Marvin Enoch Potter Jr., the first of four charged with the 2012 slayings of a Mountain City couple, was found guilty by a Washington County jury on two counts of first-degree murder.
Under law, every first-degree murder conviction receives an automatic life sentence. Despite this, a sentencing hearing will still be held.
Assistant District Attorney General Dennis Brooks, who said he was pleased with the conviction, added that he was glad that Potter would receive his sentencing hearing.
“I do look forward that it will give the victims’ families a chance to say something to him,” Brooks said.
Potter expressed little emotion as the jury foreman read the verdict, and remained stoic as Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood informed him he would receive two life sentences, one for each crime.
On Jan. 31, 2012, Billie Jean Hayworth and Billy Clay Payne Jr. were found shot to death at their home at 128 James Davis Lane in Mountain City. The couple’s 6-month-old son, Tyler, was discovered alive in his dead mother’s arms.
Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Special Agent Scott Lott was assigned to the case, and said he began by talking to people who were closest to the couple.
“We started by working with a close circle of their friends, and then moving out,” Lott said.
“Moving out” ultimately led to those who, as their friends would testify, bore Payne and Hayworth ill will. Those people were Marvin Potter, his wife, Barbara, his daughter, Jenelle, and Jenelle Potter’s boyfriend, Jamie Curd, who was also Payne’s second cousin.
It was Curd who ultimately provided Lott and other investigators with the first piece of evidence against Marvin Potter. During their first conversation, Lott said that Curd denied any involvement in the murders. On Feb. 6, 2012, however, they spoke again, and this time, Curd said that he and Marvin Potter carried out the murders, with Marvin Potter acting as the shooter, while he slashed Payne’s throat.
Curd’s integrity as a witness came under question by defense attorneys throughout the trial. In his closing statement, defense attorney David Robbins questioned why Lott relied so heavily on a statement from a man who had already lied to him.
“He gives them a statement, (and) Scott Lott determines that that’s a lie,” Robbins said, in the defense’s closing statement. “So Jamie Curd gives them another statement; Scott Lott decides that one is true. … That’s what he had when he decided to interrogate Marvin Potter. He had a statement from somebody who already had lied to him once. He has a statement from a liar.”
In addition to the statement, Lott also arranged for Curd to call Marvin Potter while the conversation was being recorded. On the evening of Feb. 6, Curd called and asked Marvin Potter about evidence from the crime scene, during which Marvin Potter appeared to acknowledge that he had, at one time, had items from the crime scene in his home.
Lott then arrested Marvin Potter and brought him to the Johnson County Sheriff’s Department, where he and fellow Special Agent Mike Hannon spent more than three hours interrogating him. Marvin Potter denied any involvement in the crime many times, but, as the interview progressed, eventually admitted some guilt in a phone conversation he had with his wife.
“Before somebody else tells you, I want you to know, I was involved in it,” Marvin Potter said. “I did it.”
One of the defense’s last witnesses, Dr. Thomas Schacht – director of forensic services and psychotherapy at East Tennessee State University’s Quillen College of Medicine – said that confession may have resulted from Marvin Potter’s hypoxia, which is a condition that prevents the body from receiving oxygen in particular areas.
“In general, hypoxia is associated with impaired judgment, impaired memory, impaired coordination, (and) a person’s ability to do calculations,” Schacht said. “Mr. Potter, as I recall, was repeatedly told by the detectives that he was involved. Toward the end, he was told that if he wanted to talk to his wife, he should ‘man up’ and tell her he was involved. I don’t know whether he was involved or not … but the choice for Mr. Potter to say to his wife what the detectives had been saying to him, if it was not true, could be understood as an impairment of judgment.”
Schacht was unable, however, to say, with any medical certainty, that Marvin Potter had been affected by these symptoms during his interview.
With the trial of Marvin Potter now concluded, Brooks and fellow ADAG Matthew Roark will prepare for the next case in the Payne/Hayworth murders. Curd and Barbara and Jenelle Potter have all been charged in their deaths.
For more on the trial, the murders, the last day of court, and on the Potters, read the story in Sunday’s edition of the STAR.
A jury has found Marvin Enoch Potter Jr. guilty on all charges stemming from the deaths of Billy Clay Payne Jr. and Billie Jean Hayworth.
Potter has been convicted of two counts of first-degree murder. He was sentenced to life in prison.
For more details as they become available, follow this story on our website.