TRI-CITIES, Tenn. (WJHL) — A high-profile murder case that has captured nationwide attention for nearly a decade has a new twist. A new trial will be granted for one of the women convicted in the so-called “Facebook Murders” of Johnson County.
A feud originating on social media led to the brutal murder of a young couple in Mountain City. Now, there is a chance for acquittal for one of the convicted: Barbara Potter.
Barbara, her husband Marvin “Buddy” Potter and their daughter Jenelle Potter were all convicted of first-degree murder in the 2012 deaths of Bill Payne and Billie Jean Hayworth.
Marvin Potter was convicted in his 2013 trial while the two women were tried together in 2015.
All three family members were convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison.
“I don’t believe she is guilty. I do not believe that,” said Scott Shults, Barbara Potter’s current attorney.
Shults argued in a post-conviction hearing spanning July 14 and 15 in Washington County court that there were issues with Barbara’s original trial attorney, Randy Fallin.
“If there was a legitimate conflict of interest, which there was here, and it affected her attorney’s ability to represent her, which it did, that prejudice standard is presumed,” said Shults.
Fallin represented Barbara Potter in trial after representing her husband Marvin Potter in his murder trial. Though they were tried together, Jenelle Potter was represented by attorney Cameron Hyder.
Judge William B. Acree ordered Wednesday there was in fact a conflict of interest based on Mr. Fallin’s representation of both the husband and wife and granted a new trial for Barbara.
“She was denied due process. You are entitled to a zealous representation. I don’t believe she got that,” said Shults.
Receiving a new trial on a murder case is extremely rare.
“An overwhelming majority of them are denied, you never hear about them being granted. I realized the odds were against her getting this. But, if there was one to be granted, it was this one,” said Shults.
Assistant District Attorney General for the prosecution Dennis Brooks says when he learned the judge approved a new trial – he was shocked.
He led the state’s case in 2015 against the mother-daughter duo.
“We are back to square one trying Barbara Potter and a second jury will hear the same evidence, maybe even more, because we are not having to focus on Jenelle Potter in the same trial,” said Brooks.
Brooks says the state will again pursue a first-degree murder charge and life in prison for Barbara. He added his focus remains on the family of the victims, Bill Payne and Billie Jean Hayworth. The infant child of the two was left alive during the brutal attacks in his mother’s arms as she died.
“This just reopens the wound for them. They hoped to have had closure and now they don’t. So, that’s my focus now so we can get to a second trial as fast as we can and give them justice once more,” said Brooks.
In the post-conviction hearing in July, Marvin Potter admitted in testimony given in court for the very first time he and his convicted accomplice Jamie Curd were solely responsible for the murders.
Potter testified that he killed Payne, “accidentally” shooting him and then slitting his throat, and he says Curd killed Hayworth.
However, the judge’s court order notes, “The Court finds all witnesses who testified at this hearing to be credible except for Marvin Potter, whose credibility concerning his testimony about the killings was suspect.”
Jenelle and Barbara were not at the scene of the murder – but were convicted for what the prosecution outlined in trial as their role in helping conspire, plan and encourage the murders.
Messages exchanged on social media and alleged harassment between the Potters and the victims ultimately led to their deaths.
Shults says he believes Marvin Potter and his testimony could sway a jury in a new trial. He was not called to testify in the joint trial for Barbara and Jenelle in 2015.
“Marvin will confirm that Barbara did not aide or solicit or request that he commit this crime,” said Shults.
Shults has not been appointed to represent Barbara Potter in her new trial. He says if requested by the court, he will, and he plans to call Marvin Potter to testify.
The prosecution maintains that there is enough evidence to prove Barbara’s guilt in these murders.
Jenelle Potter’s request for a new trial was denied.