TBI investigator Scott Lott on the witness stand Wednesday (Tony Duncan/JohnsonCityPress).
On the third day of the double first-degree murder trial of Marvin Enoch “Buddy” Potter Jr., the jurors heard a taped telephone conversation Potter made to his wife, Barbara, after he had been interrogated for 3 1/2 hours in which he told her “I did it.”
The jurors also learned why the slayings of Billy Clay Payne, 36, and Billie Jean Hayworth, 23, have been dubbed “The Facebook Murders” by the media. Most of the testimony during the afternoon dealt with Facebook users who said they experienced harassment from Potter’s daughter, Janelle, as a result of their involvement with her on the Internet social site.
Wednesday’s session began with a continuation of the videotape of the interrogation of Potter after his arrest at 3:45 a.m. on Feb. 7, a week after the murders had been committed. Tennessee Bureau of Investigations Agent Scott Lott led the interrogation and worked to convince Potter to “tell his side of the story” after another person arrested in the murders, Jamie Curd, had already implicated Potter. Potter denied his involvement and repeatedly said “I didn’t do it,” during the interrogation.
As the interrogation neared its third hour, around 6:30 a.m., Lott allowed Potter to call his wife. The phone call was recorded and as the investigators stood behind him, Potter told his wife “before you find out from somebody else, I want you to know, I was involved in it. I did it.”
Barbara Potter immediately began a defense for her husband. “You haven’t had no rest, and you don’t have your oxygen, and you’re not yourself right now.” She urged him to tell the jail nurses about the medications he needed and “you need to just say, you know, you’re not guilty, you’re not guilty. And that’s that.”
After the interrogation was completed, prosecutors Matt Roark and Dennis Brooks introduced a collection of shredded email copies that were discovered in a white trash bag in the back of Potter’s pickup truck. The shredded documents were pieced together by the TBI.
The documents feature strong expressions of hatred towards Payne and Hayworth. Also targets of strong words were Lindsey Thomas and Tara Osborne. Among the comments were “Buddy will get them, I hope she dies before then”; “I wanted to kill her, but it didn’t happen”; and “I let them live, I will see when I want to kill them.”
The documents also show the Potter Family lived in fear. There were complaints of cars driving past their home, someone beating on the garage and other parts of the house and harassment that was making the family sick. Statements in the emails included fears that the family’s enemies had contracted a gang from Johnson City to take care of them and of public confrontations in which their enemies tormented them. “We don’t deserve this,” was one statement made in the emails.
Another section of the emails dealt with the family’s belief that the Central Intelligence Agency was looking into their problems. One of their email correspondents was named “Chris” and he claimed to be a CIA operative. Chris said he was watching the enemies and had gotten Potter into the CIA so he could assist. He wrote that Potter was in the CIA’s computers, but he could not explain the delay in Potter receiving his CIA identification. Lott testified that investigators searched for Chirs, but his identity remains unknown.
The rest of the day was devoted to Facebook subscribers who testified they had bad experiences with Janelle Potter. Two “defriended” her on Facebook and eventually filed harassment charges against Janelle. In both cases, Janelle was found not guilty.
Tara Osborne said she met Janelle in a grocery store. She said Janelle was very friendly and showing off a ring her boyfriend had just given her. The meeting was quickly followed by a request on Osborne’s personal Facebook page. Osborne said she accepted Janelle as a friend. “It was alright at first, but then the drama set in.” She said Janelle was constantly complaining about her problems and that “the world was against her.”
After a while, Osborne deleted Janelle from her list of friends. After that, she said Janelle began harassing her. She responded by going to the sheriff’s department and filing a harassment complaint.
Lindsey Thomas told a similar story to the jury. She said she received a friend request from Janelle. Thomas said she had never met Janelle in person, so she asked Hayworth about her. She then accepted her as a friend.
Thomas said trouble began when she saw a posting from Janelle about Thomas and Hayworth “saying we were really mean girls.” Thomas said Janelle continued to write more things about them. After it went on for several months, she said she got the name of Janelle’s father from Payne, who knew him. She found his name in the phone book and called him and asked that Janelle please stop because she didn’t even know her and Hayworth.
After that, she said she started receiving calls from Janelle, which eventually reached 15 to 20 times a day. She said there was a time when her father got on the phone and asked Thomas to stop hating his daughter. Thomas said, “I told him she called me, I didn’t call her.”
Roark asked Thomas if she had ever created false Facebook pages for Janelle, she said she had not. He then asked her about all the other things she had been accused of doing on the email documents and she denied all of the accusations.
Thomas also took Janelle to court. Janelle was found not guilty. Both Thomas and Osborne said they were unfamiliar with the courts and were not prepared.
Another witness, Lyndsey Potter, also described her experiences on Facebook with Janelle. She said she was not related to the Potter family. She said she was a friend on Facebook with Janelle. She began having problems after Janelle said “some nasty things about Hayworth.” She eventually ended by blocking Janelle from her Facebook page.
Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood took over the questioning of Lyndsey Potter after the prosecutors and defense attorneys were finished with her. For his own understanding and for the benefit of the jury, he questioned her about Facebook basics and the security of the system. He asked her if it would be possible to create a false Judge Blackwood page.
The trial will continue today at the Washington County Courthouse with Johnson County Sheriff Mike Reece among those expected to testify.