Linda Stephens on witness stand during day four of the trial. (Tony Duncan/Johnson City Press)
The judge overseeing the murder trial of Marvin Enoch “Buddy” Potter in the January 2012 shooting deaths of a Mountain City couple dismissed a felony murder charge against Potter, but allowed two charges of first-degree murder to stand Thursday.
Assistant District Attorneys General Matthew Roark and Dennis Brooks rested their case early Thursday afternoon and the defense team of Randy Fallin, David Robbins and Tate Davis began their portion of the trial.
Their first step was to call for an acquittal, arguing the prosecution had not presented enough evidence. Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood denied their motion, but he did dismiss the felony murder charge. Blackwood said the trial will be completed today.
More background information on Potter and his family was provided by his older daughter, Christie Groover, an emergency medical technician in Abingdon, Va.
Groover testified she did not have a good relationship with her family and did not get along with her mother. She said her father was badly injured in a 70-foot fall at a construction site. She said Potter also suffered from diminished lung capacity and circulatory problems in his legs. She said her sister, Janelle, 32, has a learning disability and is still a teenager in some ways. Groover said Janelle does not understand jokes and will takes such statements as “I’ll beat you up” seriously.
After spending most of the week learning about Potter and his family, the jurors learned more about victims Billy Clay Payne, 36, and Billie Jean Hayworth, 23, on Thursday. Both were shot in the head while they were in their home early on the morning of Jan. 31, 2012.
Police said the two were murdered over Payne and Hayworth “defriending” Janelle Potter on Facebook.
Linda Stephens was one of the friends who testified Thursday. She is the wife of Roy Stephens, who discovered the bodies and testified on Tuesday. Linda Stephens was in the vehicle when her husband went into the Payne home at 128 James Davis Lane, Mountain City, to get his mail. She did not accompany her husband in what at first seemed a routine task.
Stephens told the jury she was sitting in the driver’s seat of their minivan just a few minutes after they had arrived when her husband “came running out the door with a look of terror on his face.” When he told her Payne was dead, she went inside to see if she could help because she had CPR training. She checked for his pulse and found none. Stephens then tried to call 911 on her cell phone but was so upset that she had to make the call on the landline in the living room.
While she was making the call, Roy went into the nursery and discovered Hayworth’s body. He took her surviving 6-month-old son from her lifeless arms.
“He brought Tyler in his arms into the living room,” Stephens said.
The Stephenses then waited at the home for the ambulances and law enforcement to reach the scene.
Stephens also described an incident at the store of Larry Potter (no relation to Marvin Potter) several months before the murders. Stephens is employed at the store, located on Tenn. Highway 67 near the Payne residence.
While she was preparing bread one day, she noticed Hayworth pumping gas. She said a vehicle pulled into the lot between Hayworth and the store but at such an angle that it was not at the gas pumps. She said Hayworth was taking her newborn to the doctor for his first checkup.
“A look came over Billie Jean’s face of dread,” Stephens testified. “The people in the car started yelling and screaming at her. I saw Billie Jean get more and more upset.”
Stephens said she stepped outside and yelled “Billie Jean, are you OK? Should I call the police?” Stephens said that at the word “police,” the people who were bothering Hayworth drove off.
Stephens said Hayworth began crying harder, with a look of worry on her face. “She looked so upset,” Stephens said, “She was shaking. ... I helped her put the gas nozzle back.”
Stephens said Hayworth told her the people in the car were Barbara and Janelle Potter, the wife and daughter of Marvin Potter. They have also been charged with first-degree murder in the case, but their trials have not yet been set. Stephens said Hayworth told her after the altercation that they would not leave her alone and have been harassing and threatening her. She said they also claimed she was unfit to have a child.
Tracy Greenwell, Payne’s younger sister, testified she was “very close” to him and became friends with Hayworth. Other witnesses have told how Payne was upset with his second cousin Jeremy Curd’s siding with Janelle when harassment charges were heard Nov. 30, 2011.
Greenwell said she had become friends with Janelle “and liked her at first.” She noticed Janelle seldom left her home. She took her on shopping trips to get her out more.
Greenwell also testified about Payne’s drug use. She said he took pain pills, but was trying to get off them after he met Hayworth. She said he even gave up smoking when his son was born.
After the state rested, the defense continued to call friends of Payne and Hayworth to testify about prescription drug abuse. Both Calvin Williams and Matthew Richardson said they bought Lortabs and suboxone strips from him, but never more than few at a time and only among a small circle of friends.
Both Williams and Richardson also testified about another confrontation the Potters had at Larry Potter’s store, this time with Payne. They said Payne took a notebook with him that copied all of the negative comments that had allegedly been made about him and Hayworth by Janelle. They said the confrontation ended with Payne agreeing to call Marvin Potter and talk with him about future problems.
The jurors did hear more about Potter and his family during the testimony of Johnson County Sheriff Mike Reece and Chief Deputy Joe Woodard. Reece said Potter told him he had worked with the Central Intelligence Agency in the past and was awaiting activation orders. Reece also discussed another person who had problems after “defriending” Janelle Potter on Facebook.
Woodard said he logged the evidence taken when Potter’s house was searched. He said Barbara Potter begin tearing up documents in his presence until he stopped her. The documents included photographs and comments about Payne, Hayworth and some of their friends.