Witness for the prosecution: Woman testifies against mother, sister in 'Facebook murders' trial

Becky Campbell • May 7, 2015 at 1:00 AM

An Abingdon woman testified for the prosecution in the double homicide trial of her mother and sister Wednesday and told the jury about the strained and estranged relationship within her family for nearly the past two decades.

Barbara Mae Potter, 64, and her daughter, Jenelle Leigh Potter, 35, both of Mountain City, face two counts of first-degree murder for the Jan. 31, 2012 shooting deaths of Bill Payne, 36 and Billie Jean Hayworth, 23, inside that couple’s Johnson County home. The trial was moved to Washington County due to pretrial publicity and the alleged sensational motive for the murders — that Jenelle Potter had been unfriended on Facebook by the victims.

Payne died from a gunshot to the face and his neck was slashed. Hayworth died from a gunshot to the right side of her head. Their child, who investigators said was in his mother’s arm when she was shot, was found unharmed and lying by Hayworth.

Jurors were selected last week for this trial and testimony began Monday. Marvin Potter, husband and father of the defendants, has already been convicted on two counts of first degree murder and is serving two life sentences. A fourth person, Jamie Curd, will likely plead guilty in the case after he testifies in the Potter women’s trial.

First on the stand Wednesday was Christie Groover, the oldest daughter of Marvin and Barbara Potter and Jenelle’s only sibling.

Groover, who testified at her father’s trial in October 2013, said testifying against her mother and sister was difficult. She said the big falling out with her family was around 1999, although she’d had conflicts with them since she was a teen growing up in Pennsylvania. Groover moved to Mountain City after a divorce to get back on her feet and help her grandmother, she said. Now, Groove is an EMT in Abgindon, she said.

The rest of the Potter family moved back to Mountain City sometime after Groover did.

“We’ve tried to patch (the relationship) up numerous times,” Groover said, but ultimately it never worked out. Groover said she loves her mother and sister, but just can’t get along with them.

Assistant District Attorney General Dennis Brooks asked Groover about her father’s alleged work with the CIA, which is apparently referred to in emails the jury will see later in the trial and was also part of Marvin Potter’s trial.

“I don’t know,” if he worked for the CIA, Groover testified. “That was what we were told, that it was in Vietnam … he said it was on his DD214,” which is the military discharge document, but Groover said she’s never seen it.

Groover also testified that she believes her sister’s learning disabilities are overstated because she’s seen her tell her parents she was unable to do something, but laughed about it behind their backs. She said the last time she saw her younger sister was the night their mother was arrested on a tampering with evidence charge.

“I went and helped Jenelle at her … she would have been alone and I didn’t want her to be alone,” she testified. That was the last time the two had contact, she said.

On cross examination by Barbara Potter’s attorney Randy Fallin, he stated that she appeared to be an “enthusiastic” witness.

Groover emphatically responded about the difficulty she’s had with having to testify.

“I love my mother, and this is very difficult for me to sit here and do this. I miss my mother, but I can’t help what they have or have not done,” she said firmly.

When Jenelle Potter’s attorney questioned Groover, he asked if she felt any need to take care of or protect her sister because of her learning disabilities.

“No, because she was not as bad as you’re making it sound,” Groover said. “I didn’t feel her disabilities weren’t as bad as they say they were. I’d watch her say, ‘Oh, I can’t do something.’ and as soon as they walked out of the room she did it or laughed about it. As we got older we got further apart. We butted heads,” she testified.

When Hyder asked Groover if she knows Sandra Brooks, Assistant DA Dennis Brooks jumped up from his seat, objected and said, “I need to approach right now.”

Sandra Brooks is Dennis Brooks’ wife and apparently had a friendship with Groover. Whatever Brooks’ objection was to Senior Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood was apparently overruled and Hyder restated the question.

Groover ultimately testified they were no longer friends without further explanation as to why.

Jurors also heard testimony from TBI Agent Scott Lott - his third time on the stand - about emails he obtained through search warrants served on AOL and Yahoo. The emails, as well as some court documents the Potter women have filed in the past, are to show each of their writing styles to compare to other emails and Facebook posts that contain implicating information and statements.

Lott said he used the known writings to develop grammar legends for both women showing specific things - misspellings, abbreviations and other notations - each one had tendencies to do when they write.

Blackwood took an extended lunch break to allow the jury time to review that information.

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