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'How on Earth do we tell the children about this?' - devastation for Corbett family as Martens gets retrial

Corbett family in shock as Court of Appeal grants Molly and Tom Martens retrial over murder

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Appealed: Molly Martens (pictured) and father Tom Martens were convicted in August 2017 of the second-degree murder of Limerick businessman Jason Corbett

Appealed: Molly Martens (pictured) and father Tom Martens were convicted in August 2017 of the second-degree murder of Limerick businessman Jason Corbett

Appealed: Molly Martens (pictured) and father Tom Martens were convicted in August 2017 of the second-degree murder of Limerick businessman Jason Corbett

"How on Earth do we tell the children about this?" one family member said as they fought back tears.

Heartbroken relatives of Jason Corbett (39) have spoken of their anguish at how they would break the news that the Limerick businessman's killers were being granted a full retrial in the US.

The Limerick family were "taken totally unaware" by the Court of Appeal ruling regarding Molly Martens and her father Tom.

They had long thought the overwhelming forensic evidence against the father and daughter would prove decisive.

Family members had no inkling that the appeal by the Martens would be upheld.

But the pair received a full retrial by majority decision of the North Carolina Court of Appeal over their conviction for the second-degree murder of Mr Corbett.

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Jason Corbett

Jason Corbett

Tom and Molly, who was the second wife of the Irish widower, were serving 20-25 years for battering him to death with a brick and a metal baseball bat as he slept on August 2, 2015.

Because the appeal was upheld by majority rather than unanimous verdict, it will almost certainly go to the North Carolina Supreme Court for review.

The North Carolina Attorney General now has 35 days to seek a Supreme Court review and stay on the order.

However, if he does not seek a Supreme Court review, the NCCA order will come into force and a full retrial will be confirmed. Only then will both Molly and Tom Martens be entitled to seek a release from prison on bail or bond.

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Tom Martens

Tom Martens

Otherwise, the father and daughter will remain in prison until any Supreme Court ruling. A retrial is not expected to be heard in North Carolina before 2021 at the earliest.

Mr Corbett's sister, Tracey Corbett-Lynch, who had spearheaded a determined campaign for justice by the Irish family, last night said she was too upset to comment on the appeal decision.

"We are aware of the decision of the North Carolina Court of Appeal in relation to the retrial of the Martens," she said.

"We will not be commenting at this time on the decision and we would ask that our family's privacy would be respected.

"We will not be making any further comment at this time."

Family members travelled to Raleigh in January 2019 for the appeal hearing to support prosecutors - and attended all five weeks of the 2017 murder trial.

Tom Martens, a retired FBI agent, claimed he acted in self-defence and alleged Mr Corbett had been attacking his second wife, Molly, who is Mr Martens's daughter.

However, the Corbett family maintained he was planning to bring his children back to his native Limerick amid increasing concerns over his wife's mental health problems.

Both Molly and Tom Martens lodged an appeal within hours of their conviction by unanimous verdict of a Davidson County Superior Court jury in August 2017.

Despite hearing the case on January 31, 2019, the North Carolina Court of Appeal took a full year to deliver its majority ruling, with the Limerick family on tenterhooks for 13 months awaiting the outcome.

The family did not receive any advance warning from the Court of Appeal that a ruling was imminent.

One source close to the family said their priority now was protecting Jack and Sarah from the fall-out to the appeal ruling - and preparing themselves for the daunting prospect of a second marathon murder trial in the US.

"It has been like a five-year nightmare that they cannot escape," one friend added.

"Just when their lives seemed to be settling back to normal this happens and they face the prospect of another murder trial in North Carolina.

"It is just heartbreaking for them."

A full retrial will only be sanctioned after a likely review of the majority ruling by the North Carolina Supreme Court.

Any retrial is unlikely to take place before early 2021.

Critically, statements made by his two children five years ago could now prove central to any retrial.

The trial judge in 2017 refused to allow statements by Mr Corbett's children, Jack (15) and Sarah (13), made five years ago to US social workers, to be allowed into evidence during the murder trial.

These statements were later retracted by the children - and contradicted by subsequent statements made in Ireland.

The defence argued these statements - and another contested statement from Mr Corbett's first father-in-law, Michael Fitzpatrick - were critical to their self-defence argument and, specifically, as to Mr Martens's state of mind on August 2, 2015.

Defence lawyers argued the children's North Carolina statements were crucial to the type of relationship between Mr Corbett and Ms Martens.

Judges Valerie Zachary and John Tyson concurred in reversing the convictions.

"Due to the numerous preserved, prejudicial errors apparent within the record, we reverse the judgments entered upon the defendants convictions for second-degree murder and remand for a new trial," Judge Zachary ruled.

Two judges said the case was "deceptively simple" - and boiled down to whether it was self-defence or not.

"Having thoroughly reviewed the record and transcript, it is evident that this is the rare case in which certain evidentiary errors - alone and in the aggregate - were so prejudicial as to inhibit defendants ability to present a full and meaningful defence," Judge Zachary ruled.

But Judge Allegra Collins dissented in part by separate opinion and found that: "The defendants received a fair trial, free from prejudicial error."

Forensic

Tom and Molly Martens also challenged forensic testimony including blood spatter evidence which indicated Mr Corbett had been asleep in bed when attacked.

The retrial ruling has devastated Mr Corbett's Limerick-based family who fought a determined battle for justice.

Sarah Corbett-Lynch last year wrote a best-selling children's book to help youngsters deal with trauma and featured on 'The Late Late Show' in January.

Her book, 'Noodles Loses Dad', was inspired by stories her father Jason used to tell her and her brother as children.

The young girl is also a talented dancer and equestrian sports enthusiast.

Jack Corbett-Lynch, who is a hugely talented singer, is set to sit his Junior Cert next summer. He is also an accomplished juvenile rugby player in Limerick.

Timeline: Events that led to conviction and appeal

November 2006: Jason Corbett's young wife Margaret, the mother of his two children, Jack and Sarah, dies in Limerick from a tragic asthma attack. The children are both aged under two.

February 2008: Tennessee native Molly Martens travels to Ireland to work as an au pair for Jason. A relationship develops after seven months.

February 14, 2010: Jason and Molly get engaged.

May 2011: They relocate to Panther Creek, North Carolina, where Jason works at MPS, and wed in June 2011.

August 2011: Molly secretly goes to a divorce lawyer to determine her rights to Jason's two children.

2014/2015: Relationship between Jason and his father-in-law sours as the Irishman refuses to sign adoption papers giving Molly equal rights to the children.

August 1, 2015: Jason works at his NC home until a surprise visit from Molly's parents, Tom and Sharon, who decide to stay overnight.

August 2, 2015, 3.02am: Tom Martens makes a 999 call to say he struck his son-in-law in the head with a baseball bat and may have killed him.

August 19 & 21, 2015: Tracey Lynch and her husband, David, are given custody of Jason's two children in North Carolina despite legal efforts by Molly to retain their guardianship.

January 4, 2016: Tom Martens and Molly Martens Corbett are charged with second-degree murder.

July 17, 2017: The murder trial opens with jury selection. Evidence begins on July 25.

August 9, 2017: Tom and Molly Martens convicted of second-degree murder by unanimous jury verdict. They are sentenced to 20-25 years in prison.

January 31, 2019: North Carolina Court of Appeal hears oral submissions on the Martens appeal.

February 4, 2020: North Carolina Court of Appeal revokes convictions by majority 2-1 verdict and directs a new trial.

Irish Independent