The North Carolina murder of an Irish businessman has taken another twist as the father-daughter defendants convicted of beating him to death with a baseball bat and brick were freed on bond, pushing Davidson County again into international headlines.
Last month, the NC Supreme Court ruled Molly Corbett and Thomas Martens deserved a new trial for the 2015 slaying of Jason Corbett. They have long said it was an act of self-defense.
The court’s decision placed the case back in the hands of the county’s district attorney, whose district includes Lexington. While the prosecutor weighs whether to call another jury or offer the pair a plea deal on lesser charges, they have been released on $200,000 bond apiece.
“We’re still in the afterglow,” said Michael Earnest, Martens’ brother-in-law. “It’s an indescribable moment. Tom had not seen his wife since before COVID. Had not seen her period. He had a grandchild while in prison and not seen her.”
An executive in the packaging industry, Jason Corbett had relocated from Ireland to North Carolina with his American wife, Molly, and two children from a previous marriage. Formerly a nanny, Molly Corbett became romantically involved with her employer in Limerick and the couple wed in 2011.
Martens, a retired FBI agent, testified during a five-week trial, that he woke on a visit in 2015 to find Jason Corbett choking his daughter and threatening to kill her. He described bludgeoning his son-in-law with the bat he brought his young boy as a gift, and that Molly Corbett joined the bedroom melee with a brick.
Jurors, unconvinced, convicted both of second-degree murder. Both Molly Corbett, now 37, and Martens, now 71, were sentenced to 25 years in prison.
At trial, prosecutors offered Corbett’s desire to adopt the children — Jack and Sarah — and a hefty insurance policy as motive to kill, according to the Independent in Ireland.
“(Molly) Corbett had told a family friend that she wanted to leave him ‘because she did not love him any more and did not care what happened to him’ and that she had ‘reconnected with an old boyfriend on Facebook,’ “ the Independent reported. “She would not leave Mr Corbett, however, because she had no legal rights to her husband’s two children, it was alleged.”
But in a 55-page opinion for the state’s highest court, Justice Anita Earls detailed key evidence jurors never heard.
For one, Earls wrote, jurors did not hear Jack Corbett, who was then 11, explain why his mother had a brick on her nightstand. In that interview, the opinion said, he explained that he and his mother had been working on a garden project and had wanted to paint the brick until rain stalled their plans.
Second, Earls wrote, Sarah Corbett, then 8, told DSS that she had a nightmare on the night of the killing, prompting her mother to rush to her bedroom and making Jason Corbett angry to have been awakened.
Third, both children said their father had grown increasingly angry and physically abusive.
“Without evidence supporting their account,” Earls wrote, “it was easier for the jury to conclude that Tom and Molly had invented their story in an effort to cover up their crime and falsely assert that they acted in self-defense.”
Petition from Corbett’s family
Jason Corbett’s family has started a petition on change.org calling for a new trial, which nearly 10,000 people had signed by Thursday morning. On her Facebook page, sister Tracey Corbett Lynch thanks the district attorney for making the decision to try the pair again, though no decision has been made.
“Even when the Supreme Court of North Carolina ruled by four to three majority that the jury should have heard those statements and that this was grounds for granting the Martens a retrial, our family retained its faith in the North Carolina justice system,” she wrote.
Earnest said Corbett and Martens are in Tennessee waiting for a decision on a plea or retrial, for which no timetable has been set. If a trial did happen, the COVID-19 case backlog would put it back at least to 2022, he said.
“Tom acted like a father that night,” Earnest said. “I’m a father. I have two daughters. No father can imagine coming into a scene like that. I certainly hope I would do everything I could do to save my daughter’s life. That’s what Tom did. It certainly was a tragedy. Nobody wanted what happened to happen.”