Molly Martens and FBI agent father Tom 'were lucky not to face charge of first-degree murder'
US prosecutors have warned the only strange thing about the conviction of a father and daughter for the brutal killing of Irish father-of-two Jason Corbett (39) was that they were never charged with his first-degree murder.
The revelation came as defence lawyers for Tom (68) and Molly (34) Martens made detailed oral submissions before North Carolina's Court of Appeals in Raleigh, seeking to have their convictions for second-degree murder quashed.
The North Carolina attorney general's Office opposed the defence appeal and argued that the August 9, 2017, murder convictions were fair, proper and fully reflective of the evidence involved.
One special attorney general argued that the only thing strange was that the retired FBI agent and his daughter weren't charged with the first-degree murder of the Limerick man.
"It appears to me there was evidence to bring a first-degree premeditated murder case," special attorney general Mike Dodd said.
He pointed out that the case met all seven stipulations under North Carolina law for a first-degree murder prosecution. However, a grand jury instead opted for a second-degree murder charge.
Members of the Corbett family attended the Raleigh hearing to support North Carolina prosecutors. In attendance were Tracey Corbett-Lynch, Marilyn Corbett, Wayne Corbett, Dave Lynch and Lynn Shanahan.
Defence lawyers 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.
Mr Martens and his daughter, a former nanny, are serving 20 to 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, at his luxury home at Panther Creek Court.
Mr Kingsbery argued that Ms Martens should never have been convicted. He said the State never properly 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 to be entered into evidence.
These, he argued, offered corroborative evidence to Ms Martens's version of events.
Mr Freedman also challenged key forensic evidence, including blood spatter testimony from world-renowned expert Dr Stuart James.
Their appeal arguments were opposed by special deputy attorney generals Jonathan Babb and Mike Dodd. Both argued the trial magistrate, Judge David Lee, acted both properly and fairly.
Both Mr Babb and Mr Dodds cited North Carolina Supreme Court case law as to the reasons for properly refusing the material cited by the defence into evidence. "There were extensive, brutal injuries [to Mr Corbett] and zero injuries [to Mr Martens and Ms Martens]," Mr Dodd added.
Molly and Tom Martens were not in court but members of their family were present.
The appeal was heard before Chief Judge John Tyson, Judge Valerie Zachary and Judge Allegra Collins. No verdict was delivered with the panel reserving its judgment.