Two more charged in Facebook slayings

John Thompson • Aug 10, 2013 at 10:26 PM

MOUNTAIN CITY — Two more people have been charged with first-degree murder in the 2012 deaths of Billy Clay Payne and Billie Jean Hayworth.

A Johnson County grand jury on Friday returned presentments against Barbara Mae Potter and Janelle Leigh Potter. Each has been charged with two counts of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit first-degree murder.

Both women were arrested following the presentments in Abingdon, Va., and are in custody of the Washington County, Va., Sheriff’s Department pending extradition. Their bonds have been set at $500,000 each.

Their arrests brings to four people who have been charged in the deaths of Payne and Hayworth. Previously, Marvin Enoch Potter Jr. and Jamie Lee Curd were charged. Also on Friday the grand jury approved the reindictment of Curd, who is now charged with first-degree murder as well as conspiracy to commit first-degree murder. Marvin Potter is scheduled for trial on Oct. 7 and Curd is scheduled to stand trial on Dec. 9.

The case was the subject of worldwide interest on the Internet and made front page in newspapers around the globe because of the brutal nature of the slayings and their unusual motive. The slayings allegedly took place because Payne and Hayworth had “defriended” Janelle Potter on their Facebook account.

Payne and Hayworth were both shot in the head in their home sometime after Payne’s father had left for work. The couple’s infant was found in the home by investigators but was unharmed.

Assistant District Attorney General Dennis Brooks said the latest development in the case “has been the result of exhaustive work not only on the part of the district attorney’s office, but also by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and the Johnson County Sheriff’s Department. ... The TBI today presented evidence to the grand jury that it gathered against these defendants.”

“We regret that it has taken as long as it has in order to get to this point, but the investigative process to develop probable cause on the two women has been tedious. Search warrants had to be perfected to collect email communications between the parties, countless hours went into analyzing those emails and efforts have had to be pursued to authenticate the defendants as the authors of the communications.

“Today’s presentments, which are the equivalent of indictments, get us closer to justice being done in these killings,” Brooks concluded.

Barbara Mae Potter is the wife of Marvin Enoch Potter Jr., both of whom are the parents of Jenelle Leigh Potter.

“Ethically, I must decline any further comment on the evidence,” said Brooks. “It will be presented in court in due time.”

In other developments in the case, venue for the trial on Marvin Enoch Potter Jr., has been changed to Washington County where a jury there will hear the case in October. The district attorney general’s office agreed to the change, which it is also willing to do for the other three defendants.

“Rather than have the taxpayers of Johnson County waste money attempting to seat a jury of Johnson County citizens and potentially not being able to get 12 jurors without preconceived opinions, we decided it be more cost-effective and efficient to go ahead and agree to a change of venue,” said Brooks. “And more importantly, this agreement will remove the venue question as an appellate issue in the future.

“Having spoken with many persons in Johnson County about this case, I was convinced that this case has touched their lives to such an extent that we cannot risk having a venue question imperiling any convictions that we obtain.

“I am confident that jurors from any place in the country would take this case seriously and return a fair and just verdict.”

Also, Brooks is filing a “Motion for Joinder” for defendants Jamie Lee Curd, Barbara Mae Potter and Jenelle Leigh Potter. If granted, this motion would put those three defendants together for a joint trial as their charges are identical.

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