Barbara and Jenelle Potter were both convicted of two counts of first-degree murder in the January 2012 shooting deaths of Billy Payne and Billie Jean Hayworth inside that couple’s Johnson County home. Both women were sentenced to two life prison terms.
Barbara Potter’s husband, Marvin ’Buddy’ Potter, was convicted in a previous trial and is serving two life sentences as well for the murders.
The murder plot, and specifically the Potter women’s trial, was the subject of a 20/20 news show on ABC that aired Oct. 9.
The fourth defendant, and the man who the Potter attorneys say has more culpability than prosecutors believe, was Jamie Curd. He testified against Barbara and Jenelle Potter in exchange for a plea agreement to facilitation to commit murder and a 25-year prison sentence.
He’s supposed to serve 30 percent — or about seven years — before being eligible for parole, but according to the Tennessee Department of Correction website, he has a parole hearing scheduled for Nov. 19. He’s been in custody since Feb. 6, 2012.
For nearly a year before the murders, Jenelle Potter and the victims and some of their friends had an ongoing social media feud that resulted in Potter being “unfriended” on Facebook. During that time there were also thousands of email communications between the Potter women, Curd and a man prosecutors said was a fictional person Jenelle Potter created as an alter ego that allowed her to wiggle out from under her parents’ strict control.
Assistant District Attorney General Dennis Brooks said in his opening statements at trial that the murders were the result of a “bored” and “lonely” woman.
The defense tried to show that Curd, a self-made computer technician, had the knowledge and ability to create a paper and email trail of those communications that placed blame for planning the murder on the Potters.
“I think (the show) was a well-done show,” said Cameron Hyder, Jenelle Potter’s defense attorney, about the 20/20 production. “I think they told the story well. I would have liked to have seen them incorporate more of the theory of the defense for Jenelle. I feel like her side of the story was not completely extended to the viewing audience.”
The 20/20 production team spent several days in the Tri-Cities and Mountain City area conducting interviews and filming for the show.
“I know they worked hard on it (and) I think they did a good job,” Hyder said. “I think it was very prosecution-driven, which is normal, in my opinion. I felt they could have covered a little more of the defense we set forth, including more details we had about the expert testimony on the computer forensics.”
He’s referring to expert testimony the defense presented in an attempt to show Curd’s access to both the Potters’ and Paynes’ computers and his knowledge of how IP addresses work and creating an electronic trail on an email.
Barbara Potter’s reaction to the 20/20 presentation was not as forgiving as Hyder.
“Whatever else the 20/20 program might have stated, we have once again established beyond any shadow of a doubt that Jamie Lynn Curd is most certainly a master manipulator of the first degree,” Barbara Potter said in a statement released by Tate Davis, one of her trial attorneys. “Jamie Lynn Curd worked on Billy Payne's computer. That was the very same computer that sent all kinds of hate messages to my daughter and that terrorized my family. Amazingly, the TBI doesn't think it is significant that Jamie Lynn Curd also worked on the computer in my home. Even more amazingly, Jamie Lynn Curd turned out to be the state's star witness at my trial.”
Hyder agreed that Curd had more to do with the murders than prosecutors presented.
“Our position has been from the beginning that we think that Jamie Curd was heavily involved in the crime, and obviously we hope that the public sees that and, of course, we are flabbergasted he is up for parole,” Hyder said. “I don’t agree with the plea that was negotiated, but it was negotiated and it was accepted by the court and facilitated by Mr. Curd and his attorney. We feel like he is much more culpable than what he plead to.”
Barbara Potter’s reaction statement also attacked the state’s handling of the case from the start.
“The state has botched their investigation of this case from the very first,” she said. “What started with the Johnson County 911 sending medics into an non-secure crime scene as the shooter watched their response, has now led to my incarceration at the Tennessee Prison for Women. Four people are currently serving life sentences over one hideous crime. In the process, many mistakes have been made. It is an undisputed fact that the state of Tennessee never even bothered checking to see if my computer was even operating during the times that much of the so-called email evidence in this case was created.”
In closing, Barbara Potter said she told the 20/20 reporter that “I believed I'd not only go to heaven, but that I'd do so "with a clear conscience. Although we have been disappointed many times before in this case, my lawyer and I remain hopeful that justice will someday prevail."
Barbara and Jenelle Potter’s motion for new trial is scheduled to be heard Oct. 28 in Jonesborough.