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Attorneys ask for prosecutor's removal in Facebook case

March 17th, 2014 9:23 pm by Becky Campbell

Attorneys ask for prosecutor's removal in Facebook case

From left, Barbara Potter, Jenelle Potter, and Jamie Curd are each facing murder charges for the Jan. 31, 2012 deaths of Billie Jean Hayworth and Billy Clay Payne.

Three attorneys in a Johnson County first-degree murder case commonly referred to as the Facebook murders filed a motion last week asking a judge to change the trial location, toss a state witness and force the prosecutor to withdraw.

It’s detailed in the motion filed Wednesday by Cameron Hyder, attorney for Jenelle Potter; Casey Sears, attorney for Jamie Curd; and Randy Fallin, attorney for Barbara Potter.

A fourth person, Marvin Potter, 61, already went to trial and was convicted on two counts of first-degree murder in the Jan. 31, 2012, shooting deaths of Billy Payne Jr., 36, and Billie Jean Hayworth, 23. He’s currently serving two life sentences.

Payne and Hayworth were murdered at their 128 James Davis Lane, Mountain City, residence. Both were shot in the head and Payne’s throat was slashed. Hayworth was shot while holding her 6-month-old son, prosecutor said, but the baby was uninjured and left in his dead mother’s arms.

The killings came as a result of a social media dispute between the couple and Jenelle Potter that ended in her being “defriended” on Facebook, prosecutors said. Marvin Potter and Curd, a friend of the Potters, are allegedly the two who actually killed Payne and Hayworth, and prosecutors have not detailed what role Barbara and Jenelle Potter played in the murders. After the women were indicted, Assistant District Attorney General Dennis Brooks only said investigators spent countless tedious hours obtaining email communications in order to charge them.

Because of pretrial publicity, Senior Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood moved the trial from Johnson County to Washington County, and the jury was comprised of Washington County residents.

But that’s not enough to give the remaining three defendants a fair trial, their attorneys claim. They want Blackwood to go one step further and bring jurors in from outside the immediate region.

On the issue of asking Blackwood to prevent a state witness from testifying and requiring Brooks to recuse himself, the defense claims there is a personal, although not romantic, relationship between Brooks and the witness, who also happens to be Marvin and Barbara Potter’s daughter and the sister of Jenelle Potter.

The woman, Christine Groover, wrote a Letter to the Editor after her father’s conviction praising Brooks’ efforts and called Brooks by his first name and referenced knowing his wife.

In the defense motion, attorneys stated, “The tone of the letter causes a concern that such a friendship between the two; not romantic, hinders prosecutorial discretion and would definitely raise a brow of doubt as to Ms. Groover’s reliability and credibility,” the attorneys wrote in their joint motion.

After the letter was published in a local newspaper, Brooks posted it to his personal Facebook page, an election campaign Facebook page and a campaign website. Brooks is seeking election to the Criminal Court Judge Part II position being vacated by Judge Robert Cupp, who will not seek re-election this year.

The defense also wants Blackwood to prevent Brooks from referencing the Potter case in his campaign literature because “that said use is not furthering prosecutorial discretions, but furthering political gain at the expense of these three defendants.”

Blackwood — who after Marvin Potter’s convictions said he’d never seen a case “as cold-hearted as the shooting of a mother with a baby in her arms and leaving the child to its fate” — is scheduled to hear attorneys’ arguments on the motion and make a ruling March 27.

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