Thursday 19 October 2017

Stunning blonde with golden future that ended in 'cruel, barbaric and heinous' killing of Jason

Molly Martens Corbett seemed like an all-American beauty but behind her looks lay complicated shadows, writes Ralph Riegel

GUILTY VERDICT: Molly Martens Corbett was sentenced to between 20-25 years for the second degree murder of her Limerick husband Jason Photo: Donnie Roberts/The Dispatch
GUILTY VERDICT: Molly Martens Corbett was sentenced to between 20-25 years for the second degree murder of her Limerick husband Jason Photo: Donnie Roberts/The Dispatch
Ralph Riegel

Ralph Riegel

The contrast between the North Carolina prison mugshot and the stunning, blonde modelling publicity handout could not have been more marked.

Molly Martens Corbett (33) was photographed on arrival at the North Carolina Correctional Institute for Women outside Raleigh at 6pm last Wednesday.

She was wearing regulation prison issue clothing - a blue denim dress and flat soled shoes. The young woman was handcuffed to waist chains.

She had visibly aged since the murder trial over the death of her Irish husband Jason Corbett (39) opened on July 17 in Lexington, Davidson County.

After a close study of her face in the prison mugshot, you could almost be forgiven for thinking there was a haunted look in her eyes.

In contrast, the image of the young Tennessee woman from a publicity modelling shot taken in 2002 might very well have been of a different person.

Flaunting her 'All American' good looks including stunning, long blonde hair, it seemed as if the future could be nothing but golden for such a young woman from an affluent middle-class family.

Now, unless she wins her appeal against a second degree murder conviction for the brutal killing of her Limerick-born husband, Ms Martens Corbett will be at least 53 when she is released.

Handed a minimum 20 year prison sentence for a killing described as "cruel, inhumane, barbaric and heinous", she could spend up to 25 years behind bars if the North Carolina Parole Bar doesn't grant her maximum remission. Her father, retired FBI agent Thomas Michael Martens (67), will be at least 87 when he is released. His prospects in custody are even bleaker than those of his daughter.

As an FBI agent for 31 years and then a counter-intelligence operative with the US Department of Energy, he went straight into protective custody on arrival at Central Prison outside Raleigh.

One of the toughest prisons in the southern part of the US, the jail - nicknamed 'CP' by inmates - houses all murderers convicted in the northern part of the State.

The prison also houses most of those convicted of gang-related first degree murders in North Carolina.

What has fascinated people on both sides of the Atlantic is how two such paragons of the American success story could have found themselves caught up in a gruesome murder.

How could two people without so much as a serious traffic offence between them have subjected a Limerick father-of-two to a death his brother, Wayne, described as akin to "a slaughter".

Jason Corbett was beaten so badly that pathologist Dr Craig Nelson said his injuries were comparable to those sustained in a high-speed crash or a fall from a great height.

Pieces of his skull fell out on to the surgical table when his scalp was adjusted for photographs preliminary to the post mortem examination.

In the first photograph taken of him in an ambulance parked on the driveway of his home after life-saving efforts had stopped, he appears to be dipped in blood.

Read More: Killer tells of fears she might die like husband's first wife

Assistant District Attorney Alan Martin, in a powerful closing argument to the murder trial jury of nine women and three men, said Mr Corbett's skull was crushed.

HAPPY INTERLUDE: Jason Corbett and Molly Martens on their wedding day — a happy moment in a troubled relationship
HAPPY INTERLUDE: Jason Corbett and Molly Martens on their wedding day — a happy moment in a troubled relationship

"They literally beat the skin off of his skull with that [baseball] bat and that brick," he said. "They, acting in concert, her and him, literally crushed his skull.

"They turned it [Mr Corbett's skull] into something that resembled a bad Humpty-Dumpty cartoon.

"Why didn't they stop - why didn't they stop?"

Assistant District Attorney Greg Brown was even more scathing in his closing argument. The father and daughter had, he argued, beaten Mr Corbett to death and then even struck him after death.

Between one and four of the blows to his skull were inflicted post mortem. To ensure he was dead, they then delayed calling 911 to alert the emergency services.

When they did eventually ring 911, they engaged in a grotesque charade of 600 "fake" chest pumps on the father-of-two's chest while 911 operator Karen Capps listened on.

When Davidson County Sheriffs and paramedics arrived at the scene, there were no major blood marks on the hands and palms of the father and daughter despite, the fact Mr Corbett's entire body was soaked in blood.

Mr Martin said the force required to shatter a man's skull into such a condition was considerable.

"It takes 'I hate you' force," he said as he repeatedly banged the Lousville Slugger baseball bat on a table in Courtroom C to underline his point.

With each crashing impact, jurors, members of the public and journalists alike gave an involuntary jump.

Read More: Anatomy of a brutal killing... the brick, the baseball bat and the blood

Blood spatter evidence indicated that Mr Martens was standing directly over his son-in-law while the savage blows were raining down on his head. Mr Corbett was, the prosecution claimed, naked, blood covered and totally helpless on the bedroom floor.

Ms Martens Corbett didn't only have her husband's blood spattered all over her blue-patterned nightie suit - she even had his tissue spattered on her leggings.

"There were little bits of Jason all over her - that puts her in the thick of it. It is rock solid evidence. It puts here there," he said.

Jurors unanimously accepted the prosecution version of what happened in the early hours of August 2 2015.

Lawyers for the father and daughter had argued self-defence.

Mr Martens was simply trying to defend his adored daughter and then, when Mr Corbett turned on him, trying to fight for his own survival.

"I feel righteous," Mr Martens told US network ABC in a pre-trial interview.

His daughter maintained she had endured years of emotional and physical abuse from her husband for the sake of her love for his two children.

The problem on August 2 was they had no injuries.

This was despite the fact Ms Martens Corbett claimed her husband had grabbed her by the throat and tried to choke her.

Neither had scratches, cuts, bruises, abrasions or wounds of any description.

The clothing of both was found to be intact without a single tear.

From an Irish viewpoint, where jurors never speak after a trial, it was fascinating to see multiple members of the Davidson County Superior Court jury panel openly explain their reasoning in reaching the two unanimous guilty verdicts.

Jurors Tom Aamland (foreman), Miriam Figueroa and Nancy Perez, in an interview with US network ABC for their top-rated show 20/20, said they did not believe the self-defence story put up by the defence.

Instead, they believed Ms Martens Corbett attacked her husband while he was asleep in bed that night.

The young woman told police that, for some inexplicable reason, she kept a large and unsightly stone garden paving brick on her nightstand by her bed.

Read More: Brick beside bed was 'art project' for the children

The jurors said they believed Mr Corbett, having been struck several times with the brick, tried to flee or defend himself.

At that point, they said they believed Mr Martens intervened.

"I think at some point Dad [Mr Martens] came to help out and cover it up," Ms Figueroa said.

Mr Aamland said the former FBI agent likely became involved when Mr Corbett's size and strength might have made a difference.

"And when he got up and tried to protect himself," he explained.

"I believe that is when Tom had to intervene because of the size difference of Molly and Jason."

The results was a blood-soaked bedroom, hallway and bathroom that forensic expert Dr Stuart James had to divide into 15 different zones, as there was so much blood.

Only four years earlier, the Tennessee and Limerick families had stood beside each other at Bleak House, outside Knoxville, as Ms Martens Corbett married the man whose children she had travelled to Ireland to look after as a nanny. As the stunning young American woman married the Irish widower, it should have been the ultimate fairytale.

But it ended in a nightmare of blood, death and prison.

The clues to the awful events of August 2 lies in Molly Martens Corbett's past.

Her father was a Georgia-registered lawyer who worked for 31 years for the FBI before then working in the counter-intelligence section of the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge facility in Tennessee.

Mr Martens was, one character witness said, noted for being a straight-talker and a man for whom family was everything.

His wife is a maths expert.

Molly's uncle, Michael Earnest, is an executive with the US Government's Afghanistan Reconstruction effort.

Her three older brothers - Bobby, Stewart and Connor - were all high achievers both academically and in terms of sports.

Stewart, in particular, was a hugely talented baseball player.

But their pretty blonde sister had problems. By her late teens, it was apparent that Ms Martens Corbett suffered from mental health issues.

While extremely bright, she struggled with the application and workload required first in high school and then a prestigious Carolina university.

Then, she struggled to hold down any type of career-orientated job. She moved from receptionist work in a beauty salon to employment in a restaurant and volunteer swim coaching. Then she worked with children as a nanny. It appeared she was happiest when working with children.

Despite being eager to have children of her own, she never managed to have a child in her earlier relationships or in her seven-year involvement with Mr Corbett.

A single clue emerged when, in examining her medical records from a Kernersville clinic, there was a reference to a check for fertility issues.

Ms Martens Corbett lived in a Knoxville condominium paid for by her parents and they also helped supplement her income.

All the while, she struggled to keep her life on an emotional even-keel.

In bad phases, she would spend days crying in bed and unable to cope.

Eventually, she ended up on 16 different medications to deal with what were suspected to be bipolar and manic depression issues.

She attended a special clinic in Atlanta which specialised in depression issues. A number of relationships failed - one because her parents didn't approve of her boyfriend's religious leanings and the second because she had set her heart on a new start outside the US.

In Ireland, Mr Corbett had advertised for an au pair/nanny to help him with his two young children, Jack and Sarah, after the tragic death from asthma of their mother, Margaret 'Mags' Fitzpatrick, in November 2006. The children were both aged under two when she died.

Within a short time, it was apparent that the new Tennessee nanny adored the youngsters. Seven to eight months after she arrived in Ireland, a relationship developed between her and Mr Corbett. Friends say he was still grieving from the loss of his adored wife at the time.

One said he initially felt very guilty over the relationship with Ms Martens - but, as the relationship developed, the American woman wanted more than just a casual romance. The couple were engaged and, in the summer of 2011, married in her native Tennessee.

Unfortunately, a pre-wedding party at the Martens' home in Knoxville was not a success. Mr Martens did not approve of the behaviour of his new Irish in-laws.

He hated smoking in his home and didn't like that several of his Irish guests smoked outside on his lawn. He also disliked their coarse language and their drinking.

Within 18 months, he would begin to make known his feelings about his new Irish son-in-law.

Mr Martens said he couldn't recall with "specificity" comments to colleagues in which he said: "That son-in-law - I hate him."

Another workmate was told he didn't want to spend a joint family holiday in Washington with his "asshole" son-in-law.

However, the Martens were enraptured by Mr Corbett's children who they treated as adored grandchildren.

Mr Martens acknowledged in his testimony that a major cause of tension with Mr Corbett was his refusal to sign adoption papers giving his daughter equal rights to the two children.

He told the trial that Mr Corbett had promised to do this but "then failed to follow through". Eventually, he advised his daughter to consult a lawyer and consider a divorce.

He said the marriage was "not a good one" and that Mr Corbett was beneath the standards that his daughter should have.

Mr Corbett, for his part, had paid for a $390,000 home for his new wife, given her $80,000 to furnish it, paid his father-in-law $49,000 towards the wedding ceremony cost and bought a BMW SUV for Ms Martens Corbett.

She was also the main beneficiary of a $600,000 life insurance policy taken out on the businessman by his employers, Multi Packaging Solutions (MPS). However, she was not named in his will which dated to 2007.

The problem for the Tennessee woman was that while she might secure a generous divorce settlement, it was abundantly clear she had no rights to Mr Corbett's children by his late first wife.

An indication of just how focused she was on the two children is that, despite not having seen them since she lost a bitter custody battle in 2015, she continued over the next two years to post social media photos and notices to mark their birthdays and special events in their lives.

After her husband's death and while the police investigation was ongoing, adoption papers on her behalf were sent to the Corbett family in Ireland.

The Martens family then, on her behalf, attempted to arrange for an aeroplane to fly over the children's Limerick school displaying a banner with details of how they could contact her in the US. The Irish aviation firm involved declined the contract.

The prosecution said Mr Corbett planned to attend his father's 80th birthday party in Limerick in September 2015.

He told his sister, Tracey Lynch, he was bringing his two children. But there was no mention of Ms Martens Corbett travelling.

The indications were that she may well have believed her husband would travel to Ireland that September - but not return with the children, pending a divorce in North Carolina.

Mr Corbett died just over three weeks before that planned party. Traces of the powerful sedative Trazedone were found in his system - a drug prescribed for his wife just two days beforehand on July 30.

Ms Martens Corbett's parents, Thomas and Sharon, arrived for an unexpected and 11th hour visit to the Corbett home on August 1.

Intriguingly, there were multiple - up to half a dozen - phone calls from Ms Martens Corbett to her parents as they drove the four hours from Knoxville in Tennessee to Panther Creek Court in North Carolina.

When asked about the nature of those calls, Mr Martens said in testimony that he could not recall. Mr Martens had brought "a hand-me-down" metal baseball bat as a present for young Jack Corbett - but the bat was never given to the child that Friday evening.

Less than five hours after he arrived at Mr Corbett's home, Mr Martens would use the same bat to crush his son-in-law's skull. No identifiable finger-prints were found on the bat or the brick.

However, both were covered in Mr Corbett's blood.

In fact the brick was not only soaked in Mr Corbett's blood but was embedded with his tissue and hair fragments.

Critically, two paramedics who attended the scene commented on how "cool" Mr Corbett's body was - despite the fact they had arrived just 11 minutes after the 911 call was made.

A measure of just how horrific the scene was can be gleaned from the fact paramedics felt it necessary to warn the police officers before they went into the property that: "It is bad in there."

Last Thursday, just 24 hours after the dramatic conviction and sentencing of the father and daughter, Davidson County judicial officials allowed the media to photograph key exhibits in the trial including the baseball bat, brick and crime scene photos, all of which were stored in the courtroom safe.

The overwhelming majority of those crime scene photos could not be published, given how gruesome they were.

Outside the breeze-block entrance to Davidson County courthouse on Salem Street, Mr Corbett's sister last Wednesday thanked the North Carolina authorities and public for what they had done to see justice done for their brother after "a brutal and merciless killing".

Crucially, she made two vows - to do everything possible to provide a bright, happy future for the children left orphaned by her brother's murder and, secondly, to defend his good name.

"We lost the most wonderful brother and friend," she said.

"I can promise you that our family is going to stick up for Jason's memory - telling the world that this was a good man, Jason was a loving man, he was a great father.

"You can be sure that Jason Corbett's family will make sure he is remembered for what he was and not for how he died."

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