1. How a Social Media Feud Led to the Murder of a Young Tennessee Couple
Potter lived most of her adult life on social media. But when an online feud erupted, two of her former friends were found murdered in their home while their baby survived.
In a mystery that involved a supposed CIA agent, cyber bullying and a small Tennessee town, read below to see what led to the coldblooded murders.
Jenelle and Her Family Adjust to Life in Mountain City
Jenelle Potter, pictured above, said she had trouble making friends when she moved to Mountain City, Tennessee, in 2005.
“’Cause I wasn’t born and raised here. I didn’t grow up here,” Potter, 34, told “20/20.” “People here do not like outsiders.”
Because of health problems, including Type 1 diabetes, Potter spent most of her time living at home with her parents, who cared for her every day. She didn’t have a job or drive a car.
Potter’s mother Barbara Potter had a job with Hewlett-Packard, and her father Marvin Potter, known as Buddy, was a former marine who served in Vietnam. His wife told “20/20” he later worked with the CIA.
Jenelle’s sister Christie Groover, who’s been estranged from the family for a decade, said Jenelle struggled to make friends growing up.
“Instead of being herself, my parents tried to make her fit in. They also, in the same breath, would say how different she was, and then [she] became unable to make friends normally,” Groover told “20/20.” Social media became Jenelle’s life support, though she said her parents monitored her Facebook page.
Jenelle Makes Friends in Mountain City
One day while picking up prescriptions, Jenelle befriended pharmacy clerk Tracy Greenwell.
“We felt sorry for Jenelle because she was sheltered and sick and stuff,” Greenwell told “20/20.”
Jenelle spent time with Greenwell and her friends, including Greenwell’s brother Billy Payne.
“Everybody says she fell in love with Bill, but I still don’t see that,” said Greenwell.
Greenwell introduced Jenelle to her cousin Jamie Curd, who is handy with computers. The two became an item, with Jenelle hiding her relationship from her strict parents.
From time to time, Curd would visit the Potter house to fix the family computer. But behind her parents’ backs, Jenelle and Curd would secretly spend time together.
Jenelle Receives Anonymous Threats
While it seemed that Jenelle’s social life was finally blooming, she was being relentlessly bullied online with anonymous comments appearing on her Facebook page.
“I was a bad person. I was horrible. [They] threatened to get [me] raped,” Jenelle said.
“I remember I wrote, ‘Please do not write on Jenelle’s Facebook.’ I begged them. ‘Please don’t do this,’” Jenelle’s mom Barbara said.
Jenelle said one of her Facebook friends, Billie Jean Hayworth, was the one behind the attacks because Hayworth was jealous of her looks.
Hayworth was dating Billy Payne, and the couple lived together with their infant son.
A feud erupted on social media with Curd, Payne’s cousin, taking Jenelle’s side.
“[Jenelle said] she wished that Bill and Billie Jean and that damn baby would die. When I read this, I was devastated,” Lindsay Thomas, a friend of Hayworth and Payne, told “20/20.”
“[Jenelle] was always saying that somebody was mad at her. Somebody hated her. Somebody wanted to kill her,” Greenwell said. “She was paranoid about it.”
But Jenelle said there were real threats of violence against her. In one incident, police photographed a rock, pictured above, that was found in the Potters’ front yard with the names Billy Payne and Billie Jean written on it.
Eventually both sides deleted each other as friends on Facebook.
“I think that we did it to each other. I unfriended them. They unfriended me,” Jenelle said. “I did Bill first and then I think Billie did me. And I unfriended her.”
Jenelle’s Former Friends Are Found Murdered
On Jan. 31, 2012, a friend of Payne and Hayworth found them dead by single gunshots to their faces.
Payne’s throat had also been slashed as he lay in bed, and Billie Jean had been cradling their baby in her arms when she died. The 7-month-old boy survived unharmed.
“It takes a cold-blooded person to shoot someone holding a baby,” Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Special Agent Scott Lott told “20/20.”
The day after the murders, Chief Deputy Joe Woodard of the Johnson County Sheriff’s Department, talked to Jenelle, Barbara and Marvin at their home, which they recorded.
“Because 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. Later that week, authorities brought Curd in and asked him to take a polygraph test, which indicated he lied about knowing the identity of Payne and Hayworth’s killer.
“Jamie in the interview had said something to the effect of, ‘Is the CIA here?’ That was a very strange question to me,” Lott said.
In a major breakthrough, Curd told detectives he’d been texting with a man named Chris who told him he was in the CIA and that it was his job to protect Jenelle at all costs.
Jenelle’s Dad Admits to Being Involved in Murders
After being at the interrogation for nearly six hours, Curd told police Jenelle’s dad Marvin killed Hayworth and Payne.
“I didn't truly believe that Buddy Potter was capable of doing this,” Lott said. “Because Buddy did have some health issues.”
Detectives had Curd call Marvin to get a confession on tape. Police later moved in and arrested Marvin in a pre-dawn raid in February 2012.
While being questioned by detectives, Marvin said, “Ever since all this crap started, I’ve had my life threatened. My wife has been threatened. They’ve threatened to take Jenelle, cut her head off.”
Agent Lott then arranged for Marvin to call his wife Barbara. “He told Barbara, ‘I did it.’ That's as close to a confession as we got from him,” said Lott.
But Barbara, pictured above with Marvin, didn’t accept her husband’s supposed confession of guilt.
“When they took him, they took no oxygen. They took no medication. And they interviewed him for hours,” Barbara told “20/20.” “When his oxygen gets low, he says things that don’t make sense or are incorrect.”
Jenelle and Her Family Are Investigated for the Murders
While Marvin was being questioned, police executed a search warrant on the Potter house.
Chief Deputy Woodard said investigators found an “arsenal” of weapons around the home though none matched the murder weapon. They also discovered printed photos of the victim and her friends in the living room. At one point, Barbara ripped the photos that were found in what seemed to be an attempt to hide them from police.
Authorities seized 51 items from the house, including their family computer. When they impounded Marvin’s truck, they found bags of shredded documents, pictured above.
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,” special agent Lott said.
The CIA agent “Chris” had apparently been corresponding with Barbara and warning her about threats to her daughter’s life.
“He was watching these people that he said were harassing her on the computer and calling her. And when she would go out with her dad, he said they were watching them together,” Barbara said. “He said he couldn’t use his real name, his real identity.”
Police also honed in on Jenelle and Curd’s text messages with each other the morning of the murders.
“[The text messages were] very telling about Jenelle being involved in the preparation for the killing,” prosecutor Dennis Brooks told “20/20.”
And on the Potters’ computer, police analysis found that hundreds of emails sent from the CIA agent Chris all came from the same IP address as the home where the Potters lived. Brooks believes Jenelle was pretending to be Chris.
“Social media allowed Jenelle Potter to be someone that she wasn’t … She invented Chris. She could assume a different identity and be as hateful as she wanted to be,” Brooks said.
Prosecutors believe Jenelle used the false identity to fool her parents and to goad Marvin into the killing.
“She was feeding Barbara’s delusions, so Barbara ignores the signs that something is amiss here.”
Jenelle and Her Mom Go on Trial for the Murders
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 for the murders and is currently serving two life sentences. Curd agreed to a plea deal of 25 years in prison.
In May 2015, three and a half years after the shootings, Jenelle and Barbara finally went on trial.
“I think they would be called masterminds,” said Lott. “Janelle kind of spurred it. Barbara got it to happen.”
Prosecutor Brooks told the jury that Jenelle authored all the emails from Chris by pointing out the childish writing and misspellings matched her pattern of speech.
“My client is not guilty for having an overprotective father,” Jenelle’s attorney Cameron Hyder told “20/20.” “She is not capable of directing anyone to commit murder. It’s just not in her.”
After seven days of testimony, the jury found both Jenelle and Barbara guilty of first degree murder, and they were both sentenced to life in prison in July.
“I don’t want anybody murdered. I did not do that,” Barbara said.
“I didn’t murder anyone,” Jenelle, pictured in jail above, told “20/20.”
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2. Pierre Cardin feud tears village apart
It's been called the most ravishing village in France - literally.
Lacoste was once the home of the champion debauchee, the Marquis de Sade. In the hilltop chateau, he staged his famous orgies and flagellations, with local girls procured for his enjoyment.
Two-and-a-half centuries later, Lacoste is ravishing in the other sense. Steep cobbled streets and ancient houses lend an archetypal beauty.
This part of the Luberon has always drawn eminent outsiders. For many years, Tom Stoppard had a home in Lacoste and John Malkovich owns a farm in the vineyards below. Peter Mayle - of A year in Provence fame - lives a few miles away.
But it is the fashion designer, Pierre Cardin, who has left by far the deepest imprint on Lacoste. Indeed for many locals, the Cardin mark is too deep. They wish he would go away.
It was in 2001 that the veteran couturier acquired De Sade's castle, which he in part restored and now sometimes lives in.
He erected modernist sculptures and launched an annual theatre festival in an abandoned Roman quarry.
Cardin then set about also buying up large parts of the actual village. Today he owns 22 houses along the Rue Basse - Lower Street - as well as a boulangerie and a cafe.
Several of the houses he has converted into futuristic art galleries, and others into guest houses. Most of the time they are empty of visitors.
Cardin's acquisitive coup de force provoked major ructions among the Lacostois.
The village has a long tradition of feuding, and reactions to this cosmopolitan interloper have been bitterly divisive.
Some say he has destroyed the community by spraying his money and driving up prices. For others, he is a generous philanthropist who provides much-needed local employment.
Now aged 89, Cardin himself says he is impervious to the attacks to which he is subjected.
"Personally I pay no attention to what the people say. They are just jealous," he tells me in an interview.
"After all, what have they ever done for Lacoste? Absolutely nothing."
The bitterest of Cardin's enemies are a couple called Jacques and Colette Truphemus, who live on Rue Basse amidst his guest-houses and exhibition spaces.
A retired mason, Jacques was born in Lacoste and Colette - who is half-English - came here when they married in 1963.
"First he bought one house, then two, then three. Now he owns most of the lower part of the village," says Colette.
"Before he came I used to have friends here. We would meet for cards or a coffee. Now there's nothing. No life, no friends. He has killed the village."
"It is like an opera set," says Jacques.
Recently hostility to Cardin flared into confrontation when he proposed creating a golf course in fields outside the village. Protesters driving tractors threatened to disrupt the opening of his theatre festival, and he was forced to back down.
But not everyone is happy with the way Cardin has been treated.
Olivier Mazel, who runs a guesthouse with his wife Lydia, says much of the opposition is ideological.
"They hate him because he is an outsider and because he is rich. But people like that are against everything.
"Our view is that he has brought a lot to Lacoste. Without him the castle would be in ruins. Most of the houses he bought were empty and in a terrible state. He has put money into the place and employs about 40 people.
"The golf course is typical. It would have created dozens of jobs, especially in the winter when life here can be desolate. What's infuriating is that the land he wanted to use had been abandoned by the very farmers who opposed him tooth-and-nail."
Finn MacEoin, an Irish writer who has settled in Lacoste, is another who takes Cardin's side in the dispute - once for his pains getting a bullet through the letter-box.
"Cardin is a true philanthropist. He doesn't want to be the richest man in the graveyard, so he spends his money on things he loves.
"But sure, if Andrew Carnegie or Henry Ford or some other philanthropist were re-born in Lacoste, they'd have him up against the wall! The atmosphere in Lacoste can be truly poisonous."
Cardin's own story is a long march from humble beginnings to fame and enormous wealth.
He became a world-renowned figure in the 1960s after he launched the first pret-a-porter show for the mass market, and introduced high fashion to China and Japan. Today his franchises operate in more than 120 countries.
Cardin still runs his global empire from offices opposite the Elysee in Paris. But he has always been regarded as something of an upstart by the fashion elite - no doubt because of his working-class origins.
"This is the man who invented pret-a-porter," says MacEoin. "He was persecuted by the rich when he was poor, and now that he's rich he's persecuted by the poor. But the real man of the people - it's him."
Cardin himself says his actions in Lacoste are for the community's benefit.
"I do what I do not just for myself, but for everyone here," he tells me. "I do it simply because I love the place."
3. Feud Between Two Alabama Families Turns Into Full-Scale Riot
Eight people were arrested, and at least four were hurt, Trooper John Reese said. Two were taken to hospitals. The town's police chief was hit in the head with a crowbar but was OK.
The two- or three-year-old feud apparently prompted a fight earlier in the day at a high school, after a window was shot out of a home Sunday night. Then, "all hell broke loose" later in the day, said Sgt. Carlton Hogue of the Perry County Sheriff's Department.
"It was a full-scale riot is what it was," said Tony Long, mayor of the town of 3,300 about 85 miles west of Montgomery.
Hogue said the rioters were "throwing jack irons, throwing tire irons, anything they could get their hands on." Some people carried baseball bats and brooms.
Reese said two people were arrested at the high school during the initial disturbance. Relatives of the people who were arrested followed officers to police headquarters at city hall, and then the melee erupted.
Six more people were arrested at city hall, Reese said, and police called in reinforcements from surrounding cities. Some officers wore riot gear, and many planned to stay overnight to help maintain order.
The mayor said he wasn't sure what sparked the fracas.
"Everybody's trying to point the finger at everybody," he said.
Judson College, a church-affiliated women's school with about 300 students in downtown Marion, issued an alert asking students to stay out of the downtown area for 24 hours as a precaution.
4. Explosives killer executed in China
The man, Ma Hongqing, 51, was shot immediately after being sentenced at a public rally in Shaanxi province in central China, where the blast happened in July.
Reports in the Chinese media say Mr Ma blew up the explosives, belonging to a rival illegal producer, after failing in an attempt to steal them.
Correspondents say police across China have been ordered to take measures against illegal manufacturers of explosives.
The official Chinese news agency, Xinhua, reported at the time that Ma Hongqing was heavily in debt and had "long-running" conflicts with his neighbours.
On 16 July, after failing to steal explosives belonging to one of his neighbours, Ma Shiping, he threw a detonator into the house where they stored.
The explosion flattened the farming village of Mafang. Some reports put the death toll as high as 80, with about 100 people injured.
Police originally blamed Ma Shiping for the blast, saying he had illegally stored the explosives in the village after his factory was shut down.
A two-week investigation suggested Ma Shiping, the original suspect, could not have caused the blast and suspicion fell on Ma Hongqing.
Illegal explosives are commonly used in mining and to clear fields for farming in China, making them easily available for criminal use.
A man was executed for a series of explosions that killed more than 100 people in the northern city of Shijiazhuang earlier this year.
Two women who supplied him with the explosives were also put to death, and fourth person was sentenced to life imprisonment.
An explosion in a school in the southern province of Jiangxi killed 42 teachers and students within days of the Shijiazhuang bombings.
Officials said a madman was responsible for that blast, but some parents of victims said their children had been forced to make illegal explosives at the school.
5. An Ongoing Feud in Victory Illustrates the Dark Side of Small-Town Life
That's not how town meetings have been going down in the Northeast Kingdom town of Victory, population 62, for as long as residents can remember.
During last year's meeting, Walter Mitchell rose and sarcastically nominated his longtime rival, Jan Stanley, to serve on the selectboard.
"I would like to nominate the most talented person in this room, they got all the answers. They have all the answers for years. The only thing I know smarter is my jackass, and I shot him," Mitchell, 63, said, according to meeting minutes. "That person is Jan Stanley."
Stanley called him "rude," according to the minutes, and declined the insincere nomination.
"I don't regret that statement one iota," Mitchell said during a recent interview in Victory, before hastening to add that he hadn't actually shot a donkey. "That was just a slam. I never hurt a donkey."
The Northeast Kingdom may look sepia-toned to outsiders, but Victory has been torn apart by nasty personal feuds between neighbors who can't even recall what precipitated them. While the stakes are laughably small, the enmity is huge. The Essex County Sheriff's Department provides security at every Victory selectboard meeting.
And the acrimony extends beyond the town hall. Members of rival groups have taken out no-trespassing orders against the others. The selectboard chair is convinced that a rival has tapped her phone. Several residents tell stories of having pets that they believe were maliciously killed. Almost everyone says they have received anonymous, threatening letters at one time or another.
"We're screwed up, basically," former town clerk and treasurer Carol Easter said.
In the late 1990s, the Boston Globe twice sent a reporter to Victory to document the conflict. Describing Victory as "less Norman Rockwell and more Edgar Allan Poe," the Globe reported on threatening letters, lawsuits, a pet ram that appeared to have been killed and accusations of financial shenanigans.
Two recent skirmishes have intensified the feuding.
In January, a handful of town officials revoked a tax exemption for a small humane society run by Patricia Mitchell, Walter's wife. Mitchell turned around and sued the town, accusing the officials of carrying out a personal vendetta against her.
This year's town meeting was dominated by news that an independent audit of Victory's books has turned up missing records, undocumented spending and evidence of possible embezzlement from the town, which has a $500,000 budget. A private accountant told the Victory residents gathered earlier this month that she had found "very significant problems" dating back several years. Her findings have triggered a new round of accusations and name-calling. Two law enforcement officers were on hand to help control the ensuing debate.
Essex County Sheriff Trevor Colby said he has lost count of how many times his office has received complaints and requests for investigations from Victory. He laughs off most of them.
"You're talking few people, long-term relationships, families that have been there for years," Colby said. "In small towns, they don't have a ton of supervision of employees, so it's just ripe for accusations." And with about 25 elected or appointed town positions to fill, nearly half of Victory's residents are involved in town affairs. "The votes to change leadership are so close, and the accusations are so fierce," said Colby, "that there's times where it gets out of hand."
There are no schools in Victory. No post office, stores, gas stations or churches indicate a town center. A crooked sign on the edge of town announces matter-of-factly, "Town of Victory."
Most residents live on a few dirt roads scratched into Victory Hill, where modest homes provide views of New Hampshire's White Mountains. The other area, Gallup Mills, is six miles away and consists mostly of trailer homes, ranging from tidy to crumbling, clustered in a small valley. In between are about 20,000 acres of state-owned forest and bogs. A bumpy dirt road connects the two areas.
Even by Vermont standards, it's isolated. Victory was one of the last two towns in Vermont to get electricity. Ambulances take 20 to 45 minutes to arrive, according to residents.
But neither geography nor socioeconomic status can explain the feud, which everyone interviewed for this article acknowledged has been raging for about 20 years. No one could say what started it.
"You see how lonely it is, how out of the way it is?" asked resident Donna Bacchiochi. "The reason we moved here is we aren't social. People in Victory are like that. They don't visit each other, they don't kibitz, they don't do anything like that. It's vicious."
There are two factions in town: One is headed by Patricia Mitchell— of humane society fame — and her husband, Walter, who currently serves on the selectboard. Other members of the "Mitchell Mafia," as a rival refers to them, include former road agent Walt Neborsky and his wife, Ruth, who used to be the town clerk and treasurer.
The current town clerk and treasurer, Tracey Martel, is also considered part of the Mitchell group, which for years wielded the most influence in town.
But the power has since shifted so that the other faction — selectboard chair Ferne Loomis, town lister Stanley, Sandra Hudson, and former town clerk and treasurer, Easter — now holds a majority on the selectboard.
Not surprisingly, the Mitchell group has a plan to regain power. Its supporters have submitted a petition to expand the number of seats on the selectboard, from three to five, in hopes of electing two allies and recapturing the majority. If the petition passes, nearly 10 percent of Victory's registered voters would serve on the town's primary governing body — in Burlington, the equivalent would be 4,000 city councilors.
Victory's residents are pretty evenly split between the two feuding factions. Most of them don't have jobs — the selectboard estimates that more than 80 percent of residents are collecting either retirement or disability payments. And many of those who do work are part-time builders or contractors. The selectboard meets at 10:30 a.m. on Tuesdays, which, in a typical Vermont town, would surely discourage citizen participation.
Victory, it seems, has the opposite problem.
6. Norfolk villagers condemned to slow broadband as stubborn pensioner blocks BT from his land
It means Mr Moreton's neighbours - around 20 of whom would benefit from the upgrade - have so far been condemned to "painfully slow" broadband speeds that around around one-tenth of the UK average.
The internet download speed in the village is around 2.7MBPS. The average UK speed is 22.8MBPS.
The case comes after more than 370 councils in England and Wales backed The Telegraph's Better Broadband campaign, which is calling for basic broadband in areas of Britain that are harder to reach.
Despite BT offering to pay £758 to install a new box, 86-year-old Mr Moreton claims he has been forced to ban the workers because they have "invaded his land".
However, neighbours said they cannot understand why he is blocking the upgrade to improve broadband speeds.
Resident Michael Wooldridge - a 79-year-old who lives in the same street and is one of the few people who has managed to get connected to another box - said: "He has got a bee in his bonnet and he won't let them in.
"I don't understand what his beef is. As far as I understand it they just need to go into the box and change a few things over. If they've been parking on his lawn I could understand but as far as I can see it looks fine."
One mother, who lives in the road, but did not wish to be named, said: "Our internet is extremely slow.
"I am currently trying to to complete a degree and it is really difficult to do with the internet like this.
"We rang BT recently to say we wanted to go on to BT Infinity because it's much faster, but they said they were unable to do it because the demand is too high in the area.
"I've spoken to my neighbours since and they've said it's because Raymond is not letting them install a BT box on his garden.
"I think older people might not really understand what it is and because they might not use the internet as much so they don't see the benefits.
"Something needs to be done though because the internet is painfully slow here. My children are now grown up and they need it to do their homework but it constantly cuts out."
When Mr Moreton and his wife Marion, 85, bought their £400,000 detached bungalow in 1998, they were happy for engineers to make infrequent visits to the box.
But when broadband came to the village in April 2014, BT wrote to Mr Moreton offering him £758 to install a new broadband cabinet on his property.
The former Army aircraft mechanic refused on the basis it would knock £50,000 of its value.
BT agreed and built a box in a nearby quieter lane, leaving Mr Moreton in the belief the issue had finally been resolved.
But in September last year, he was horrified to discover a BT Openreach workman digging a trench from the road to the box in his garden.
This caused him to take his action and he has not allowed them to get into the box since, despite them turning up several times a week at one point.
He said: "(Whenever they arrive) I go and stand in front of them and won't let them work on it. I feel that they are invading my personal property.
"It's six metres inside my property and I don't want people trampling all over my garden several times a week.
"One day they came with seven vans and parked all down the road. They've even parked on my drive.
"The whole thing has caused my wife and I immense stress and I thought I was going to drop down dead at one point."
7. Village feud behind minor explosion at Idinthakarai: Village body
Idinthakarai, the epicenter of protests against the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant, was in the news again after country bombs went off at Tsunami Colony on November 26, claiming seven lives. The neighbouring villagers from Kuthenkuzhi, who had sought asylum in the village, were involved in the manufacture of country bomb and the bombs exploded in the process.
Meanwhile, country bombs were reportedly thrown on Monday though nobody was injured and no police complaint was filed.
The village welfare committee has decided to submit a petition to Kudankulam police inspector in which they revealed about a dispute over fishing in mid-sea on December 14. The issue was brought before the village committee on December 15 and the committee initiated peace talks between the fractious groups. But a fight broke out again on December 16 as two individuals picked up a quarrel with opposite party in a drunken state. E Robinston
A member of the rival party brought some country bombs and one of the villagers seized those bombs and threw it in water to defuse it. However, the bomb went off all on a sudden, the village committee has stated in its petition.
The committee members further explained that there are no country bombs or any sort of explosives in the village and these country bombs could have been brought by people from outside. This clash is not related to the village or the ongoing agitation against the nuclear plant, they stated.
The petition was signed by village committee office bearers, Panimayam, X Dason, Hector, Joseph, Telespore and others. M Pushparayan from People Movement Against Nuclear Energy (PMANE) said that the village elders wanted to make clear that the anti-nuke protest is not related to any of these bomb hurling incidents and the protest is purely non-violent.
8. Chinese villages end centuries old feud, ban on marriages
Since then the two village clans swore an oath never to allow their descendants to marry each other.
Villager elders and officials formally met on Monday morning to announce the feud was over, the report said.
Growing numbers of immigrants have moved to the villages to work in shoe factories and the increased economic cooperation and affluence in the area persuaded residents it was time to end the age-old enmity.
The article said that in previous years people had to elope if they wanted to marry from the other village and women even had abortions if they became pregnant with a man from the opposing clan.
9. The Police Chief Who Sells Officer Credentials to Wealthy Donors
Reznick solicited almost $200,000 from what he refers to as a "dream team," wealthy attorneys, athletes, doctors and others from the nearby Detroit area, who were also allowed to remain anonymous. In return, the officially confirmed donors received a badge, uniform and a permit to carry their gun anywhere they please. The arrangement has brought on dozens of lawsuits that have almost bankrupted the city, which has come to rely on the contributions.
Most of the legal actions have been filed by a couple, Dennis and Shannon Bitterman, who own a local tavern. They have claimed harassment, and abuse of power by the police chief, who also owns a company that collects and seizes money or property from people on behalf of law firms. In 2015, they, along with some others in the divided town, successfully fought to have the list of auxiliary officers' names released to the public, but the financial woes of the suburb continue.
10. Inside small-town Louisiana feud that led to a 6-year-old boy’s police killing
Then came the Nov. 3 shooting that killed a 6-year-old boy. Suddenly, the petty small-town bickering began looking more tragically sinister.
Why in the world, residents ask, were deputy marshals — whose main job is serving court papers for the judge — out there chasing cars and shooting up suspects? How did one of the deputies — who had been charged twice for aggravated rape and racked up a string of lawsuits accusing him of using excessive force — even get hired? And how did a speck of a town like Marksville wind up with a shadow police force on its streets?
“It’s pretty clear to me that if this feud didn’t exist, those marshals wouldn’t have been there that day,” said one former city official and resident of more than three decades who spoke on the condition of anonymity, citing a gag order in the case.
“We’ve watched the both of them fight for years. . . . But I don’t think anyone imagined something so petty would lead to something so tragic.”
Jeremy Mardis was the youngest person shot and killed by law officers so far this year, according to a Washington Post database tracking such shootings. Amid a national debate over police use of deadly force, the killing of an autistic 6-year-old sent shock waves nationwide.
Louisiana State Police said they are still trying to figure out why deputies were chasing an SUV driven by Jeremy’s father, Chris Few. Few was not armed and was not the subject of any arrest warrant.
When the chase ended, the two deputies — Derrick Stafford, 32, and Norris Greenhouse Jr., 23 — fired at least 18 bullets into Few’s SUV, police said. Five shots hit Jeremy, a first-grader strapped into the front seat beside his father. Few was critically injured; his attorney told reporters that he was recently released from the hospital.
Two police officers who work for the mayor arrived during the shooting; one of them was wearing a body camera. The footage “is one of the most disturbing videos I’ve ever seen,” State Police Col. Mike Edmonson said.
“It troubled me as a police officer and as a father. There’s no reason that boy deserved to die like that,” Edmonson said. Few’s attorney told reporters that the video shows the father with his hands in the air as the deputies open fire.
Stafford and Greenhouse have been arrested and charged with second-degree murder. A judge overseeing the case has issued a gag order, prohibiting those involved and potential witnesses from talking to reporters.
Since then, information about the case and Marksville more generally has slowed to a trickle, with folks in town refusing to talk openly about almost anything. In private interviews, however, many blamed the long-running feud for Jeremy’s death. It may not have directly caused the shooting, they say, but it created the bizarre circumstances that made it possible.
With a population of 5,500 and a median income of $26,700, Marksville is small, rural and relatively poor. Like most towns in Louisiana, it has a local marshal, an elected position with no police training or experience required.
The marshal’s job is to serve court papers: subpoenas, warrants, notices of nonpayment. For years in Marksville, the marshal has been a local bus driver, Floyd Voinche Sr., who carried out his duties with one full-time employee and one part-timer, according to a statewide marshals directory.
But sometime in the past two months, that changed.
Mayor John Lemoine told reporters that Voinche’s office bought two used police cruisers, hired several part-time deputies, and started patrolling the streets and issuing tickets like regular city police. In a September letter to Louisiana’s attorney general, Lemoine asked whether the marshal’s sudden expansion of duties was legal.
Voinche has refused to explain his actions, issuing a terse statement citing a Louisiana law that empowers deputy marshals “in making arrests and preserving the peace.”
“The statute gives us the same authority as a sheriff,” said Joey Alcede, a marshal in Lake Charles and an official with the state marshals association. Having marshals take on the duties of city police is highly unusual, however, Alcede said.
According to several current and former city officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of violating the gag order, Marksville’s marshal began issuing traffic tickets to generate money for the city court. The court’s funding has been the focus of a furious battle between the mayor and City Judge Angelo Piazza III since last year.
“No one really took it seriously, until recently. It was like watching two bullies fighting,” said one resident who has known both men for decades.
Piazza, 57, has reigned over the Marksville City Court for more than two decades. A Civil War buff known for hauling authentic cannons to reenactments, Piazza sued the city in 1997 over funding. When Lemoine, 63, a mechanic and auto parts shop owner, was elected mayor in 2010, he announced plans to tighten Marksville’s budget, and war fully bloomed.
“Lemoine put a microscope on City Court,” Piazza told the local paper, the Avoyelles Journal, last year. Piazza said the scrutiny added new costs and bureaucracy, even as Marksville police started issuing fewer tickets, dramatically reducing his court’s income.
Then this summer, Lemoine sharply cut the court’s budget — including the judge’s salary. Piazza filed suit. Piazza declined to comment for this story. Lemoine and Voinche did not return repeated calls for comment.
The feud polarized the town’s law enforcement community. “You have officers siding with the judge and marshal, and others with the mayor,” said one longtime elected official.
At one point, the mayor was arrested after an argument with police. One of the arresting officers was Stafford, and afterward the mayor tried to get a civil service oversight board to investigate him.
Both Stafford and Greenhouse were moonlighting as deputy marshals when they opened fire on Nov. 3. Stafford was a Marksville police officer; Greenhouse is a reserve Marksville officer and deputy marshal in neighboring Alexandria. It is unclear when or how they joined Marksville’s newly expanded marshal service. Many have questioned Stafford’s hiring in particular.
“This is a guy I think a lot of us would have trouble hiring,” said a law enforcement chief in a neighboring jurisdiction.
Stafford has been charged twice with aggravated rape in nearby Rapides Parish. According to the indictment, one 15-year-old victim said Stafford committed rape on the victim’s birthday in 2004. In a separate incident, a second victim said Stafford committed rape in 2011.
In 2012, the charges were inexplicably dropped. In court documents, the attorney listed as representing Stafford is Piazza, the same judge he now works under as a deputy marshal.
Monique Metoyer, who prosecuted the rape case, declined to explain why the charges were dropped. But she confirmed that Marksville’s judge served as Stafford’s lawyer.
Stafford has also been accused in civil court of using excessive force; at least five lawsuits are pending against him. The accusations include throwing an already handcuffed woman into a back seat and using a stun gun on her, breaking the arm of a 15-year-old girl, and arresting a man in retribution for filing a formal complaint against Stafford for yelling at his family.
Greenhouse has been accused alongside Stafford in two excessive force cases. And in an example of the messy overlap common in small-town government, Greenhouse’s father works for the local district attorney, who had to recuse himself from prosecuting Stafford and Greenhouse in the shooting.
Greenhouse also appears to have a personal connection to Few and his girlfriend, Megan Dixon. Dixon told the Advocate newspaper in Baton Rouge that she went to high school with Greenhouse and that he had recently messaged her on Facebook and stopped by the house where she lived with Few.
“I told Chris, and Chris confronted him about it and told him, ‘Next time you come to my house, I’m going to hurt you,’ ” Dixon said.
With the gag order in place, it is unclear when authorities will release additional information about the shooting, including the body camera footage. No trial date has been set. Equally unclear is what will happen to the newly expanded marshal service.
Meanwhile, the family of Jeremy Mardis held a private funeral for the first-grader last week in his hometown of Hattiesburg, Miss. Under a chilly gray sky, the family placed his small coffin inside a hearse and headed to nearby Beaumont Cemetery to bury him.