Tuesday 12 December 2017

Molly Martens murder trial: Deliberations resume as two families await verdict

Molly Martens-Corbett outside the Davidson County Courthouse. Photo: Donnie Roberts/The Dispatch
Molly Martens-Corbett outside the Davidson County Courthouse. Photo: Donnie Roberts/The Dispatch

Ralph Riegel in Lexington

A North Carolina jury resumed its deliberations today on a verdict in the murder trial over the death of Irish businessman Jason Corbett (39).

The jury deliberated for an hour and 45 minutes on Tuesday evening before being sent home for the night.

Jason Corbett with his wife Molly, who is charged with his second degree murder
Jason Corbett with his wife Molly, who is charged with his second degree murder

They resumed deliberations before Judge David Lee at Davidson County Superior Court at 9.30am this morning (2.30pm Irish time), the 16th day of the trial which opened on July 17.

The jury of nine women and three men have already submitted a number of questions to the court.

The first was asking for markers and writing materials for the jury room.

The second was for copies of a written statement made by co-defendant Molly Martens Corbett (33) and copies of various crime scene photographs.

Judge Lee did not allow them view material which they requested but which had not been formally entered into evidence.

Under North Carolina law, the jury can only return a unanimous verdict amongst all 12.

A second degree murder conviction in the US state can carry a sentence of up to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

Judge Lee can allow the jury an indeterminate amount of time to reach a verdict.

They began their deliberations as the prosecution claimed the Limerick businessman was beaten to the point his head resembled "a bad Humpty-Dumpty cartoon."

Thomas Martens (67) and his daughter Molly Martens Corbett (33) deny the second degree murder of Mr Corbett two years ago.

Both defence teams called for acquittals as they said the evidence overwhelmingly supports self defence and that Mr Corbett was the aggressor that night.

Jurors visibly winced as Assistant District Attorney Alan Martin repeatedly struck a courtroom table with the metal baseball bat used to kill Mr Corbett to underline the sheer force required to crush the father-of-two's skull.

Mr Martin also recreated in the courtroom, with Assistant District Attorney Greg Brown, how Mr Corbett may have lain prone on the ground while blows rained down on his head.

"They literally beat the skin off of his skull with that bat and that brick," he said.

"They, acting in concert, her and him, literally crushed his skull."

"They turned his skull into something that resembled a bad Humpty Dumpty cartoon."

"They beat him after the threat was over - after he went down."

Mr Martin said there are indications Mr Corbett was struck repeatedly while helpless on the floor

"They hit him at least four times after he was dead - maybe more."

"It takes a lot of force to crush a skull."

Mr Martin repeatedly struck a table with the metal baseball bat to underline his point.

"They didn't just split his skull or rip the flesh off the bone. They crushed his skull."

"It takes 'I hate you' force."

"Jason did not have to die that brutal and savage death at the hands of the woman he came to America to marry."

"His children, Jack and Sarah, did not have to be orphans."

"There were little bits of Jason all over her (Ms Martens Corbett.) That puts her in the thick of it. It is rock solid evidence. It puts her there."

Mr Martin pointed out that such was the catastrophic damage to Mr Corbett's skull that a pathologist thought the injuries were comparable to someone involved in a bad car crash or a fall from a height.

To illustrate the point, Mr Martin showed jurors the brick and the baseball bat used to kill Mr Corbett - and then showed them photographs of the Limerick father before the attack and after the attack.

"This is what they did to Jason," he said as he held up a post mortem photograph.

"This is what Jason did to them - nothing," Mr Martin said as he held up scene photographs which showed the father and daughter totally uninjured.

Mr Martin urged jurors to consider the crime scene and forensic evidence as well as the testimony of police officers and paramedics at the scene.

He said that the distinction between second degree murder and voluntary manslaughter turns on malice.

"You know what malice sounds like," he asked jurors?

"I want to divorce him - but I want his kids. He is beneath me and I am above him. He is not good enough for my daughter. I don't like him and his rowdy Irish friends who cuss too much and smoke outside my house. He is less than and I am greater than. I hate him. That's what malice sounds like."

"Murder, to cover up an assault by either one of these two people, is malice."

He also asked the jurors to consider whether they can infer Ms Martens Corbett may have obtained a prescription for the powerful sedative Trazedone three days before her husband's death in a bid to give it to him.

"Is is reasonable to infer that she tried but failed to dose him," he asked?

The court heard that Ms Martens Corbett had helped make fresh mint Mojitos on August 1 and her husband had sampled one.

Mr Martin queried how the incident could have been self defence when there wasn't an injury or a mark on the father and daughter.

He pointed out to jurors that, when photographed after the incident, Ms Martens Corbett was wearing a delicate bracelet which had not been damaged, bent or marked in any way.

The Davidson County Superior Court jury began deliberating on a verdict after closing arguments from the prosecution and two defence teams in the four week trial.

They were also instructed at length by Judge David Lee on the law and the requirements of a second degree murder charge.

The jury can also consider a lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter if they believe second degree murder was not proved.

Mr Martens and Ms Martens Corbett deny the second degree murder of Limerick father-of-two Jason Corbett at Panther Creek outside Lexington in North Carolina in August 2 2015.

The two defence teams said all the prosecution evidence corroborates the account of the Martens that the incident was due to them acting in self defence.

Jones Byrd, for Mr Martens, said the prosecution had not proved beyond a reasonable doubt that the father and daughter did not act in self defence that night.

"What their evidence corroborates is what Tom Martens told you from the witness stand," Mr Byrd said.

Mr Byrd said that the star prosecution witness, Dr Stuart James, a blood pattern expert, offered evidence which also corroborates Mr Martens' version of the confrontation with his son-in-law who, he testified, was attempting to strangle his daughter and then threatened to kill her.

He said Mr Martens account of the blows he struck his son-in-law exactly matches the blood impact spatter marks.

The lawyer also pointed out that key elements of prosecution evidence were not properly or fully tested - Mr Martens blood-stained boxer shorts and blood stains on the quilt on Mr Corbett's bed.

Mr Byrd pointed out that Dr James never visited the scene - and never interviewed the emergency medical services personnel who attended the scene.

He also queried why two of the lead police officers in the case, Detectives Herd and Smith, never offered evidence at the trial despite attending the hearing every day.

"They have been here for three and a half weeks but we have not heard a word from them," he said.

"Why didn't we hear from them."

He also queried why the prosecution had not played the video-recorded statements taken from the father and daughter at Davidson County Sheriff's Office at 6am on August 2.

Mr Byrd also pointed out a blonde hair found in Mr Corbett's fist at the scene was never preserved and never tested.

"What else did they miss, what else have you not seen."

David Freedman, lawyer for Mr Martens, said his client had no expectation of what unfolded that night.

"Tom Martens went to bed in a dream and awoke to a nightmare that night," he said.

"Mr Martens has been trained in every firearm known to mankind. If he went with any inclination (of violence) he would have brought something more than a little league baseball bat."

"What do we know about Tom and what he did for the previous 40 years? He spent the previous 40 years defending this country."

"I remember when being in law enforcement was a good thing. We have spent the last few days disparaging the FBI. He has served us, he has protected us - that is what Tom Martens knows how to do."

"So what do you think he was going to do, knowing his daughter and his grandchildren were up there. He was going to protect when he grabbed that baseball bat."

"All the evidence has shown that is all Tom Martens thinks about - raising a family, raising children and protecting."

"Tom Marten saw something he thought was not possible. He saw his daughter, having her throat surrounded by the hands of Jason Corbett. He didn't know why. But he saw that."

"He walked in there, he is there for protection and that is what he sees."

"He didn't want to be in his daughter's bedroom in his underwear."

Mr Freedman said the only malice in the case was linked to Mr Martens not liking cigarette butts being left at his home from a pre-wedding party by Mr Corbett's family and his son-in-law's drinking.

"That is absurd. It makes no sense."

"Who is more likely to have snapped that night - a 65 year old grandfather who has protected us in his life from terrorists and drug dealers or a man, from his own mouth, feeling dizziness when not taking their medication."

"We know he (Mr Corbett) has had depression issues, we know he had sleep issues - we know that three weeks before he had his hands around Molly's throat he had anger issues. Don't listen to me - listen to him (Mr Corbett). From his own mouth."

"We know he (Jason) had seven or eight drinks - (is) that the best way to deal with anger and dizziness?"

Mr Freedman pointed out that Mr Corbett was drinking to excess while his children played around him.

"We do know he consumed a lot of alcohol."

"Tom Martens has been in this nightmare since August 2 2015 when all he wanted to do was see his grandchildren and play golf."

"But Tom Martens did (that night) what he has spent his life doing - protecting."

"Jason never stopped being the aggressor. At any time Jason could have ended the situation and just let Molly go."

"Tom was in the fight for his life. His survival instincts kicked in. All he wanted to do was live. Tom had no choice - it was Tom or Jason."

"We are not saying that Jason was bad or deserved to die. But if he let her (Molly) go it is all over."

Defence lawyer Walter Holton insisted that Molly Martens Corbett (33) had nothing to gain from Jason Corbett's death.

"She was not in the will. It was not about the children."

"They are gone home - they are in Ireland.

"She now lives with her parents. She has no assets," he said.

In the prosecution closing, Assistant District Attorney Greg Brown said the evidence indicated the father and daughter had subjected Mr Corbett to a heinous and cruel assault.

He said they had then delayed in making a 911 call to allow Mr Martens, a former FBI agent, lawyer and counter-intelligence expert, to develop a story for what happened.

Mr Brown said the evidence also suggested that the duo engaged in "fake" CPR life-saving procedures.

He said neither were found to have blood on their hands despite the fact Mr Corbett's body was soaked in blood.

Mr Brown also made reference to Ms Martens Corbett's police statement.

"I tried to hit him with a brick I had on my nightstand," she said.

"I do not remember clearly after that," she told Davidson County Sheriff's officers.

Defence lawyer Walter Holton said it was possible the brick was on the ground and Mr Corbett was rolled over on top of it as the father and daughter were attempting cardio-pulmonary resuscitation on his blood-soaked body.

Online Editors

Promoted Links

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Promoted Links

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News