JONESBOROUGH, Tenn. (WJHL) — Closing arguments are now complete in the post-conviction hearing for a Johnson County mother-daughter duo sentenced to life in prison for the so-called 2012 “Facebook Murders” in Mountain City.
A jury found Barbara Potter and Jenelle Potter guilty in 2015 for playing a role in the shooting deaths of Bill Payne and Billie Jean Hayworth. The young couple was in their home when they died, their young son left unharmed in his mother’s arms as she died.
Wednesday marked the second day of the post-conviction hearing for Jenelle and Barbara. A judge heard the final closing arguments this second and final day of the hearing.
It is an argument of “new evidence” as defense attorneys ask the judge to grant the duo new trials.
Shocking new testimony came from husband and father to the Potter women, Marvin “Buddy” Potter, in court Tuesday.
“I committed the crime,” Marvin admitted before a judge and his own family for the first time.
He was convicted in his 2013 trial of firing the gun in the 2012 murders of Bill Payne and Billie Jean Hayworth, charged with two counts of first-degree murder and is now serving two life sentences. Marvin gave a full admission of guilt in the death of Bill Payne at Tuesday’s hearing.
“Did you accidentally slit his throat?” asked Deputy District Attorney Dennis Brooks.
“No sir, I did that on purpose. Because of what they were saying about my daughter,” Marvin Potter replied.
Marvin is referring to the social media turned real-life feud between his family and the deceased couple and their friends. Marvin testified his convicted accomplice, Jamie Curd, shot Billie Jean Hayworth.
One of Marvin’s most compelling statements from the stand is that his wife and daughter played no role in convincing him to kill.
Barbara and Jenelle’s attorneys argue if he had testified to this in the original trial of these two women, they would be free today.
“I think his testimony was too important not to hear,” said Jenelle Potter’s current defense attorney, Grace Studer.
She added that since Marvin testified that Jamie Curd is the one who showed him concerning documents where someone allegedly threatened to harm his daughter, a jury would see this as proof the women did not encourage him to commit the crime.
“They were charged under Tennessee’s ‘criminal responsibility statute’ and that statute requires the state to show that the individual had the culpable mental state of the primary trigger man,” said Struder.
So – is Marvin a man coming forward with truth for the first time? Or a father guilty of murder with nothing to left to lose?
Deputy District Attorney Dennis Brooks said in court, “His testimony has to be taken in light of the massive bias he has to help his family. And it would have to be taken in light of the other evidence of the case.”
Brooks does not believe much of Marvin’s account of the murders, which the DA calls full of red flags and in contradiction with evidence found during the investigation.
“Maybe somewhere along the way he has had a change of heart but in my mind if he wanted to help those women at their trial he would have done it. He would have gave the testimony he did yesterday,” Brooks told News Channel 11.
Brooks says even if Marvin Potter had testified in Jenelle and Barbara’s 2015 trial, the state would have proven inconsistencies in his testimony with evidence and still gotten a guilty verdict for the two women.
Another topic brought up by the defense – they allege that the Potter women did not receive a fair trial. They cite a conflict of interest as original trial defense attorney Randy Fallin represented both Barbara – and her husband Marvin – in their trials.
“I believe she was denied the right to counsel because her counsel was conflicted,” Scott Shults, Barbara Potter’s current attorney, told News Channel 11.
Tuesday in court Randy Fallin denied any ill will or misrepresentation in the trials.
The defense team called Fallin’s former co-counsel, attorney Tate Davis, to the stand Tuesday. He testified he feared at the time of the trial that Fallin planned to get his clients convicted. Fallin denied this.
Davis also testified while he was helping Fallin prepare for the trial of the two women, it was never seriously considered to call Marvin Potter as a witness in their trial. His appeal was ongoing and Fallin was representing both he and Barbara at the time.
Jenelle’s original trial attorney, Cameron Hyder, also testified in court Tuesday. He admitted he held responsibility in missing multiple deadline when filing appeals after his client’s conviction. Struder argues this resulted in a prejudice against her in the appellate process and Jenelle Potter should at the very least be granted a new appeal.
Now that the post-conviction hearing has wrapped after day two, the judge will decide if the two Potter women should be granted new trials – a new appeal – or stay in prison for life. This decision will be reached in the coming months.