Sunday 18 March 2018

The quiet, proud patch of Bible-belt America where murder is a rare occurrence

The old Lexington courthouse, which is now a museum
The old Lexington courthouse, which is now a museum
Conor Feehan

Conor Feehan

Meadowlands in Davidson County, North Carolina, is a large, sprawling estate of exclusive detached homes.

Children play on skates and bicycles in the quiet cul-de sacs as their parents watch on and chat.

Driveways are filled with large cars and gas-guzzling pick-up trucks that seem to be the favoured form of transport in this southern state.

It was here that Jason Corbett lived with Molly Martens-Corbett and his two children. Safe, secure, spacious and scenic, it's easy to see why they would choose Panther Creek Court as a home.

As soon as you drive out of Meadowlands, and onto the Friendship Ledford Road that leads you back towards the town of Lexington, you leave that manicured existence. Here you find yourself in Davidson County proper, which is more laid back and stripped down, more honest and basic.

Those all-American wooden bungalows, with the rocking chair on the porch, are dotted along the roadside interspersed with churches and prayer houses in this patch of Bible-belt USA.

The packaging plant Jason worked in is on the outskirts of the town of Lexington, and it was here that the Sheriff's Department travelled on the night Thomas Martens made his 911 call to say he had attacked Jason with a baseball bat.

Because Mr Corbett's death happened outside a recognised municipal district within Davidson County, it was the Sheriff's office, and not the police, that investigated it and prosecuted it.

Sheriff David S Grice has a lot on his hands looking after an area that spans 88km from top to bottom and some 56km across.

"Typically in Davidson County we've had many years where there have been no homicides, and many years where there have been nine or 10, but typically we average about five to seven homicides a year in Davidson County which has a population of around 160,000," he said.

"We're the 10th largest county in North Carolina so we're fortunate to have that low a homicide rate. Most of our homicides involve people who are known to each other, but it's a relatively rare occurrence," he added.

Lexington is also home to the courthouse where Mr Martens and Ms Martens-Corbett went on trial, and where a host of local, national and international media outlets gathered and set up camp almost a month ago.

It's a small town, which takes pride in its old courthouse building, built in 1858, which is now a museum. The people are friendly, polite, courteous and helpful.

The gun-carrying Sheriff's officers who man the security at the new courthouse seem imposing at first as they direct you through scanners and searches but, after repeated entry and exit through the doors, they carry out their duties efficiently and with a friendly and familiar hello.

Another thing that Lexington prides itself on is being the barbecue capital of the USA. It holds a barbecue festival each autumn where restaurants showcase their talents when it comes to the oak and hickory smoking of shoulders of pork.

Presidents Clinton and George W Bush have tucked in at the eateries where the pork, coleslaw and hush puppies are served on paper or polystyrene plates, all washed down with waxed paper cups of cherry-flavour cheerwine. There are only a handful of bars and restaurants in Lexington, and not one taxi to hail.

It's sleepier than Limerick, and easy to see why a Janesboro man might feel homesick if he was living there for an extended period of time.

Irish Independent

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