“He wasn’t making a sound at all,” Linda Stephens testified Monday during a double first-degree murder trial. “You could tell he’d cried till he couldn’t make another sound. He was very red and blotchy looking on his face, there was blood on his sleeper and on the back of his head.”
The baby’s parents, Billy Payne, 36, and Billie Jean Hayworth, 23, were dead inside their 128 Davis Lane home in Mountain City, but the child and the family’s Jack Russell terrier were unscathed except for being covered in blood.
Four people were eventually charged with the murders. On trial this week are Barbara Mae Potter, 64, and her daughter, Jenelle Leigh Potter, 35, both of Mountain City. Marvin “Buddy” Potter, 63, husband of Barbara and father of Jenelle, has already been tried and convicted on two counts of first-degree murder and is serving two life sentences.
A fourth defendant, Jamie Curd, 41, described by prosecutors as a cousin of Payne’s and boyfriend of Jenelle Potter, was also charged with the murders. He has apparently reached a plea agreement with prosecutors and will testify this week against the Potter women.
The case was moved to Jonesborough because of pre-trial publicity created by the sensational aspect of the case in a small community as well as alleged motive for the deaths — that Jenelle Potter was “unfriended” on the social media website Facebook.
Attorneys in the case — Randy Fallin and Tate Davis for Barbara Potter, Cameron Hyder for Jenelle Potter and prosecutors, Assistant District Attorneys General Dennis Brooks and Matt Roark — selected a jury last week to speed up the trial. Testimony began Monday morning with opening statements, then prosecutors presented testimony from six witnesses, including Linda Stephens.
Hayworth and Payne’s baby was found in his dead mother’s arms, according to Stephens’ husband, Roy Stephens. A photograph of Hayworth’s body also showed what appeared to be a small Snoopy toy lying beside her on the floor of her child’s room.
Payne was dead in another bedroom, apparently attacked as he prepared for work that day. His work friend Brad Osborne testified he’d been to Payne’s home to pick him up for work, but Payne never came out. Osborne, who went to Payne’s home hours before the Stephens’, actually stepped inside the unlocked house — not unusual for the area — and called out Payne’s name. When he didn’t get a response, Osborne said he left and went on to work. It wasn’t until hours later he learned what happened.
Two Johnson County Rescue/EMS employees, paramedic Jamie Cress and advanced EMT Jennifer Brown, testified they checked Payne and Hayworth and verified the Stephenses’ assertion the two were dead.
Testimony for the day ended with Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Agent Scott Lott on the stand. He told the jury the big break in the case came about a week after the killings when investigators interviewed Curd for a second time. That’s apparently when Curd admitted he participated in the murders, and also implicated Marvin Potter.
Later the same day, Lott and other investigators arrested Marvin Potter — who was armed at the time — and searched the Potter home. In that search, officers found trash bags in the back of Potter’s truck that contained shredded emails with hate-filled exchanges between Jenelle Potter, her mother and the alter-identities Jenelle Potter allegedly created online.
Prosecutors intend to present more than 200 pages of those emails and other Facebook page printouts to the jury during the trial, according to Brooks.
During opening statements, Brooks set the stage for the killings, which he said were based on threats manufactured by Jenelle Potter, who he described as a bored, lonely 30-year-old.
Brooks told the jury that Jenelle Potter “catfished” her mother and Curd, which included her creating several Internet personas who used her email and Facebook accounts to communicate with them. Brooks said one of those personas she created was a man named Chris who called Barbara Potter “mom” and who she called “son.”
Chris also texted with Curd — from Jenelle Potter’s phone — and gave Curd relationship advice about Jenelle.
Prosecutors intend to present testimony from computer experts about IP addresses, which are attached to each computer on the Internet, and how transmissions can be tracked back to a certain computer.
But during Hyder’s opening statement, he told the jury that IP addresses attached to computers were not that simple and that it was Curd — apparently someone who tinkered with computers enough to repair them — who had access to not only Payne’s computer but also the Potter family computer.
Hyder and Fallin want to cast doubt in jurors’ minds that the Potter women were involved and that it was Curd who had the most to gain by the deaths of Payne and Hayworth. Fallin said Curd was upset because he’d lost his drinking buddy when Payne became involved with Hayworth and that he “wanted to have Jenelle to himself.”
Fallin said Curd could have stopped the killings, but he didn’t. Hyder said his client’s mind works on the level of a 9-year-old, and she could not have masterminded the killings. But prosecutors told jurors there were two years of build-up to the murders in which hundreds of emails were exchanged as well as dozens of Facebook posts containing a negative tone toward Hayworth.
Brooks said those emails “spewed hate,” toward Hayworth and that Marvin Potter believed his daughter was in danger of being attacked, raped and killed.
Testimony will resume at 9 a.m. today with Lott still on the stand. If convicted, both women face life in prison.