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How a social media feud led to a couple’s murder

todayApril 5, 2024


ABC News

(MOUNTAIN CITY, Tenn.) — When police found Billy Payne and his fiancée Billie Jean Hayworth shot execution-style in a rural Tennessee home with their 7-month-old son Tyler alive in Hayworth’s arms in 2012, it sparked an investigation that would lead them to discover a complex murder concocted by a woman who was in the middle of a social media feud.

Jenelle Potter has been serving two concurrent life sentences for the murders after she was convicted in 2015. Prosecutors contend that Potter deceived her parents and her boyfriend into thinking that the couple threatened her before her father, Marvin “Buddy” Potter, committed the slayings.

Even all these years later, investigators said they still struggle with the horrors of the incident.

“The little boy…just thinking about him laying there just breaks my heart,” Mountain City Police Department Assistant Chief, Joe Woodard, who helped investigate the case, told “20/20.”

“20/20” will explore the case in an episode airing April 5 at 9 p.m. ET and streaming on Hulu the next day with archival interviews of Potter and her mother before their prison sentences, key investigators and friends of the victims.

The show will also feature interrogation tapes and courtroom footage of the case and the latest updates.

Potter told “20/20” in 2015 that she had trouble adjusting and didn’t make many friends when her family moved to Mountain City, Tennessee, in 2005.

“I didn’t grow up here,” Potter, now 42, told “20/20” in 2015. “People here do not like outsiders.”

She befriended pharmacy clerk Tracy Greenwell and the two started hanging out, along with Greenwell’s brother, Billy Payne. Potter also had a relationship with Greenwell’s cousin, Jamie Curd, behind the back of her strict parents.

Trouble started to brew when Potter claimed she was getting harassing messages on her Facebook page and accused Hayworth of being behind them.

Eventually, Potter, Hayworth and Payne stopped being friends on Facebook.

A few days after the couple was found dead, investigators questioned Marvin, Jenelle and Barbara in their home.

“We knew that they had trouble with [Hayworth and Payne],” Woodard told “20/20.”

During the interview, Jenelle appeared to be hiding her romantic relationship with Curd from her parents. He was later was later brought in for questioning by police.

After being told he failed a polygraph test, Curd admitted that he and Janelle’s dad, Marvin, went to Payne and Hayworth’s home where he says Marvin killed them.

“I didn’t truly believe that Buddy Potter was capable of doing this,” Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Special Agent Scott Lott said in 2015. “Because Buddy did have some health issues.”

With this new information, police brought Marvin in for questioning.

While being questioned by detectives, Marvin said, “I’ve had my life threatened. My wife has been threatened. They’ve threatened to take Jenelle, cut her head off.”

Lott then arranged for Marvin to call his wife Barbara.

On the call, Marvin is heard telling his wife: “Before you find out from somebody else, I want you to know, I was involved in it. I did it…At least some of it.” “That’s as close to a confession as we got from him,” said Lott in 2015.

While Marvin was being questioned, police executed a search warrant on the Potter house.

Assistant Chief Woodard said investigators found an “arsenal” of weapons around the home. They also discovered printed photos of the victim and her friends in the living room.

Authorities seized 51 items from the house, including their family computer. When they impounded Marvin’s truck, they found bags of shredded documents.

An agent meticulously reconstructed more than 100 pages of what appeared to be thousands of emails sent to the Potter family.

“After combing through them, it appeared there was some type of conspiracy here. They kept referring to a guy Chris that’s supposedly a CIA operative or something,” Lott said in 2015.

The CIA agent “Chris” had been corresponding with Barbara and warning her about threats to her daughter’s life.

On the Potters’ computer, police analysis found that emails sent from CIA agent Chris all came from the same IP address at the home where the Potters lived. Prosecutors contended Jenelle was pretending to be Chris and used the false identity to fool her parents and to goad Marvin Potter into the killing. They also say the threats of rape and murder against Jenelle were false and fabricated by her.

“Social media allowed Jenelle Potter to be someone that she wasn’t,” Brooks said. “She could assume a different identity and be as hateful as she wanted to be.”

In August 2013, authorities arrested Jenelle and Barbara for the murders of Payne and Hayworth.

A few months later, in October 2013, Marvin was found guilty of two counts of first-degree murder and was sentenced to two life sentences. Curd agreed to a plea deal of two concurrent sentences of 25 years in prison for facilitation of first degree murder and testified against Jenelle and Barbara. He has been released on parole.

In May 2015 Jenelle and Barbara were convicted after a seven-day trial and sentenced to life in prison two months later.

In an interview with “20/20” after the conviction, Jenelle and Barbara denied that they were involved in the murders of Payne and Hayworth.

“I didn’t hate [Hayworth and Payne]. I just disliked them. I wanted [them] to quit. I wanted the harassment to stop,” Jenelle Potter said.

Both Jenelle and Marvin lost appeals on their cases and are serving their sentences.

In 2021, Barbara’s murder conviction was overturned because her lawyer, who also represented Marvin, had a conflict of interest. Instead of being retried she pled guilty to the lesser charge of facilitation of murder. She is now eligible for parole in 2028.

Friends and family of the victims say the one thing that remains etched in their minds is baby Tyler and how he has to live the rest of his entire life without his mom and dad.

“He was her world,” Thomas said of Hayworth. “Just this glow she had about her when he came into the world was just unbelievable.”

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