Marvin Potter (Lee Talbert/Johnson City Press)
MOUNTAIN CITY — Marvin Potter, 61, was sentenced to two consecutive life sentences on Tuesday in the shooting deaths of Billy Payne Jr. 36, and Billie Jean Hayworth, 23, in their home on Jan. 31, 2012. The shootings have been called the Facebook Murders because of the Internet hatred the Potter family is alleged to have had against the victims.
Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood found Potter not only met the requirements of the law: that there was a preponderance of evidence that he displayed little or no regard for human life when he entered their home at 128 James Davis Lane early in the morning and killed the couple. Blackwood said Potter showed a “shocking disregard for human life” by the act that he shot Hayworth while she was holding the couple’s 6-month old baby in her arms.
Blackwood, a senior judge, said he could not think of another case in his many years on the bench as cold hearted as the shooting of a mother with a baby in her arms and leaving the child to its fate.
Prior to the sentencing, two members of the victims’ families took the witness stand to address Potter.
Beverly Garland, Payne’s mother, said Bill was a wonderful son who was so kind to everyone that she could not imagine anyone would murder him.
Janie Hayworth Henry told Potter “there was no justification for what you did,” and said her nephew will grow up knowing about his parents because the family will tell him about Billy and Billie Jean.
Potter did not make a statement prior to sentencing.
Three other persons have yet to stand trial in the murders and after Potter was sentenced, Blackwood took up matters involving those cases.
The first question was whether to combine the case of Potter’s wife, Barbara Potter; his daughter, Janelle Potter; and family friend Jamie Curd into one trial. Defense attorneys Randy Fallin (for Barbara Potter), Cameron Hyder (for Janelle Potter) and Casey Sears (for Curd) argued against combining the trials.
Their arguments centered on the emails and other electronic messages sent between the three that assistant district attorneys Dennis Brooks and Matthew Roark plan to use as evidence of a conspiracy. In the first trial, only shredded emails pieced back together by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation were used. Brooks said the state has obtained the records from the remaining defendants’ Internet accounts.
The defense attorneys told Blackwood that the “onslaught of the voluminous amounts evidence” would be unduly prejudicial against their clients. Fallin also argued about the reliability of determining whether the messages were actually sent by the person the state claims to have sent the messages.
Brooks said the emails show a conspiracy going in every direction and the state can prove who sent the messages.
Blackwood set a deadline of Jan. 2 for attorneys to present motions in the case. The previously scheduled trial date in December for Curd has been eliminated and Blackwood tentatively set May 12 as the date for the upcoming trial.
As he did with Marvin Potters’ trial, Blackwood said a change of venue would be necessary because of the sensation the murders caused in Johnson County. There was also a concern that a jury could not be found in Washington County because of the publicity the Marvin Potter trial generated. There was a mention of the possibility of using Washington County court, but bringing in a jury from a more distant part of the state.
A previous version of the story
MOUNTAIN CITY — A man convicted of killing a couple in what has been dubbed the "Facebook murders" received double life sentences in prison this morning.Marvin Enoch “Buddy” Potter Jr. was found guilty Oct. 11 of two counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of Billy Payne, 36, and Billie Jean Hayworth, 23.
Payne and Hayworth were murdered at their residence at 128 James Davis Lane in Mountain City on Jan. 31, 2012. Both were shot in the head and Payne had his throat cut. Hayworth was shot while holding her 6-month-old son. The baby was uninjured but left in its dead mother’s arms.
In sentencing Potter this morning in Johnson County Criminal Court, Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood cited a state law regarding indifference toward human life, specifically referencing that the child was left alone with the bodies.
Blackwood also decided this morning in a second hearing to try Potter's codefendants — his wife Barbara, daughter Janelle and family friend Jamie Curd — together in a single trial in May and moved the venue from Johnson County to Washington County. He delayed his ruling, however, on whether he would use a Washington County jury or bring in one from another county.
Potter was tried and convicted in Washington County by a Washington County jury.
The crimes took place following an alleged dispute over Potter's daughter being unfriended on Facebook.
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