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Judge denies mother, daughter's requests for new trial based on information in prosecutor's book

Becky Campbell • Jan 18, 2018 at 11:11 AM

A mother and daughter convicted of two first-degree murders in Johnson County won’t get a new trial based on information they learned from the prosecutor’s true-crime book about their case — the so-called Facebook murders — a special judge ruled late last week.

Senior Judge Don Ash of Murfreesboro sent his opinion to the Washington County Circuit Court Clerk’s office by mail, and it was filed Friday. Ash was appointed to the case because of the retirement of Senior Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood, who sat over the May 2015 trial of Barbara Potter, 67, and Jenelle Potter, 36. They and Marvin “Buddy” Potter, who is Barbara Potter’s husband and Jenelle Potter’s father, were all convicted in the murders of Billy Payne and Billie Hayworth, a couple whom Jenelle Potter accused of harassing her.

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.

Buddy Potter was tried separately in October 2013 and convicted of both murders. He and Jamie Curd, the fourth person arrested in the case and one-time love interest of Jenelle Potter, were charged and arrested at the same time. As their case progressed through the court system, the investigation continued, and in August 2013, the Potter women were indicted on murder charges. Curd ended up testifying against mother and daughter for a deal that got him 25 years in prison. He’s eligible for parole in 2019.

After the second trial, Assistant District Attorney General Dennis Brooks — one of the prosecutors in the trial —  published a book on the case in February 2016, just eight months after the women were convicted and while their cases were under direct appeal to the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals. Defense attorneys filed a motion for coram nobis to stop the direct appeals so they could deal with new information they believe Brooks revealed in his book.

Much of the alleged new evidence centered around interviews and conversations investigators and Brooks had with Curd about the case. In Curd’s statement provided to defense counsel — Cameron Hyder for Jenelle Potter and Randy Fallin for Barbara Potter — he told investigators about text messages and email communications he had with both women and emails he exchanged with a non-existent man named Chris, who Jenelle Potter claimed was with the CIA and wanted Payne and Hayworth killed. Chris was apparently someone Jenelle pretended to be and had convinced Curd and her parents that he actually existed.

It went so far as for Barbara Potter to communicate with “Chris” by email, and she apparently never questioned the fact that Chris’ email came from her daughter’s email account.

In Brooks’ books, he detailed information that Curd said concerning text messages he exchanged with the so-called Chris in a span of a year leading up to the murders. Hyder and Fallin told the judge they would have approached their cross examination of Curd differently if they had known about the text communications between Curd and Chris.

In Ash’s ruling, he said that the different statements Curd made in those unreported conversations would only have been usable to impeach him as a witness. Newly discovered impeachment evidence does not warrant overturning a conviction, Ash said.

From here, the Potter women’s cases can resume proceeding through the appellate process. Both women are serving two consecutive life sentences at the Tennessee Prison for Women. They are eligible for parole in 2072. Marvin Potter, 66, is serving his two life sentences at Whiteville Correctional Facility. He is eligible for parole in 2132.

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