Day four of the Marvin Potter trial includes several witness testimonies
Thursday, October 10 marks the fourth day of the Marvin Enoch “Buddy” Potter Jr. trial. Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood is presiding. Potter is one of four people charged in the deaths of Billie Jean Hayworth and Billy Payne of Mountain City in a case that has been dubbed “The Facebook Murders” and has gained national attention due to the role the popular social networking site played in the case. Marvin Potter is the first of the four to stand trial.
The first witness to take the stand on Thursday was Tara Osborne. Osborne had already provided testimony on day three of the trial but they asked her to take the stand again to give the defense a chance to cross-examine. The link between Osborne and the defendant was established during Wednesday’s testimony in which Osborne told the jury that she was a former friend of Janelle Potter’s but that shortly after she became acquainted with her “the drama set in” and as a result, Osborne removed Janelle from her Facebook friends list. Osborne testified that subsequent to removing Janelle from her Facebook friends list, Janelle began harassing her. As a result of Janelle’s alleged harassment, Osborne filed a complaint with the Johnson County Sheriff’s department.
The next witness called to the stand was Johnson County Sheriff’s Department Chief Deputy Joe Woodard. Woodard testified that he was not only one of the first deputies on the scene of the home Billie Jean Hayworth and Billy Payne shared, but he has been with the case throughout. Woodard told the jury that his role has been to log in evidence related to the case. Woodard went on to testify that Barbara Potter, Janelle Potter’s mother, Marvin Potter’s wife and one of the four charged in the case, ripped several documents in front of him. Woodard instructed Barbara Potter to give him the documents and she complied. Several of the documents Barbara Potter attempted to rip up contained pictures of Billie Jean Hayworth with various friends including one with Lindsey Thomas who took the stand on Wednesday. The photos were printed from emails that contained degrading subject lines aimed at the people in the photos.
In addition to the recorded phone call played during Wednesday’s testimony in which Marvin Potter said to his wife, Barbara, “Before you hear it from anyone else, I was involved. I did it,” another phone call was played for the jury during Thursday’s testimony. The phone call played on Thursday was also a conversation between Marvin and Barbara Potter in which Barbara said, “I got rid of it all. I got rid of the junk.” The defense made the point that both Marvin and Barbara Potter were aware that their phone calls could be recorded as they were placed from the county jail. During Wednesday’s call, Barbara made the point of quickly telling her husband, “You haven’t had no rest, and you don’t have your oxygen, and you’re not yourself right now,” in response to what seemed her husband's confession.
Next, the prosecution called Christie Groover to the stand. Groover is the estranged daughter of Marvin and Barbara Potter and sister to Janelle Potter. Groover testified to moving out of the family home at the end of 1999 and when asked if she had a good relationship with her immediate family, she said, “No.” The prosecution went on to ask her who in her family gave her the most problems, and she said, “My mother.” Groover also testified that she tried to have a good relationship with her sister but she said her sister made it difficult. “Janelle has trouble understanding the difference between what’s a joke and what’s reality,” said Groover. She became visibly emotional as she spoke of her severed family ties stating, “Janelle once said that she had cancer and there was no treatment. To my knowledge, that wasn’t true. Janelle was always coddled. She knew how to play my parents.”
Next to take the stand was Sheriff’s Deputy Mark Gladden. Deputy Gladden was called to Barbara Potter’s mother's house in July 2010 on an "unwanted guest" call. It was while responding to this call that Gladden became acquainted with Marvin Potter. As Deputy Gladden was standing outside the residence of Marvin Potter’s mother-in-law, he noticed a Vietnam Veteran's emblem on the front of Marvin Potter's vehicle. Because Deputy Gladden’s father was a Vietnam vet, he engaged Marvin Potter in conversation. According to his testimony, Marvin Potter told Deputy Gladden that when he was in Vietnam, he was “affiliated with the CIA.”
Linda Stevens was the next witness called by the prosecution. Linda is the wife of Roy Stevens, the man who first discovered the bodies of Billie Jean Hayworth and Billy Payne on the morning of January 31, 2012. Stevens testified to an altercation she witnessed at Doe Valley Food Mart where she is employed. “As I was putting bread in the microwave, I noticed Billie Jean outside pumping gas. I noticed she was crying and a look of dread came over her face as a car pulled up. The people in the car were yelling at Billie Jean and she was becoming more upset. So I went outside,” said Stevens. “I asked her if she wanted me to call the police and she said ‘Yeah, I think I do.’” Stevens went on to say that after the police were mentioned, the car drove away. She also testified that Billie Jean and her infant son, Tyler, were headed to his first well baby exam when the altercation occurred and that Billy Payne had remained home because he felt he was coming down with something. “I asked Billie Jean who was in the car and she said, ‘Janelle Potter and her mom.'” Stevens told the jury that she tried to console a visibly shaken Billie Jean after the car allegedly containing Janelle and Barbara Potter drove away and Billie Jean went on to tell Stevens, “This won’t stop. They follow me everywhere and now that I’m a mother, they say I’m unfit. They call me trash. They are constantly threatening me.” When asked if Hayworth was referring to the Potters she replied, “Yes.”
Sheriff Mike Reece was next to take the stand. He stated that in a previous encounter with Marvin Potter, “Potter stated to me that he worked for the CIA before and he was just waiting for his orders to be called back.” This particular encounter with Marvin Potter was due to Janelle being upset because EMS Director Eugene Campbell had removed her from his Facebook friends list. “It seemed like the Potters thought I was over EMS but I explained to them that I have no control over that.”
Billy Payne’s sister, Tracy Greenwell, was called to the stand where she described a close knit relationship with her brother whom she described as a doting father and fiancé, saying, “Everything got better for Billy after Billie Jean came in the picture. He had prescriptions when he met Billie Jean and he knew it was going to be serious, so he got into treatment for the prescriptions and started reading a biblical promise book every day. He even quit smoking when Tyler was born because he said he didn’t want smoke around him.” When Greenwell was asked if she was aware that her brother sold his prescription medication from time to time, she replied, “Yes.”
The next witness for the prosecution was Jerry (J.D.) Winebarger. Winebarger was employed by Food Lion in Mountain City when he became acquainted with the Potters. When the witness was asked what he and the Potters talked about, he said, “They usually talked about Billie Jean and Bill. They had nothing good to say about them.” The most compelling testimony Winebarger gave was when he said that after an unknown altercation with Hayworth and Payne, Marvin Potter told him, “If I ever get the chance, I’d put a bullet right in Bill’s head.” Following the murders, Jerry Winebarger continued his conversations with the Potters when they came in to Food Lion. Winebarger told the jury that he said to Marvin Potter in reference to the murders, “Whoever could kill Billie Jean while she held her son has to be cold.” Winebarger then went on to say, “After I said that, if looks could kill, I’d be dead.”
The defense cross examined Winebarger asking him whether or not he knew the Potters outside of work to which he responded, “No.” Attorney for the defense Randy Fallin then went on to ask the witness whether or not he was saying these things just so he could be involved in the case for “fun or publicity” to which Winebarger responded, “No.”
After Winebarger took the stand, Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood stated, “The court has found that the state has presented sufficient evidence” and “the request for acquittal has been denied.”
Finally the defense called a series of three witnesses including David Calvin Williams, a former close friend of Billy Payne’s, Mathew Richardson, another friend of Payne’s who is currently serving a 30-day sentence for a Violation of Probation charge, and Sarah Wright, a close friend of Billie Jean Hayworth’s. The defense asked each witness to testify to the drug activity allegedly surrounding Billy Payne. Each witness testified that Billy Payne was known to sell both Loratabs and Suboxone Strips to friends and co-workers, but each stated it never went beyond that. Both Williams and Richardson testified that they were present during an altercation between Bill Payne and the Potters in which they felt that some resolve had been achieved. Richardson stated, “Marvin (Potter) told Billy that if anything else came up to call him and they would handle it personally.” Richardson said Payne seemed satisfied with that resolve. Both Richardson and
Williams testified to being present at this altercation, which also took place at Doe Valley Food Mart. Williams stated that he believed the meeting to be a result of “threatening internet activity from Janelle Potter,” which Billy Payne logged in a notebook, which he shared with Williams. Both Williams and Richardson also testified that Billy Payne told them he was expecting a drug shipment the night before he was murdered.
A tearful Sarah Wright ended her testimony saying, “Billie Jean is a quiet person that never caused drama and even tried to mediate between friends.” Wright also reiterated that while Billy Payne was known to sell drugs to friends and co-workers, “It was by no means a drug operation.”
Testimony will continue tomorrow in the Marvin Potter trial. Keep an eye on The Tomahawk for updates as they occur.