat and should have sank with it, but was found
floating on the surface.
After a grueling eight-hour videotaped interrogation, police got Latham to
confess that he clubbed Leiker with a pipe on the back of his head in order
to obtain the only life jacket on the boat. Then after Latham put on
the life jacket, Leiker came back at him and Latham used a knife to defend
himself. The case prompted a discussion of “lifeboat ethics” in the
press involving the morality of having to kill others in order to survive.
A review of the taped interrogation shows that the confession was
involuntary. Latham repeatedly guessed at details until police
accepted his answers. Secondly, the owner of the boat, who leased it
to Leiker, said there were three life jackets on board. Thirdly,
Latham was not wearing a life jacket when he was picked up.
A defense review of the autopsy findings showed that the alleged stab wounds
were not very deep. The defense felt that Leiker's floating body had
been run over by a boat several days after the storm, and that the boat's
propeller had caused the shallow stab wounds and the blow to the head. The boat owner who found Leiker readily agreed that his body had been run
over. In addition, the owner noted that Leiker was found wearing only
one boot, corroborating Latham's original story.
At Latham's trial for third degree murder, the prosecution presented
Latham's confession. However, after the jury watched the entire
eight-hour tape of Latham's interrogation, they acquitted him.
Reference: Forensic Files
Victims of the State,
Inconsistent Confessions, Favorite Case Stories