WASHINGTON COUNTY, TN (WJHL) – A verdict was reached in the Facebook murders trial Tuesday, which found both Barbara and Jenelle Potter guilty on two counts of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit first-degree murder in the 2012 deaths of Bill Payne and Billie Jean Hayworth.
Barbara Potter was additionally found guilty of tampering with evidence.
Both Barbara and Jenelle Potter were sentenced to life in prison.
When the verdict was read, the victims families, who had sat through every day of the trial, were sobbing, hugging, and breathing a sigh of relief.
“It was like tons lifted off of me. It was just like you’re sitting there on pins and needles, but its finally justice for Billy and Billie Jean,” Beverly Garland, Bill Payne’s mom said. “They got justice for them, it’s just like we can breathe now, we’re still hurting
“I know its not going to bring them back but at least they got their justice for them,” Beverly Morrell, Billie Jean Hayworth’s sister said. “I will know that they will be in jail for the rest of their lives, they’ll never get out to hurt anybody else.”
“That moment with the family is what you always dream of, you see what they’ve lost and you hope that you can give them some moment of satisfaction, its not a joy for them its a relief that the people most responsible are going to be held accountable,” Assistant District Attorney General Dennis Brooks said.
“It’s almost surreal its been a long road both exhausted and exhilarated at the same time,” Assistant District Attorney General Matthew Roark said.
The state said this case centered around a conflict Jenelle Potter made up in her mind between herself and the victims.
This week the state read dozens of emails from the potter women’s accounts with threatening and hateful language toward the victims.
The state said without these women convincing their dad and husband Marvin Potter to commit the murders, they would have never happened.
Marvin Potter, Jenelle Potter’s father and Barbara Potter’s husband, has already been convicted of first-degree murder.
He was sentenced to two consecutive life sentences by Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood in 2013.
During the trial the defense questioned the depth of TBI Special Agent Scott Lott’s investigation.
Tuesday, Brooks expressed his gratitude to all Lott did for this case.
“I’ve done many many murder cases over the years and I wouldn’t trade Scott Lott from TBI and Joe Woodard from Johnson county Sheriffs Department for anybody in this case, they treated this case like it was one of their own that was killed and I commend them for all the work they did,” Brooks said.
Jamie Curd is also convicted in this case and was originally going to be tried with the Potter women.
But Jamie Curd’s attorney, Casey Sears, said a plea deal for Curd would be reached when this trial was finished.
Sears said Curd, who testified in the Potter women’s trial, is pleading to two counts of facilitation to commit first-degree murder.
He said Curd will be serving 25 years and will be eligible for parole after serving 30 percent of that sentence.
Sears said Curd won’t be out for some time and not many people are granted parole their first time.
Day 7 of the Facebook murders trial is underway in Washington County Criminal Court.
The trial, which continued into Saturday last week, surrounds Barbara and Jenelle Potter, who are both charged with first-degree murder.
Both women are pleading not guilty.
On Monday, Defense attorney Cameron Hyder called psychologist Eric Engum to the stand, who said he did a full psychological and neuropsychological tests on Jenelle Potter.
Engum said he found Jenelle Potter to have intellectual disabilities, and said she was significantly delayed in math, reading and spelling.
He said 99 out of 100 kids would perform better than Jenelle Potter.
Engum said Jenelle Potter has an IQ of 72, which is three levels below the average person.
He said Jenelle Potter operates at the level of a fourth grader.
Engum said Jenelle Potter also has Type 1 diabetes and isn’t able to keep up with her medications.
He said she suffered a brain injury in high school when someone attacked her, which reportedly magnified her intellectual disabilities.
“The allegation that she is in some way a mastermind flies in the face of the fact that she’s functioning like a fourth grader,” Engum said.
The state cross examined saying with that disability their writing would reflect that, and alluded to the misspellings and grammar in the emails.
Engum agreed, but said he didn’t look at any of the emails.
Assistant District Attorney Dennis Brooks asked if her hearing loss could keep her from realizing when someone is joking and Engum said it’s possible.
Brooks said if a 9-year-old can be manipulative, and Engum said yes.
Brooks then asked Engum if he thought someone writing fictitious emails as someone from the CIA is a product of a healthy mind. Engum said no.
The defense rests and a ten minute recess was called before closing arguments.
Closing arguments started, with Roark starting for the state.
Roark said there’s been a lot to comprehend and said he’s going to present a quick review of the evidence.
The scene of the crime was discussed, saying there was nothing taken out of the house.
Roark said Jamie Curd and Marvin Potter went to Payne’s house the morning of the murders with one objective, and said the men wouldn’t have had the objective without Jenelle and Barbara Potter.
Roark went through the witnesses who testified in the case and discussed the witnesses who found the bodies of Billy Payne and Billie Jean Hayworth.
He discussed how they found the couple’s baby, Tyler, in his mother in Hayworth’s arms, covered in blood.
Roark said Jamie Curd was convinced to be a part of the murder of his own cousin, Billy Payne.
He talked about the gas station incident where Jenelle and Barbara Potter allegedly told Billie Jean Hayworth that she didn’t deserve her baby.
Roark showed the pictures of Hayworth and Payne’s bodies.
He said one day after the murders, investigators interviewed the Potter family, where Jenelle and Barbara Potter said they were harassed.
“The victims hadn’t even been buried yet and the Potters were talking about the victims harassing them and showed no concern,” Roark said.
He said six days following the murders, Curd gave a statement incriminating Marvin Potter. Marvin Potter was arrested the next day.
Roark said after Marvin Potter’s arrest, he called his wife, Barbara Potter.
“She wasn’t surprised, she wasn’t upset,” Roark said. “She wasn’t asking what he’s talking about.”
He said on the call, Barbara Potter whispered, “stick to not guilty.”
Roark said seven days after the murders, electronics were seized from the Potter home and pictures of the victims were found on the Potter’s computer.
He said during the search, Barbara Potter started ripping up printed out pictures of the victims and their friends, and called them names.
Roark said four months after the murders, the Potter women filed harassment claims against the victim’s family, and said at that time they gave typed statements, which the state used as “known writings” in the case.
He said Barbara Potter admitted to emailing “Chris,” emails which matched shredded documents found in the back of Marvin Potter’s truck.
Roark recounted that an article titled, “Can God forgive a murderer?” was found in an email from Barbara Potter’s account.
He said the shredded documents pieced back together matched the emails coming from the women’s email accounts.
Roark said a year and half after the murders, and after further investigation and analyzing internet activity, Barbara and Jenelle Potter were arrested.
To the jury, Roark said the defense wants them to believe that Curd was advanced enough in computer knowledge that he was able to get in to Barbara and Jenelle’s emails and pretend to be them.
The state said Curd was not advanced and said he didn’t have the time to write over 20,000 emails with a full-time job, along with taking care of his parents.
Roark talked about how Jenelle’s sister took the stand and said she (Jenelle Potter) has always been manipulative, as well as not as dumb as people claim she is.
He recounted Chris Tjaden’s testimony and how Jenelle Potter took the time to find pictures of Tjaden, sign his name and create a fake character named “Chris.”
Roark said Jenelle Potter used the guise of “Chris” to say what she really wanted to say, as well as to convince her boyfriend and mom to fix her problems.
He said an online friend of Jenelle’s then testified saying that Jenelle called Curd her boyfriend, something that Jenelle Potter denied to law enforcement.
Roark said that same friend said Jenelle Potter asked her to post to Facebook after the murders to pray for the Potters.
He said another online friend of Jenelle Potter’s testified and said he never saw any evidence of hacking to Jenelle’s account.
When Jamie Curd took the stand, he said he believed in Jenelle Potter’s made up “Chris” so much that he did what “Chris” wanted him to do.
Roark said Jenelle Potter, who was Curd’ first girlfriend, “picked a pretty good one to start off with.”
He said a friend of Hayworth’s testified and prosecuted Jenelle for harassment. Facebook photos of her were found on the Potter home computer.
“What good reason would the Potter family have for printing pictures of Billie Jean and her friends, unless they’re a target?” Roark said.
He said Jenelle posted on Facebook that she wished bad on the girls all because of jealousy.
Roark said both friends of Hayworth denied harassing Jenelle Potter and said it was all a product of Jenelle’s imagination to get her own twisted revenge.
“Jenelle had a crush on Billy Payne,” Roark said in court Monday.
He said the harassment from Jenelle started after Payne and Hayworth started dating.
“Jenelle Potter wanted the boyfriend, wanted the family,” Roark said. “Her jealously, her selfishness is really what drives this whole thing.”
Roark said the defense’s computer expert didn’t say what, if any, malware was on the Potter’s computer. The defense objected and Judge Jon Blackwood told the jury to remember only what the witnesses testified to.
When Marvin Potter called Barbara from jail, he had an emotional breakdown, according to Roark.
He said Barbara Potter, though, remained cool, calm and collected.
Roark said neither Marvin Potter nor Jamie Curd had a violent past and said Barbara and Jenelle Potter convinced them to commit murder.
“If it weren’t for Jenelle’s vanity, the victims would still be alive and Tyler would still have parents,” he said.
Roark finished his closing arguments and Judge Blackwood gave a short recess.
Jenelle Potter seemed visibly upset as she left the courtroom for the break.
The defense started closing arguments with Barbara Potter’s attorney, Tate Davis.
“The question is going to be whether we are going to crush and pulverize Barbara Potter,” Davis said. “Where’s the evidence in this case? What you were looking at (with the emails) were what the TBI thought was relevant.”
“They brought that mountain of papers that they talked about, but Agent Lott is no computer expert,” Davis said.
He brought up the fact that the TBI didn’t test the pipe found near Hayworth’s body, and he told jurors that they got a summary of what Lott thought was relevant.
Davis said the state still doesn’t get it and said the IP address doesn’t show the sender.
“The state of Tennessee has proved far beyond a reasonable doubt that the events talked about in the emails never happened,” Davis said. “I would say to you if that didn’t happen, let’s look at the rest of the message. Maybe that didn’t happen either.”
“Maybe they guessed wrong,” he said, referencing the state calling witnesses based on the people mentioned in the emails.
Davis said there’s a problem, which he said is out of 20,000 emails, they found 50 to show in court.
“Why are we excluding important evidence,” he said. “The TBI says they didn’t have time, they were overwhelmed.”
Davis said “the state must prove every single element of every single charge beyond a reasonable doubt.”
He said Curd, the state’s star witness who came in with an obligation to tell the truth, did not point the finger at Barbara or Jenelle.
Davis said he questioned Lott about a file called “Jamie” on Billy Payne’s computer and he said he didn’t think it was relevant.
“The state wants you to think Jamie Curd is an idiot,” he said.
He said Curd was being shown messages and used the word “ampersand” (the “&” symbol). Davis said he had to look the word up.
He called the states investigation “very questionable.”
Davis talked about Payne’s sister testifying and talked about how Curd had conflict with Payne.
The defense said Jamie Curd has always been at the center of the case, which they said he would be.
Davis said Curd following Marvin Potter on the walk to Payne’s house and said he could have prevented the killings instead.
He said the state gave Curd 25 years to testify truthfully.
“Did you hear any testimony of Barbara Potter asking Marvin Potter to do it?” Davis said. “You can’t make assumptions, can’t guess. You can’t speculate. You must be guided solely by the evidence you saw in this trial.”
He said there was never any discussion on the phone calls of Barbara Potter saying “I told you to do this.”
Davis said “Barbara Potter’s life is in your hands and we’re trusting you not to make a mistake. There have been enough mistakes in this case.”
He added, “You cannot crush Barbara Potter’s life with the evidence that has been chosen in this case.”
Davis finished up his closing arguments. Judge Blackwood called a break for lunch.
Jenelle Potter’s attorney Cameron Hyder started closing arguments.
Hyder said just because the state will speak last doesn’t mean they speak the truth.
“I get a little passionate and a little upset when the state tries to say someone is guilty based on a botched investigation,” Hyder said. “The state hasn’t even established if the computer in the Potter home was on or off when those emails were sent.”
Hyder said jurors heard testimony that Jamie Curd had access to the Potter computer and Payne’s computer.
“Curd didn’t flinch during his testimony just like he didn’t flinch when he was standing guard at the door with a gun in hand,” he said.
Hyder said it’s not illegal to spread hate. He said the state must prove that Jenelle wanted her dad and Curd to kill Payne and Hayworth, and said they haven’t done that.
“You better believe that I’m getting loud again, because I’m passionate,” he said. “I know that this girl didn’t do it.”
Hyder ran through the different definitions of not guilty and said if they think Jenelle is probably guilty, that’s still no guilty.
“The people of the first judicial district have been failed by the state in this case,” Hyder said.
Brooks said reading through the email makes you feel like you’re prosecuting someone in grade school.
“The elephant in the room in this case is mental disease,” Brooks said.
He told jurors Monday that only thing to look at, though, is did Jenelle and Barbara Potter desire to have Payne and Hayworth die.
Brooks said looking over emails and Facebook posts does not make the defendant look any better.
“Jenelle couldn’t write two sentences and hide her identity because she’s so unique,” he said.
He said the defense wants the jury to forget that under oath Barbara Potter admitted that she wrote emails to “Chris.”
“What are the Potters doing when they are questioned about being involved?” Brooks said. “They are running those people down left and right.”
He compared what they said in the recorded interview versus what was said in the emails.
Brooks said a comment about Jenelle being “too pretty” was one consistency in the emails and in the record interview with the family.
He said playing the recording of Jenelle and showing an email from her account both talks about the same story.
Another consistency pointed out by Brooks is where Jenelle talks about getting threats of rape.
“Her fingers couldn’t have been more on that keyboard,” he said.
Brooks showed a photo of Hayworth that Barbara Potter started ripping up when investigators were searching the home.
“She may be functioning at a fourth grade level, but she’s got a PhD in manipulating mom and dad,” Brooks said.
He then went through emails from Barbara Potter’s account where she talked about her dislike for Jamie Curd.
“Curd was not good enough for her daughter,” Brooks said. “She didn’t want him around. But as you look through these emails, “Chris” starts touting Curd in emails to Barbara.”
Brook said in an email from Barbara to “Chris,” Barbara said “Bud (Marvin Potter) is so mad and I’m 100 percent behind whatever happens. Maybe he can use CIA guns to get the job done.”
An email from “Chris” to Barbara Potter’s account said, “God I want to kill them now.”
Another email from “Chris” to Barbara’s account said, “I’m going to kill her and Bill then Billie for sure. I can’t stand them. Any of them.”
One email from Barbara’s account to “Chris” was shown in court and Brooks said, “This is enough to show criminal responsibility.”
Brooks said an email from “Chris” to Barbara Potter said he would kill her and talked about their need to recruit Jamie Curd.
“Barbara is having conversations with her husband about killing people,” he said. “There’s no other way to read this.”
Brooks said an email from “Chris” to Curd said “These (expletive) just want to make her life hell and I hope she don’t think about killing herself.”
He said Barbara Potter started warming up to Curd, possibly thinking he could be the solution to what Marvin Potter needed to go in there and get the job done.
Brooks said Marvin Potter waited for Payne’s father to leave before he did the killings, because that was Barbara Potter’s wishes. He said Barbara Potter liked Payne’s father.
He said Barbara Potter told the men going to do the killings that the CIA had their backs, and said that “makes people a little braver.
Jenelle Potter was seen shaking her head while Brooks read an email from “Chris” talking about the victim’s baby.
Brooks said a month before the killings, Barbara Potter sent an email talking about waiting because of Payne’s work schedule conflicting with Curd’s.
An email from Barbara Potter said “hopefully Monday will be a good weather day and dad will be on his A game.”
“Is there any doubt in your mind Jenelle wants people dead?” Brooks said.
He addressed what criminal responsibility mean and said there could be no murder with as intent and premeditation as shown in this case.
“We submit to you beyond any reasonable doubt this case is proven for first-degree murder,” Brooks said.
He said one of the most telling things is when Curd asked investigators when he was arrested if the CIA was there, because the Potter woman led him to believe the CIA had his back.
“Can you imagine these crimes happening without these two women?” Brooks said. “It wouldn’t have happened without these women.”
Brooks said Jenelle Potter sent texts after Marvin Potter and Jamie Curd were arrested asking her friend “I wonder if Jamie loves me.”
He said she was concerned with that because she wondered if Curd loved her enough to keep his mouth shut.
“We ask you to bring justice for those deaths,” Brooks said at the end of his closing arguments.
A 10 minute break was called.
Following the break, Judge Blackwood instructed the jury on deliberation procedures.
Blackwood told the jurors to elect a foreman and decide if they want to deliberate this afternoon or start in the morning.
Judge Blackwood said it’s their job to examine all of the exhibits in the case.
The jurors left the courtroom to decide when they would start deliberations.
Hyder has to leave for another engagement tomorrow and Judge Blackwood asked Jenelle if it would be okay when the verdict is reached if Hyder is on the phone. Jenelle Potter told Blackwood it was okay.
The jury is deliberating. If the verdict is not reached by 5 p.m., deliberations will continue Tuesday.
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