Saturday 20 July 2019

Ralph Riegel analysis: Legal argument crucial in what jury learned about Molly Martens' marriage

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

Legal argument proved crucial in the marathon North Carolina murder trial in terms of what the jury were and were not told about Molly Martens Corbett and the state of her marriage.

However, unlike in Ireland where such legal argument is strictly non-reportable, under US law everything that is said in open court, even in the absence of the jury, can be fully detailed by journalists.

Martens with Jason Corbett
Martens with Jason Corbett

Critically, Judge David Lee ruled as inadmissible statements taken in Lexington, North Carolina in August 2015 from Mr Corbett's two children, Jack (10) and Sarah(8), in the days after their father's death.

The statements were taken as the youngsters were at the centre of a custody battle between between Ms Martens Corbett and her family who wanted them to stay in the US and Mr Corbett's Limerick-based family who wanted them brought back to Ireland.

The children were eventually allowed back to Ireland under the guardianship of Mr Corbett's sister, Tracey, and her husband, David Lynch.

The statements were taken in the DragonFly House - a Davidson County children's support service - between August 3 and 13.

Retired FBI agent Thomas Martens, 67, left, arrives the Davidson County Courthouse in Lexington, North Carolina. Photo: Elise Manahan
Retired FBI agent Thomas Martens, 67, left, arrives the Davidson County Courthouse in Lexington, North Carolina. Photo: Elise Manahan

The defence teams of Ms Martens Corbett and Mr Martens wanted the statements admitted in support of their contention that the young woman acted in self defence on August 2 and was afraid of her husband at the time.

However, the children were interviewed again in Ireland and, with the support of child psychologists and lawyers, issued fresh statements which contradicted elements of the North Carolina statements they had made.

Judge Lee confirmed his pre-trial submission ruling that none of the statements would be allowed into evidence.

"There is some evidence of recanting by both children," he said.

Legal argument also swirled around an insurance policy on the life of Mr Corbett.

Eventually, this was allowed into evidence and jurors were told that, after Mr Corbett's death, Ms Martens Corbett became the main beneficiary for a $600,000 (aprox €500,000) payout.

The money is currently held in trust pending the outcome of the Davidson County trial.

A second critical ruling was Judge Lee's refusal to allow a statement described as "inflammatory and potentially misleading" into evidence.

The defence team of Thomas Martens wanted to introduce a statement whereby he recalled a conversation with Michael Fitzpatrick, the father of the late Margaret 'Mags' Fitzpatrick, Jason Corbett's first wife.

The young Limerick woman died of an asthma attack in November 2006 despite her husband's desperate attempts to rush her to hospital and then his performing CPR on her by the roadside after she stopped breathing.

Mr Martens said in a statement: "(I) was approached by Michael Fitzpatrick (now deceased), the father of Jason Corbett's first wife...he believed that Jason had caused the death of his daughter, Margaret."

Mr Martens also described Mr Fitzpatrick as "uneducated" and said he found him hard to understand.

His legal team said it was not being argued that this was what had actually happened in 2006 but that it had contributed to Mr Martens state of mind in August 2015.

Assistant District Attorney Ina Stanton opposed the submission and said the statement was highly prejudicial and inflammatory.

Furthermore, she pointed out that Mr Fitzpatrick, before he died, had done to a solicitor in Ireland and sworn a statement that he had never made such remarks to Mr Martens.

Mags Fitzpatrick's mother, Marian, and her sister, Catherine, also issued statements that there was "a loving and caring relationship" between Margaret and Jason.

Judge Lee ruled the statement should not be allowed into evidence before the jury.

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