Defense attorneys hoping to get new trials for a mother and daughter’s first-degree murder cases laid out their reasons in a Washington County courtroom Wednesday during closing arguments in a post conviction relief hearing.
Barbara Potter, 69, and daughter Jenelle Potter, 38, are seeking new trials. Jenelle Potter’s post-conviction attorney, Grace Studer, also made a good argument for at least a new appeal for her client. Jenelle’s trial attorney, Cameron Hyder, admitted Tuesday to his part in missing certain deadlines in the appellate process.
Those missteps were essentially a waiver of appealing much of the evidence presented at trial.
In addition to hearing testimony Tuesday from trial attorneys in the case, Senior Judge William Acree heard from Marvin Potter, now 71, who for the first time admitted in a public setting that he shot and killed Bill Payne and then slit the man’s throat.
All three Potters are serving two life sentences for the Jan. 31, 2012, shooting deaths of Payne, 36, and Billie Jean Hayworth, 23, inside the couple’s Johnson County home. Their young child, who Hayworth was holding when she was shot, was not injured.
Marvin Potter testified that the day before the shootings, family friend Jamie Curd — who testified against the Potter women but said they had nothing to do with the crimes — had provided him with documents showing a plan for someone to kidnap and rape Jenelle.
That was the last straw for him, apparently, after back-and-forth allegations of harassment between the Potters and Payne and Hayworth for a couple of years prior to the murders.
“I don’t think anyone in that courtroom (when Marvin Potter testified) could reasonably say that was not impactful,” Studer said. “Any cross examination of any person, there’s a risk that will favor one side or another.
“(Marvin’s) testimony was too important not to hear because, again, they were charged under Tennessee’s criminal responsibility statute and that statute requires the state to show that the individual had the culpable mental state of the primary trigger man.”
Marvin Potter’s testimony, if heard by a jury at his wife and daughter’s trial, would have negated that culpable mental state requirement, she said.
Jenelle Potter has several health issues and reportedly has the mental competency of a fourth-grader. Prosecutors painted a vivid picture to jurors in her trial that she was a master manipulator and the one who planted the idea to kill Payne and Hayworth in her father’s head.
“It’s hard to say what a jury would consider, but I think they should have heard” Marvin Potter’s testimony, Studer said.
Scott Shults, who represents Barbara Potter in the post-conviction writ, laid much blame for his client’s conviction on her trial attorney, Randy Fallin, in his closing arguments.
One primary issue was that Shults said there was a direct conflict with Fallin representing both Marvin and Barabara Potter — especially since Marvin Potter’s appeal was ongoing while his wife and daughter’s trial was in progress.
Fallin’s co-counsel, Tate Davis, testified in the hearing that he had very serious concerns that Fallin wanted the Potter women convicted so he could take control of all their assets.
As it were, Fallin’s daughter, Jessica Fallin, was power of attorney for all three Potters and apparently sold some of their personal property. But there was no accounting of where that money went.
Barbara Potter testified that she estimated there was $173,000 in income and $120,000 of personal property that is gone.
Studer and Shults both said if a jury had heard Marvin Potter take full responsibility, a jury could have reasonably believed the Potter women were not involved.
Assistant District Attorney General Dennis Brooks disagreed, however, and said the evidence to convict the women — while circumstantial — was overwhelming.
Post-conviction relief arguments are long, detailed and include not only all evidence in the appellate record, but new evidence issues if applicable. As a result, judges do not make decisions on the spot. Acree said he would take all the testimony and arguments under advisement and return a ruling as soon as possible.