RICHMOND — The violence in Matt Denholm's life didn't begin or end with the alleged 2010 kidnapping and murder of a Richmond couple.
Court records show the veteran of Iraq had a history of violent episodes, might have been involved in illegal gun trafficking, and suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, a type of anxiety disorder that often affects those who return from war.
Denholm, 27, and a friend, Daniel Keene, 26, were charged last week in the kidnappings and deaths of Sonsaray Warford, 30, and her boyfriend, Charles Walker, 30. Denholm and Keene have pleaded not guilty to charges of murder, kidnapping and tampering with physical evidence. A grand jury will decide whether to indict the men.
Two bodies were found in a grave in Madison County last week. Warford was preliminarily identified through a tattoo, and authorities are trying to positively identify the other body, police said Friday.
Walker allegedly was targeted in a contract killing by a Richmond drug dealer because Walker had stolen $180,000 from the man, an affidavit in the case says. Police have said Warford was not a target but died because she was with Walker at the time.
Keene told police that Denholm did the execution-style shooting of Warford and the torture and mutilation of Walker.
But Denholm's aunt said that paints an incomplete and inaccurate picture of the Denholm his family knows.
"He's the type of person who, when he walks into a room where the rest of his family is eating, he will wait until everybody else is done, not wanting to impose or take from us," Carol Kirby of Berea said.
Nevertheless, instances of violence are outlined — including statements that Denholm was a hit man — by others in court records. And Denholm is accused of killing another Iraq war veteran months before Keene told police about Warford and Walker being kidnapped and killed.
'Portrayed himself' as hit man
An uncle, Frank Denholm, said last year that Matt Denholm joined the Army after graduating from high school in Brookings, S.D.
Frank Denholm, a former U.S. congressman, said his nephew served a tour of duty in Iraq with the Army, disarming roadside bombs.
The former congressman said he thought at the time that Matt Denholm was honorably discharged from the Army and that his work in Afghanistan — also disarming bombs — was with a private security firm.
Denholm was listed as an in- patient for alcohol rehabilitation and post-traumatic stress disorder at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Lexington, according to family court records in Madison County.
Justin Weigel, a cousin of Denholm, told police that Denholm had mentioned to him and other relatives "that he has been paid money before to shoot people and basically portrayed himself as a 'hit man,'" the affidavit says.
Weigel said "he had become aware that Matthew Denholm was hired by a person whose identity was unknown to him to do these type of jobs and stated that Daniel Keene was also involved."
Denholm and Keene knew each other through their work in security for a Lexington hotel, Richmond police say in an affidavit outlining their justification for searches of properties associated with the two men. Denholm also worked as a security guard at Blue Grass Army Depot and in security at Berea College from November 2010 to March 2011.
Weigel told police that Denholm was involved in the sale or transfer of illegal firearms, the affidavit says. Denholm had told Weigel that "he was doing a 'gun run' out of Chicago, and he received a substantial amount of money for doing the job." Weigel told police that Keene might have been involved.
Weigel told Kentucky State Police that Denholm was involved in illegal drug activity and "running guns out of Louisville," the affidavit says.
Keene, Matt Denholm and Lebruce Ellington, who allegedly arranged for Warford and Walker to be killed, once spent a night firing a rocket-propelled grenade, a shoulder-fired, anti-tank weapon, the affidavit says. The source for this was a woman who once roomed with Keene and who dated Ellington.
In November, Denholm was charged with murder in the death of Iraq war veteran Zackary Flower, 25, and was accused of wounding Flower's roommate, Kevin Price, in an apartment building across from Berea City Hall.
Police said Flower, Price and another man intervened to help a Latino man with whom Denholm was fighting. Denholm lost the fight but returned to the apartment, firing a shotgun through the door before kicking it open, and shooting Flower and Price.
Neither Denholm nor Keene faces charges related to gun-running. A public defender for Denholm questions the veracity of statements made against Denholm by sources who are facing stiff federal penalties for their alleged participation in a Richmond cocaine-trafficking conspiracy.
Domestic violence alleged
Several instances of domestic violence in Denholm's life are also described in the affidavit and court documents.
Richmond police also interviewed Sarah Denholm, Matt Denholm's second wife. The couple met in December 2008, married in July 2009, and had lived in Maysville, Richmond and Berea at various points in their marriage.
Sarah Denholm told police that her husband threatened her in 2009 while camping on a relative's property near Three Links in Rockcastle County.
Sarah Denholm said that while she was riding on a small raft in the middle of a pond, Matt Denholm fired several shots in the water around her with a .22-caliber bolt-action rifle.
"Sarah Denholm stated that Matthew Denholm remarked to her how easy it would be for him to get rid of her and that no one would be able to find her body," the affidavit says.
There was no specific reason for firing the shots, Sarah Denholm told police. She said it was "basically normal behavior for him."
Sarah Denholm also told police that Matt Denholm had mentioned shooting someone in the leg while "assisting as security for a drug-related transaction." She also told police that he "returned home one morning dressed all in black clothing and instructed her (that) if anyone should inquire about where he had been that night, she should tell them he was at home." Matt Denholm had guns with him on that occasion, the affidavit says.
Sarah Denholm said her uncle had told her father that "Matthew Denholm and Daniel Keene killed people for money." Her father then told her about her uncle's comment.
Sarah and Matt Denholm separated in May 2011, she told police, after he physically assaulted her. Family court records say Matt Denholm grabbed her by the throat and choked her as she was nursing their year-old son.
In a domestic violence petition filed in Madison County, Sarah Denholm said Matt Denholm also grabbed her jaw, "saying he would break it."
"The baby is trying to get out from between us, and he (Matt) was pushing his knee into the baby's back saying I can't use the baby as a shield," Sarah Denholm said in the petition.
Matt Denholm, who had been drinking, eventually let his wife get up from the couch, and she left their Berea apartment with the baby, according to the petition.
Last May, Matt Denholm was charged with second-degree wanton endangerment and fourth-degree assault in Madison County. The wanton endangerment charge was dismissed in June, and the assault charge was amended to harassment, according to Madison District Court records.
A 60-day sentence on the harassment charge was conditionally discharged as long as Matt Denholm had no other criminal offenses and followed the conditions of a domestic violence order that Sarah Denholm received in June. The order is in effect until 2014.
Sarah Denholm filed for divorce in June, and the case is pending. A custody case involving a minor child is also on appeal, according to an email from Catherine Monzingo, the attorney who represents Sarah Denholm.
An undated note in a domestic violence file in Madison Family Court said: "The FBI called and made us aware Mr. Denholm has attempted to purchase a handgun."
A Fayette County grand jury indicted Denholm in a Sept. 19 incident in which he allegedly took a KA-BAR military knife and used it to damage the interior and exterior of a car, causing $1,000 or more in damage. The victim was listed as a "J. Weigel," which might have been Denholm's cousin, Justin Weigel. Court records listed the victim as a friend of Denholm.