ELIZABETHTON — Criminal Court Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood denied motions by three defense attorneys in the upcoming Facebook Murders trial that would have removed Dennis Brooks as a prosecutor.
Blackwood also said a witness who had expressed support for Brooks could testify, but be subject to cross examination on her support of Brooks. Blackwood left the door open on changing the venue of the trial if he finds there has been excessive publicity.
Blackwood made the decisions in response to motions filed by defense attorneys Randy Fallin, attorney for Barbara Potter; Cameron Hyder, attorney for Janelle Potter; and Casey Sears, attorney for Jamie Curd.
The attorneys made the motions after they observed the use of a “glowing” letter to the editor in the Johnson City Press in support of Brooks in his campaign to be elected Criminal Court judge in the May 6 Republican primary.
“This is not directed at Mr. Brooks personally, please understand,” Fallin told Blackwood. Fallin went on to say the letter had been written by Christine K. Groover, the daughter of Marvin “Buddy” Potter, who Brooks successfully prosecuted in October for first-degree murder in the 2012 shootings of Billy Payne and Billie Jean Hayworth in their home in Johnson County. The couple’s 6-month old infant was left unharmed in its dead mother’s arms.
Groover is also the daughter of Barbara Potter and the sister of Janelle Potter, who are defendants in the upcoming trial.
In their motions the attorneys wrote: “The tone of the letter causes 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 defense attorneys also objected to Brooks posting the letter on his personal Facebook page and on his campaign’s Facebook and web pages. They also said the letter was very well written and questioned Groover’s ability to write such a literate letter.
Sears said there has been so much publicity on the case that a jury should be brought in from Knox County.
Brooks responded by defending Groover’s ability. “She has a college degree,” he said. “She was a graphic designer and is very intelligent and fully capable of writing the letter.” He said Groover did show the letter to him before she sent it to the Press. He said his only suggestion was to change the position he is running for to Criminal Court judge.
He said Groover does not mention the case nor did she mention her family connection in the letter. She only wrote that she saw his good qualities “while working with Dennis on a criminal case in which he was a prosecutor.” Brooks said the case Groover referred to only became publicly known because of the motion filed by the defense attorneys.
Brooks said he posted the letter because it does not mention the upcoming cases, and his only discussions about the case in his social media pages refer to the Marvin Potter case, which has already been tried.
Blackwood said if Groover is used as a witness she can be cross examined on the matters the defense attorneys brought up.
He said Brooks should not be disqualified because of the letter.
“It would be a different story altogether if it could be proven that General Brooks in some capacity solicited the letter.” He said that would certainly be unethical.
Blackwood said it was unfortunate publicity on the case has become part of the judicial campaign. While one trial has been completed in the murders, “we still have a case to resolve,” Blackwood said.
“I don’t think it is going to be of such a degree as to prevent us from finding a jury in Washington County,” Blackwood said, but he did warn that he would probably change venues if necessary.
The trial is scheduled to begin in August in Jonesborough.
ELIZABETHTON — A Criminal Court judge on Thursday denied a defense motion to bar a prosecutor from participating further in the so-called "Facebook murder" cases.
Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood ruled against a defense motion from three attorneys representing the remaining defendants in the murder case stemming from the Jan. 31, 2012, shooting deaths of Billy Payne Jr., 36, and Billie Jean Hayworth, 23, in Johnson County.
The attorneys asked Blackwood to change the trial location, toss a state witness and force Assistant District Attorney General Dennis Brooks to withdraw.
It’s detailed in the motion last week 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.
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, Brooks only said investigators spent countless tedious hours obtaining email communications in order to charge them.
Because of pretrial publicity, Blackwood moved the trial from Johnson County to Washington County, and the jury was comprised of Washington County residents.
But that was not enough to give the remaining three defendants a fair trial, their attorneys claimed. They wanted Blackwood to go one step further by bringing 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 claimed there was 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 at the Johnson City Press after her father’s conviction praising Brooks’ efforts and called Brooks by his first name and referenced knowing his wife.
Brooks is seeking election in the Republican Primary for a Criminal Court judgeship held by retiring Judge Robert Cupp.
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