By Lacy Hilliard
Billy Clay Payne (36) and his fiancé, Billie Jean Hayworth, (23) were found dead in the home they shared with Billy Payne’s father, Billy Payne Sr. or better known as “Paw Bill” at 128 James Davis Lane in Mountain City on the morning of January 31, 2012. Their infant son lay in his mothers’ lifeless arms until a family friend discovered the gruesome scene. Both victims were shot in the head and additionally Billy Payne’s throat was slit. The remaining alleged perpetrators of the crime that has rocked the members of otherwise peaceful and picturesque Johnson County community are finally getting their day in court.
The joint trial for mother and daughter, Barbara Mae (64) and Jenelle Leigh (35) Potter, began on Monday, May 4, 2015. Marvin Potter (63), husband of Barbara and father of Jenelle, is currently serving a life term in prison for a murder-one conviction in the same crime. Though the crime occurred in Johnson County, the trial is taking place in Jonesborough due to the overwhelming volume of press the case has received.
The trial began with the formal reading of charges. Both Barbara and Jenelle Potter are charged with first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit first-degree murder. Additionally, Barbara Potter is charged with tampering with evidence for allegedly ripping up photos pertaining to the crime in front of Investigator Joe Woodard. Both women formally entered “not guilty” pleas following the reading of the charges.
Assistant District Attorney Dennis Brooks gave the opening argument for the state. He began by stating, “This is going to be the stupidest thing you’ve ever heard. This is going to be the craziest thing you’ve ever heard.” Brooks went on say to the jury, “There is nothing in your lives or background that has prepared you to understand the Potter family.” Brooks then informed the jury that the volume of digital evidence in the form of emails, Facebook messages and screenshots as well as text messages all allegedly sent by either Barbara or Jenelle Potter is vast. “I’m telling you right now, this case is so layered,” said Brooks. According to Brooks, the jurors will be given copies of all the digital evidence pertaining to the case.
In his opening argument, Brooks stated, “This is the story of a manufactured conflict born from the mind of a very bored and lonely 30-year-old woman.” The woman Brooks was referring to is Jenelle Potter. It is the state’s theory that Jenelle Potter carried out a “catfishing” scheme that ultimately led to the murders of Payne and Hayworth. “Catfishing” is a relatively new term that refers to using the Internet under a fake persona in order to form a relationship with someone. As a means to solidify this theory, the state will present evidence that Jenelle Potter allegedly created various online personas and used them to communicate with both her mother, Barbara Potter, and her boyfriend at the time, Jamie Lynn Curd. Curd was also charged in the murders of Payne and Hayworth, however, he accepted a plea and will testify in the Barbara and Jenelle Potter trial. The alleged personas are all male and one in particular, who goes by the name of Chris, formed such a deep relationship with the Potter family that Barbara referred to him as “son” and he to her as “mom.” It was inferred by Brooks that it was “Chris,” not Jamie Curd, that was originally slated to help Marvin Potter carry out the murders. Tim, Brian, Matt Potter and Dan White are also alleged online aliases of Jenelle Potter’s. The state claims that all the personas originated from the same IP address – the Potters’ family computer. Though the men are “not going to walk through the door and take the stand” because according to Brooks, these men are “fabricated from the mind of Jenelle Potter,” one tangible alleged online love interest of Jenelle’s is set to take the stand. Bob Meehan, a man from Pennsylvania who formed an online relationship with Jenelle Potter to the point that he “buys Jenelle a diamond ring and sends it through the mail” said Brooks, will be called as a witness in the trial.
Brooks told the jury of the many idiosyncrasies of the relationship between Jenelle Potter and her parents stating, “Jenelle Potter didn’t get out much. If she went out it was with one or both of her parents. When she had relationships with boys it either involved them or the telephone or the computer. Particularly, he spoke about Barbara’s alleged dislike of Jenelle’s relationship with Jamie Lynn Curd. Brooks went on to describe Barbara Potter as “meddlesome” and stated that at the beginning of Jenelle Potter and Jamie Curd’s relationship, Jenelle communicated with Jamie on the house phone but those, “conversations were short because Barbara Potter was always lingering.” As a result, Jamie Curd allegedly purchased two cell phones for Jenelle. The first was allegedly confiscated by Barbara Potter; the second was allegedly used to complete some of the communication entered as evidence in the case.
Following the state’s opening argument, Randy Fallin, attorney for Barbara Potter, addressed the jury. He described Barbara Potter as a “loving mother” and went on to suggest that it is not the Potter women that are the key to this case as the state presented but rather Jamie Lynn Curd. Fallin went on to state that Jamie Curd had access to not only the Potters’ computer but also the victims’ computers, as he was a cousin and friend to Billy Payne. Fallin stated in reference to the murders of Payne and Hayworth, ““Jamie had every opportunity to stop it, but he never did.”
After Fallin concluded, attorney for Jenelle Potter, Cameron Hyder, gave his opening statement. “What you’ve heard from the state this morning for two hours is a lot of smoke and mirrors,” said Hyder. He went on to say, “The state will have you believe that Jenelle Potter coerced Jamie Curd, a man eight to ten years older than her to complete these acts.” Hyder told the ladies and gentlemen of the jury that they will hear expert testimony that proves “Jenelle Potter operates on the level of an eight or nine-year-old.” Hyder also cautioned the jury to remember that it’s not illegal to “spew hate and vitriol over the Internet.”
For the rest of the story, pick up a copy of this week's Tomahawk.