Friday 15 December 2017

Jason Corbett killing: Suspicions of murder grew as investigation progressed

Jason Corbett and his wife Molly Martens
Jason Corbett and his wife Molly Martens
The late Jason Corbett with Molly Martens Corbett, brother-in-law David and sister Tracey Lynch. Photo: Brendan Gleeson
Molly Martens
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

They say a picture tells a thousand stories, but the oft-published photograph of Jason Corbett and his future bride Molly Martens at a cancer research fundraiser only served to conceal the truth behind their turbulent relationship.

Mr Corbett was seen beaming alongside his pretty American girlfriend at the event in his native Limerick in 2009. Also in good spirits in the photograph were Mr Corbett's sister, Tracey Lynch, and her husband David, the two relatives Mr Corbett was closest to.

Six years later, the illusion created by the photograph has been well and truly shattered.

Mr Corbett (39) is dead, allegedly beaten to death by Ms Martens and her father Thomas, and the Lynches have endured a bruising dispute with Ms Martens over the guardianship of her stepchildren.

Shortly after Mr Corbett's death in North Carolina on August 2 last, it emerged that Ms Martens (32) and her father were "persons of interest" to investigators.

A police report released at the time revealed Mr Martens (65) had admitted hitting his son-in-law with a baseball bat. But as the months wore on, there was no sign of the pair being charged.

It was only this week, five months after the killing, that it was announced a grand jury had decided both should be indicted for second-degree murder and voluntary manslaughter.

If convicted on the more serious charge, each could face up to 40 years in prison.

The announcement of the charges also triggered the release of a huge volume of information, including court records, testimony transcripts, a 911 recording and an autopsy report.

These have served to fill in the blanks as to what may have happened on the night of the murder. The information also points to a number of possible emotional and financial motives for Mr Corbett's killing.

Chief among these is that the marriage was not a happy one. In fact, there is evidence it was on a rocky footing right from the wedding night when, in the words of Tracey Lynch, Ms Martens "flipped and completely lost control".

A row over the dietary requirements of a wedding guest allegedly saw Ms Martens screaming at her husband and David Lynch and throwing her chief bridesmaid and parents out of the wedding.

Other evidence given by Mrs Lynch at a guardianship hearing, but only released this week, portrayed Ms Martens as an unstable, erratic and violent fantasist, who was obsessed with her stepchildren.

She alleged Ms Martens lied about being an Olympic swimmer. Another alleged extraordinary lie is that Ms Martens claimed to have been a pen pal of Mr Corbett's first wife, Mags, before her sudden death in 2006.

There was no truth to this, Mrs Lynch testified, and Ms Martens only met Mr Corbett when she secured a job as an au pair to his two children, Jack (11) and Sarah (9).

Chilling testimony given by Mrs Lynch detailed allegations of violent attacks on young Jack, including an incident where his head was held under a tap. Mrs Lynch revealed Ms Martens had said she was bipolar and was prone to mood swings.

Mr Corbett, a pharmaceutical packaging company employee, moved the family to Wallburg in North Carolina after marrying Ms Martens in 2011. It is commonly accepted she became a mother figure to the two children.

Yet Mr Corbett had concerns about his wife's behaviour, his family claim, and refused to allow her adopt them. These concerns related not just to how she treated the children, but also to how she spent money.

Police affidavits suggest Mr Corbett had decided he'd had enough of his life in the US and was planning to return home for good with the children. Whether or not Ms Martens was involved in those plans appears to be a matter of debate.

A move back to Ireland seems to have been a nightmare scenario for Ms Martens. She is said to have told a family friend she no longer loved her husband and wanted to leave him.

However, Ms Martens could not bear to do so as it would have left her with no right to the stepchildren.

Mr Corbett's will from 2007 had named Mrs Lynch and her husband as guardians in the event of his death and he had seen no reason to change this after his marriage to Ms Martens.

It appears, however, she seriously explored her options, seeking legal advice in 2013 on custody of the children in the event of a divorce and taking legal advice about her rights to the children the following year.

Within days of her husband's violent death, she lodged an adoption application and sought guardianship of the children.

A court ultimately decided they should live with the Lynch family in Ireland.

In recent days, it has emerged police have considered there may also have been a financial motive behind the killing.

Davidson County detective WS Thompson said in an affidavit that investigators had learned from Mr Corbett's family that he "was possibly concerned about the spending habits of his American wife".

The detective said Mr Corbett's plans to return home and his wife's spending habits "were allegedly a source of conflict between the couple".

Attorneys handling Mr Corbett's estate also told detectives "large sums of money" were removed from joint accounts he held with Ms Martens after his death.

"Jason Corbett's alleged comfortable financial status provides additional possible motive for his untimely death," the affidavit said.

Aside from these potential motives, it is now clear detectives had other reasons to suspect Mr Corbett was murdered. As investigations progressed, apparent discrepancies emerged in the account of events given by the two accused.

Thomas Martens, a former FBI agent, said he and his wife had been visiting the Corbetts when he was woken in the night by a row in the master bedroom.

He said he had "intervened" and hit Mr Corbett over the head with a baseball bat and that there had been an uncontrolled fight. It was an act of self-defence, he claimed.

However, another detective, BM Smith, said this account did not tally with an examination of the scene.

A further account of the killing given by Mr Martens said that "they" had struck Mr Corbett in the head with a concrete paving block and a baseball bat. The paving block was not previously mentioned when Mr Martens was questioned by a 911 dispatcher.

Another key potential discrepancy relates to where exactly Mr Martens sourced the baseball bat.

He indicated he brought the bat to the residence as a gift to his step-grandson, Jack, but hadn't yet given it to him.

However, police suspect the bat used was one given to Jack the previous summer which was stored in a sports equipment bag in the garage.

If true, this undermines Mr Martens's story that he picked up the bat because it was close to him and suggests he went to the garage instead to retrieve it.

Irish Independent

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