Attorneys respond to ‘guilty’ plea, reduced sentence of Barbara Potter in 2012 ‘Facebook Murders’

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WASHINGTON COUNTY, Tenn. (WJHL) – Barbara Potter, the mother in a family trio all convicted of first-degree murder in the 2012 killing of a Mountain City couple, agreed to accept a plea deal in Washington County, Tennessee Court on Wednesday, Nov. 10.

The case was dubbed the “Facebook Murders” after a feud on social media between Barbara’s daughter, Jenelle Potter, and the deceased couple, Bill Payne and Billie Jean Hayworth, developed into a real-life conflict.

Barbara Potter was granted a new trial during a post-conviction hearing in August on the grounds that her original trial attorney, Randy Fallin, presented a conflict of interest in representing both Barbara and her husband, Marvin Potter, in their murder trials.

“She was denied due process. Flat out, she was,” said current defense attorney for Barbara Potter, Scott Shults. “My client deserved zealous representation, I fought to do that as best as I could.”

However, that new trial is forgone. Barbara Potter agreed to accept a plea deal – guilty on two counts of facilitation of first-degree murder.

Shults said he encouraged his client to go to trial for the second time, but he respected Barbara’s choice to enter a plea agreement.

“She straight up pled guilty. So, she was wanting to accept fault,” said Shults.

In court Wednesday, Barbara told the judge she was guilty of the charges laid out by the state that detailed her involvement in ‘encouraging’ Marvin Potter and Jamie Curd to commit the crimes.

“Under oath to God, she said ‘I’m guilty. I’m responsible.’ It was surreal to hear her say that,” said the prosecution’s Assistant District Attorney General Dennis Brooks. “I don’t think she would have been acquitted in a second trial, but it’s very likely she could have been found guilty of facilitation, which is what I pled her to.”

The original sentence on her conviction of two counts of first-degree murder was life in prison.

Now, Barbara’s sentence has been reduced to 25 years, of which she must serve 30%. She will soon be eligible for parole based on time served, as she has been behind bars for eight years.

“Overturning a conviction never happens basically, certainly not a first-degree murder conviction,” said Shults. “It gives her something to look forward to. What she is convicted of more appropriately fits the facts that she was accused of now.”

Brooks says he did not want to accept a deal for Barbara Potter, but in doing so, he insisted she plead guilty. Brooks has been representing the state since the beginning of this case, through trial and post-conviction hearings. He says he did not want Barbara to allege innocence.

“I said, you are gonna have to plead guilty. You are going to have to plead under oath that you have responsibility in these people dying,” said Brooks. “Quite frankly, it made me sick to write out the judgments that would allow her to see a parole board. I feel bad for the families, the victims that have to worry about a parole hearing.”

While the fate of Barbara Potter lies in the hand of a parole board, her daughter and husband remain jailed on their first-degree murder charges. Jenelle Potter asked for a new trial at the same time as her mother but was denied. Her attorney has appealed the court’s decision.

Father and husband Marvin Potter admitted during the August post-conviction hearings for his daughter and wife for the first time he pulled the trigger in the early morning hours of January 31, 2012. He told the court he set out to kill Hayworth and Payne because he feared for his daughter Jenelle’s safety after multiple ‘threats’ were made on social media and through chat forums.

Barbara and Jenelle were not at the scene of the crime, but were found guilty for their role in ‘encouraging’ and helping ‘plan’ the murders.

“Conviction for murder was wrong. The jury got it wrong,” said Shults of his client Barbara Potter.

Non-family member and the fourth person convicted in the crime, Jamie Curd, assisted Marvin on the scene of the double-murder. As he provided testimony against the Potter women, Curd was offered a deal during his trial and pled guilty to facilitation of first-degree murder. He received a 25-year sentence.

Curd has since tried and failed to be paroled several times, according to Brooks.

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