A Washington County jury began hearing details Monday morning about the double murder of the parents of a 7-month-old baby on Jan. 31, 2012. The jurors heard the mother was shot in the head at close range while she was holding her baby in the nursery.
It was the first day of trial for Marvin Enoch “Buddy” Potter Jr., the first of three family members and one friend to be tried in the shooting deaths of Billy Clay Payne, 36, and Billie Jean Hayworth, 23. The murders made a big impact on small, close-knit Johnson County, leading to a change of venue for the first case. A hearing later this month will determine whether there will be a change of venue for the first-degree murder trials of Potter’s wife, Barbara Potter; their daughter, Janelle Potter; and Jamie Lee Curd, who was described by prosecutors as a cousin and workmate of Payne but had “some love interest with Janelle Potter.”
Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood is presiding over the trial, which began with testimony of lead investigator Scott Lott of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. Lott showed the jury a gallery of crime scene photographs showing how the bodies of Payne and Hayworth were found a few hours after the shootings. The pictures of the dead parents, lying next to toys, baby blankets and the crib of their young son were so troubling that defense attorney Randy Fallin told the jurors that it would take a very cold-hearted person to commit those crimes. He began laying the groundwork for a case of a drug deal gone bad. David Robbins is Fallin’s partner on the defense team.
Prosecutors Matt Roark and Dennis Brooks offered a different theory. They portrayed the Potters as obsessed with those they saw as enemies. In his opening statement, Brooks told the jury the family considered their “enemies” to be those who “chose not to be friends with Janelle Potter.” He said “that upsets the Potters time and time again.”
The prosecutors began building their theory with evidence found in the back of Potter’s Ford pickup truck. Brooks said three white trash bags were found that contained shredded papers. He said the papers were email printouts that contained a lot of cursing and threats that someone “needed to die.” He said it showed “the fire and fury that was going on in the Potter house” while the targets of their rage may not have even known they had caused such hatred.
Brooks said the murders “look like a professional hit job,” with head shots at close range, no valuables taken, prescription drugs not taken, and no signs of struggle.
He said Potter liked to project the image of someone who was cold blooded. Brooks said he told Johnson County Sheriff Mike Reese that he had worked for the Central Intelligence Agency and “they were going to activate him again.”
“He likes for people to think he is that sort of man,” Brooks said.
Fallin disputed Brooks’ contention during his opening statements. He said there was no way the state could trace the shredded emails to Potter because he did not even know how to use a computer. He said the state had no fingerprints or other evidence and no proof of what gun was used to fire the fatal shots.
Lott was the first witness for the state and he thoroughly described the murder scene at 128 James Davis Lane for the jurors. There were numerous reminders in his testimony and crime scene photos that the murdered couple left a baby.
Fallin asked Lott about a small amount of methamphetamine he found in the nursery. Lott said no other illicit drugs were found at the residence, but there were some medicines which had been prescribed, including Suboxone. Fallin also asked Lott about several incoming cell phone calls Payne received from two friends on the night before the murders.
Two other witnesses from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation followed Lott’s testimony.
Lisa Wessner searched Potter’s truck. In addition to the trash bags, she also discovered five .38 caliber bullets in the console between the seats.
Steve Scott, a firearms identification expert with TBI, discussed his examinations of the bullets found by Wessner and the bullets found at the crime scene. He also examined the weapons found in Potter’s home. Scott was not able to link any of the weapons to the bullets found at the crime scene.
Scott said the bullet found in the bouncy seat had markings made by a knife or other tool. The bullets found in Potter’s truck had similar tool markings which suggested the bullet from the crime scene and the bullets in the truck console may have come from a common source. Scott said the markings on the nose of the bullet were something he refers to as “a poor man’s hollow point,” intended to cause the bullet to expand when it strikes.