'All we are asking for is a fair trial' - Molly and Tom Martens' murder appeal begins
The killers of Irish father of two Jason Corbett (39) claimed they did not receive a fair trial in North Carolina and have now appealed to have their second degree murder convictions quashed and new trials ordered.
Defence lawyers for father and daughter Tom (68) and Molly (34) Martens today made detailed oral submissions to a three-judge panel in Raleigh in their bid for new trials.
David Freedman, for Mr Martens, and Douglas Kingsbery, for Ms Martens, delivered oral arguments which challenged the fairness of the August 2017 trial in Davidson County as well as some of the prosecution's key forensic evidence.
Mr Martens, a retired FBI agent, and his daughter, a former nanny, are serving 20-25 year sentences for the second degree murder of Mr Corbett who was beaten to death with a baseball bat and a brick on August 2, 2015.
Their arguments were opposed by Special Deputy Attorney General Jonathan Babb and Assistant Deputy Attorney General Mike Dodd.
Both Deputy Attorney Generals argued that the trial magistrate, Judge David Lee, acted both properly and fairly with the five week murder trial.
Prosecutors have also challenged defence claims that comments by specific jury members after the second degree murder convictions were delivered raised concerns about potential extraneous influences on the jury panel such as social media.
The appeal is being before Chief Judge John Tyson, Judge Valerie Zachary and Judge Allegra Collins at the appeals courthouse in downtown Raleigh.
No verdict will be delivered today.
The three judge panel will reserve their judgement which could take weeks or even months to deliver.
Mr Kingsbery argued that the charge against Ms Martens should never have been put to the jury.
He said the State never challenged the argument that the father and daughter acted in self defence - and he challenged the decision by the trial judge to refuse to allow contested statements by Mr Corbett's children, Jack and Sarah, to be entered into evidence.
Mr Freedman also challenged the decision by the trial judge not to allow Mr Martens enter a statement about a conversation he said he had with the father of Mr Corbett's late first wife.
Mr Martens claimed that Michael Fitzpatrick, who is now deceased, told him his daughter Margaret died in mysterious circumstances in November 2006 and raised the possibility that Mr Corbett might have been somehow responsible.
That statement was vehemently denied by Mr Fitzpatrick who made a sworn statement in Ireland that he had no such conversation with Mr Martens.
The appeal hearing heard that Ms Fitzpatrick died from an asthma attack as verified by a post mortem report.
But Mr Freedman insisted the matter was relevant to his client's state of mind on the night in question.
"All we are asking for is a fair trial," Mr Freedman said.
The defence legal teams also challenged key forensic evidence including testimony from world-renowned blood spatter expert Dr Stuart James, arguing that he acted outside his mission statement.
Mr Babb and Mr Dodds argued that the trial judge acted properly and in accordance with the law in refusing to admit the Fitzpatrick statement and the children's statements during the trial.
Both cited North Carolina Supreme Court case law as to the reasons for refusing such material into evidence.
"The inescapable conclusion is that the defendant (Ms Martens) acted with her father to murder Jason Corbett," Mr Dodd said.
He also argued that the forensic and physical evidence in the case was "overwhelming" as to what happened.
Mr Babb cited the discrepancy between the injuries sustained by Mr Corbett and the total lack of injuries to Mr Martens and Mr Martens as an indicator as to who was the aggressor on the night.
"I believe on the facts of this case it is an easy conclusion (to make)."
"There were extensive, brutal injuries (to Mr Corbett) - and zero injuries (to Mr Martens and Ms Martens)."
The North Carolina Court of Appeals last month ordered that Tom and Molly Martens' defence teams be allowed make oral submissions in their appeal.
Mr Martens, a retired FBI agent, and his daughter immediately upon conviction signalled that they would appeal against both the conviction and sentences for the second degree murder of the Limerick-born father of two.
A Davidson County Superior Court jury unanimously convicted the father and daughter of beating Mr Corbett to death as he slept in the luxury home outside Winston Salem he shared with his second wife, Ms Martens, in August 2015.
The second degree murder convictions were returned after a five week trial in July/August 2017 that dominated headlines in both Ireland and the US.
Mr Corbett was beaten to death with a concrete brick and a paving bat. An attempt had been made to drug him with a sedative.
Pathology evidence indicated that Mr Corbett was beaten even after he lay dead on the floor - and that the first blow was most likely struck while he was asleep in bed and helpless.
Both father and daughter claimed they acted in self defence.
However, while Mr Corbett suffered horrific head injuries with a pathologist unable to even determine the precise number of blows struck, Mr Martens and Ms Martens were found by police to be totally uninjured at the scene.
Neither had so much as a cut or a bruise.
The appeal hearing was told that Ms Martens was twice warned by police at the scene to stop vigorously rubbing her neck until she was photographed.
The father and daughter lodged written submissions on why their appeal should be upheld last September.
North Carolina Attorney-General Josh Stein appointed Special Deputy Attorney General Jonathan Babb to lead the prosecution arguments against the appeal.
In North Carolina, most appeal cases are dealt with by written submissions.
However, cases that are viewed as significant or complex are granted oral argument hearings.
The prosecutors who helped convict the father and daughter two years ago were also in attendance to support Mr Babb including Davidson County District Attorney Garry Frank, Assistant District Attorneys Greg Brown (retired), Alan Martin and Ina Stanton as well as investigators and liaison officers Jackie Miller and Karen Coe
Molly and Tom Martens are not in court for the legal arguments, as they were not required to offer evidence.
However, members of the extended Martens family were in court including Tom Martens's son, Bobby and his brother-in-law, Michael Earnest.
The courtroom - on floor three of the Morgan Street complex - was packed for the hearing.
The appeal by the father and daughter is based on a number of grounds including the claim they acted in self defence, that the trial judge erred in not allowing them enter specific statements, that there was jury misbehaviour and that prosecution forensic evidence was misleading.
Mr Martens insisted he only struck his son-in-law with a baseball bat when he claimed he saw him holding Ms Martens by the throat.
His legal team were not allowed to introduce evidence at the Davidson County Superior Court trial where he claimed the father of Mr Corbett's late first wife, Margaret 'Mags' Fitzpatrick, alleged he held the Limerick businessman responsible for her death.
The defence were similarly not allowed to enter disputed statements from Mr Corbett's two children, Jack and Sarah, in evidence.
Michael Fitzpatrick and the Fitzpatrick family have vehemently disputed the Martens claims.
Mags Fitzpatrick Corbett died from a severe asthma attack on November 21 2006, just weeks after giving birth to her second child, Sarah.
Her husband frantically tried to resuscitate her after having driven to meet an ambulance to get her critical medical attention at University Hospital Limerick (UHL).
He then met Tennessee-native Molly Martens when she moved to Ireland to work as a nanny minding his two children, Jack and Sarah, two years later.
Mr Fitzpatrick, who was gravely ill in 2015/16, made a sworn affidavit with an Irish solicitor challenging Mr Martens allegations.
Mr Martens initially claimed he had heard the comments from Mr Fitzpatrick at a time and date in the US - but Mr Fitzpatrick indicated he was not even in the US at that time.
The time and date was subsequently revised - but Mr Fitzpatrick, who has since passed away, remained resolute he never made any such comments at any time to the former FBI agent.
His affidavit was a key element of the prosecution rebuttal case but was ultimately never entered in evidence at the original trial.
The trial judge had described Mr Martens' statement and claims about Mr Fitzpatrick as "self-serving" and "prejudicial."
In court documents, Mr Martens said the trial judge was "unfair" to him in not allowing those statements into evidence.
The appellants stressed that it was not being argued the statements were correct - but that they were critical as to indicating the state of mind the retired FBI agent was in when he got involved in the fatal 2015 incident with his son-in-law.
In the US, an individual's state of mind is a key issue in defending second degree murder cases.
The Fitzpatrick affidavit is now one of the documents cited by the North Carolina state attorneys in full defence of the appellant claims.
North Carolina Department of Justice officials have already dismissed the appeal claims of self defence as "fantasy" and "a fabrication."
During the five week trial, Mr Martens acknowledged in cross-examination that he had never previously seen his Irish son-in-law threaten or harm his daughter.
Further, the trial heard that police were never called to the Corbett home for any disturbance.
The State case is that the father and daughter fabricated the self-defence story to explain their brutal killing of Mr Corbett.
The Corbett family maintain Jason was attacked and killed because he planned to move back to Ireland with his two children amid concerns over the increasingly bizarre behaviour of Ms Martens who had a history of mental health problems.
"Together they created this fantasy to deceive the authorities and this jury in a fabricated story participated in by both defendants, acting in concert together, to attain the ultimate result that they intended," one North Carolina Department of Justice document claimed.
The State argued that the excessive use of force was so blatant and overwhelming it negated any possible suggestion of self defence.
Critical blood spatter analysis evidence indicated that Mr Corbett was asleep in bed when first attacked.
After being attacked by his wife and father-in-law while in bed, Mr Corbett was then cruelly left to die on the bedroom floor as prosecutors stated the father and daughter delayed ringing emergency services to ensure he was dead when they arrived.
Paramedics immediately noted when they arrived that Mr Corbett's body was cold to the touch.
Ms Martens was obsessed with securing custody of her husband's two children, visiting a divorce lawyer in the US to determine her rights to them just weeks after she had married Mr Corbett in 2011.
If the father and daughter fail to win a retrial with the Court of Appeal, their final recourse is the North Carolina Supreme Court.