By Max Hrenda
MOUNTAIN CITY — Eighteen days after a Washington County jury convicted him on two counts of first-degree murder, Marvin Potter now knows how he will live out the rest of his days.
On Tuesday morning, during his sentencing hearing at the Johnson County Courthouse, Potter was sentenced to two consecutive life sentences, one for each of the victims he was convicted of killing.
On Jan. 31, 2012, the bodies of Billy Payne, 36, and Billie Jean Hayworth, 23, were found dead from apparent gunshot wounds in their home at 128 James Davis Lane in Mountain City. Hayworth’s dead body was found holding her and Payne’s 6-month-old son, Tyler, in her arms. In addition to the gunshots, Payne’s throat was slit.
The investigation eventually led to Potter, who would later, after more than three hours of interrogation, tell his wife, Barbara, on a recorded conversation, “I did it.”
The case made national news after law enforcement officials reported that Potter killed Payne and Hayworth because they “de-friended” his daughter, Jenelle, on Facebook.
Whether or not Potter killed Hayworth and Payne over an Internet dispute was never established during the trial. In fact, before handing down Potter’s sentence, Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood commented that there are several aspects of this case that may go unsolved and unknown.
“This is one of the most bizarre set of circumstances I’ve encountered in my career,” Blackwood said. “There are a lot of questions that probably will never be explained and known.”
Despite the bizarre circumstances, the manner in which Payne and Hayworth died, particularly Hayworth, may have played a role in affecting Blackwood’s decision to impose two consecutive life sentences.
“I can’t think of anything colder than shooting a mother who is holding her baby,” Blackwood said. “If the bodies hadn’t been discovered at that time, I don’t know what would have happened. If the sight of a mother holding a baby didn’t give you pause, nothing will.”
While the victims’ deaths themselves may have affected Blackwood’s decision, members of the victims’ families were also allowed to speak, both to Potter and to the court, before the sentence was announced.