By Lacy Hilliard
The jury reached a verdict of guilty on Friday, October 11, 2013 in the trial of Mavin Enoch Buddy Potter, Jr. who was charged with two counts of first degree murder in the deaths of Mountain City couple Bill Payne and Billie Jean Hayworth. The couple was killed in their home on January 31, 2012. Their infant son was also in the home at the time of the murders and was found unharmed in his mothers arms.
The majority of witness testimony in the case was given on Thursday, October 10.
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 Wednesdays testimony in which Osborne told the jury that she was a former friend of Jenelle Potter but that shortly after she became acquainted with her, the drama set in and as a result, Osborne removed Jenelle from her Facebook friends list. Osborne testified that subsequent to removing her from her friends list, Janelle began harassing her. As a result of Jenelles alleged harassment, Osborne filed a complaint with the Johnson County Sheriffs department.
The next witness called to the stand was Johnson County Sheriffs Department Chief Deputy Joe Woodard. Woodard testified that he was not only one of the first deputies on the scene of the home Hayworth and 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, Jenelle Potters mother, Marvin Potters 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 and was allegedly often the target of hate speech from the Potters. 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 Wednesdays 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 Thursdays testimony. The phone call played on Thursday was another 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 Wednesdays call, Barbara made the point of quickly telling her husband, You havent had no rest, and you dont have your oxygen, and youre not yourself right now, in response to what seemed her husbands confession.
Next, the prosecution called Christie Groover to the stand. Groover is the estranged daughter of Marvin and Barbara Potter and sister to Jenelle 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. Jenelle has trouble understanding the difference between whats a joke and whats reality, said Groover. She became visibly emotional as she spoke of her severed family ties stating, Jenelle once said that she had cancer and there was no treatment. To my knowledge, that wasnt true. Jenelle was always coddled. She knew how to play my parents.
Next to take the stand was Sheriffs Deputy Mark Gladden. Deputy Gladden was called to Barbara Potters mothers 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 Potters mother-in-law, he noticed a Vietnam Veterans emblem on the front of Marvin Potters vehicle. Because Deputy Gladdens 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, Jenelle Potter and her mom. Stevens told the jury that she tried to console a visibly shaken Billie Jean after the car allegedly containing Jenelle and Barbara Potter drove away and Billie Jean went on to tell Stevens, This wont stop. They follow me everywhere and now that Im a mother, they say Im 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 Jenelle 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 Paynes 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 didnt 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, Id put a bullet right in Bills 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, Id 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, Mathew Richardson, another friend of Payne who is currently serving a 30-day sentence for a Violation of Probation charge, and Sarah Wright, a close friend of Billie Jean Hayworth. 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 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 Jenelle 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. Wright went on to say that when trouble between friends occurred, Hayworth often tried to mediate between friends. Wright also reiterated that while Billy Payne was known to sell prescription drugs to friends and co-workers, It was by no means a drug operation.
When the trial resumed on Friday, testimony was given by Dr. Thomas Schacht, a Forensic Psychologist that interviewed Marvin Potter. Dr. Schacht told the jury that while Marvin Potters history of apoxia (low oxygen levels) could have contributed to an impaired state of mind during his interrogation, the doctor also confirmed that there is no documented case of apoxia causing a patient to lie. The defense used Potters laundry list of medications and the fact that he was without them during his interrogation as a means of explaining the confession he made to his wife on the phone. Finally, TBI Agent Scott Lott took the stand. Lott informed the jury of the process in which he investigated the case and why certain evidence was deemed relative to the case, while other evidence was not. The defense and the prosecution questioned Lott about the machete found next to Paynes body asking, Why didnt you test the machete? to which Lott responded, Because even though Billy Paynes throat was slit, the injury didnt seem consistent with having been caused by a machete. Lott referred to the case as a whodunit in which investigators began by questioning friends and family and branched out to questioning anyone that may be enemies of the victims. After investigators repeatedly asked whether or not the couple had any enemies, the answer became a trend The Potters. Following Lotts testimony, the prosecution and defense gave their closing arguments. The prosecution focused on the evidence, working through each piece of evidence and replaying the various phones calls and video reels of the defendant. The defense focused their closing arguments on Potters medical history and claimed that Agent Lott fed Potter his confession. As the legal teams rested, the jury was given their instructions by Judge Blackwood and exited for deliberations.
After over three hours of deliberating, the jury announced that they had reached a verdict. The jury foreman read the verdict to a hushed courtroom stating, We the jury find the defendant, Marvin Enoch Buddy Potter, Jr. guilty of two counts of murder in the first degree. As the verdict was read, the defendant displayed no noticeable emotion.
In Tennessee a murder one conviction automatically carries one life sentence per count. Therefore, Potter will serve two life sentences. Also charged in the case that has been dubbed The Facebok Murders, are Jenelle and Barbara Potter as well as Jamie Lynn Curd. The Tomahawk will follow each case and update our readers as details become available.
By Lacy Hilliard