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Facebook murders documented in true crime book written by prosecutor

Becky Campbell • Updated Jan 5, 2016 at 9:39 AM

Controversy surrounding the cover of a soon-to-be-published true crime book written by the case’s prosecutor may be resolved, but the victim’s mother still says she was betrayed by author, Assistant District Attorney General Dennis Brooks.

The disagreement involved Brooks and Beverly Garland, whose son Billy Payne was killed along with his girlfriend nearly three years ago in a twisted plot that evolved from catfishing, jealousy and revenge. Payne and Billie Jean Hayworth were killed in their Mountain City home by Marvin Potter and Jamie Curd after months of allegations from Potter’s daughter, Jenelle Potter, and his wife, Barbara Potter, who claimed Payne and Hayworth were out to get Jenelle.

Brooks, the lead prosecutor in the case, successfully obtained guilty verdicts for the Potters and a guilty plea from Curd. All three Potters are serving two life sentences each for the murders while Curd has a 25-year sentence for pleading to facilitation to second-degree murder. He was able to get a reduced plea and sentence in exchange for his testimony against the Potter women.

Garland said she was aware Brooks was working on a book — titled “Too Pretty to Live: The Catfishing Murders of East Tennessee” — after the Potter women were convicted in May, but was only recently alerted to the book cover, which initially included a photograph of Payne’s gravestone.

“When I look at it, I see my son laying there,” Garland said, referring to the photo of her son’s grave. “I’m totally blown away about the book, and right here at Christmas … right after my son’s anniversary death, this book is coming out.”

Garland said she received an email Monday morning from the publisher, Diverson Books in New York, that the cover was already changed on the company website and would soon be changed on all retailers advertising the book for sale. By mid-afternoon Monday, only two of five Internet retailers had changed the book cover.

“Out of respect, I’ve asked the publisher to change it,” Brooks said. “They’ve changed it.”

Brooks said he doesn’t believe he’s breached any ethical boundary by writing the book. The Tennessee Rules of Professional Conduct govern what attorneys and prosecutors can and cannot say publicly about cases before trial. But there is nothing in the rules about an attorney’s actions after a verdict is rendered, according to Sandy Garrett, chief disciplinary counsel for the Tennessee Board of Professional Responsibility.

“In my reading of the rules, I’m fine,” Brooks said. “I’m not the first prosecutor that’s written a book. I’m not the first lawyer who’s written a book,” he said. “At some point it becomes a First Amendment issue. Obviously I can’t write it before a jury hears a case. Once the jury rules, then I think the analysis changes of whether it’s ethical or not.”

Brooks said the idea of a book came to him after the jury verdict in Barbara and Jenelle Potter’s trial in May. He wrote the 350-page book in record time, using his lunch breaks, nights and weekends to tap it out.

“I didn’t know if I had enough material for a book, but when it got into it, it started flowing,” he said. “I thought it was something people would like to read about. It’s about my perspective of the case. I have a story I’m proud of and I just sat and wrote it. The day after the verdict, I’m sitting around trying to figure out how I move on with my life. Those Potter women occupied my life for a long time. Those things were buzzing around in my head and wouldn’t settle. It’s a story I’m proud of. I’m proud of the people who worked with me in the case. I think it’s a story that should be known by people.”

Brooks said the excitement of having written a book is tinged by how it came about. He hopes, however, that people who read the book will realize the difficulty of getting the case to trial.

“People say it’s exciting that I’ve written a book …. but you allow have to remember it’s about two families losing loved ones. I’m proud I’ll have a book with my name on it, but it’s  tempered with the fact two people lost their lives. Hopefully the book will allow the public to understand what it took to get those verdicts.”

“Too Pretty to Live: The Catfishing Murders of East Tennessee” is set for release Feb. 16 in digital format and paperback. According to Diversion Books, it is available through Amazon, Google Play, iTunes, Barnes & Noble and Kobo.

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