The Tennessee Supreme Court has censured a local attorney for publishing a book about the convictions of three people in a Johnson County case known as the Facebook Murders.
The court says on Friday the Assistant District Attorney in the First Judicial District, Dennis Brooks, received a public censure from the Board of Professional Responsibility of the Tennessee Supreme Court.
The court says that Brooks “entered into an agreement to publish a book about the convictions of three people for murder after he was successful in getting murder convictions as the lead prosecutor”. The state’s high court went on to say, “Brook’s book was published prior to the conclusions of the appeals of two of the convictions. After [Brooks’] book was published, one of the defendants filed a motion for a new trial and a writ of error coram nobis alleging the book contained evidence” that was not presented to the defense.
Brooks released a statement to News Channel 11, which reads as follows:
In twenty years of prosecuting cases, I have never had a disciplinary complaint. I regret that this case resulted in one. I decided not to contest the Disciplinary Counsel’s decision, but I disagree with her decision.
First, in my opinion I had no conflict of interest in both writing this book and representing the State of Tennessee. The book was conceived and written following the final jury verdicts on the three defendants. I wrote it on my own time. Our District Attorney, the late Tony Clark, was aware of the book prior to me agreeing to publish it. I told General Clark that he was welcome to review the book prior to me making an agreement. He told me he was happy for me to be publishing the book and that his review would not be necessary. The only matter left in our trial court was a pending Motion for New Trial which is a routine proceeding on my end that allows the defense to preserve issues for appeal. At that point I perceived that my interest as an author and as a prosecutor on the case were not in conflict. It was my duty to the State to ask the trial court to uphold the jury’s verdicts (absent any new evidence, which there was none), and the book posed no obstacle to that duty.
Second, a reviewing judge denied the petitions filed by the Potter women that the book presented new evidence necessitating a new trial. The petitions were frivolous in my opinion, and the judge found nothing within them that merited a new trial. Moreover, my understanding from the Attorney General’s Office is that the Potter women’s attorneys did not appeal that judge’s decision, meaning his decision is final. I greatly regret that the petitions in any way slowed their appeals process, but no matter when I published the book, I suspect the Potter women would file something in some court seeking relief from their life sentences.
I am proud of my efforts in writing this book, and I am proud of the efforts of our prosecution team in getting guilty verdicts for those most responsible for the killings of our two victims. The book allowed people in the community to better understand this unusual case, and through that medium, I hope that it educates readers as to how prosecutors and investigators go about their jobs to seek justice. People should know more about how our governmental systems work. Had I began writing the book prior to the jury verdicts or included within the book important facts withheld from defense attorneys, I would agree that I acted unethically, but that is not the case. I respectfully disagree with the Disciplinary Counsel’s conclusion.
The state’s supreme court says the appeals of two of the convictions were stalled for 18 months pending a hearing.
The case over the years has gained national attention.
It became known as the “Facebook murders” after investigators said a Johnson County couple was shot and killed by Marvin Potter in 2012. Investigators said Potter killed the couple after his daughter Jenelle Potter told him they had a social media dispute.
Since then, Marvin Potter, his wife Barbara, and daughter Jenelle were found guilty of first-degree murder in their deaths. All three are serving life sentences.
Now, Barbara and Jenelle Potter are trying to get a new trial and the defense has asked for a new prosecutor.
Assistant District Attorney in the First Judicial District, Dennis Brooks prosecuted all three Potter cases.
Months after the trial, Brooks released a book detailing the case titled “Too Pretty to Live: the Catfishing Murders of East Tennessee”
Around the time of the book’s release – back in February of 2016 – Brooks told News Channel 11, “There are things in the book that people who served on the jury probably didn’t know, there are things in the book that some of the defense attorneys didn’t know about how we got from a case file to a conviction,” Brooks said back in February.
And now after reading the book, the defense attorneys told us they found information in the book they had never heard before that could have affected the outcome of the trial. The defense requested that Brooks and the First Judicial District Attorney’s Office remove themselves from this case, and they did.
“The allegation is there’s information from a book that was written by a prosecutor that contains new evidence and he may end up being a witness in the case,” Sullivan County District Attorney General Barry Staubus said.
The state supreme court says a public censure is a “rebuke and a warning to the attorney, but it doesn’t affect his ability to practice law.