The N.C. Attorney General’s Office wants to block a new trial for Molly Corbett and Thomas Martens, whose convictions of murder in the death of Irish businessman Jason Corbett were overturned earlier this month by the N.C. Court of Appeals.
State prosecutors filed a petition with the N.C. Supreme Court on Friday asking that it impose a temporary stay of the lower appellate court’s decision. A stay would prevent a new trial for Molly Corbett and Thomas Martens from proceeding in Davidson Superior Court.
A three-judge panel of the N.C. Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 to overturn the second-degree murder convictions of Molly Corbett, Jason Corbett’s wife, and her father, Thomas Martens, a former FBI agent, concluding that the trial judge made errors that deprived them of getting a fair trial in 2017 in Davidson Superior Court. Because the judges were split, state prosecutors have a right to appeal the decision to the N.C. Supreme Court. Molly Corbett, 36, and Martens, 70, are each serving 20 to 25 years in prison.
The N.C. Attorney General’s Office said it would file a notice of appeal either later this month or early next month.
This case drew national and international attention.
In 2008 in Ireland, Jason Corbett, 39, hired a young woman named Molly Martens to travel from Tennessee, where she lived, to Corbett’s country to take care of his children, Sarah and Jack, after his first wife died. Jason and Molly began dating and then married in 2011, moved to the United States and settled in an upscale golf community in Davidson County.
Four years later, on Aug. 2, 2015, Davidson County sheriff’s deputies, responding to a 911 call, found Jason Corbett’s nude body in the master bedroom of the couple’s house.
Prosecutors alleged that Molly Corbett and Martens brutally beat Jason to death with a 28-inch Louisville Slugger baseball bat and a concrete paving brick. A medical examiner testified that Jason had been hit in the head at least 12 times and that his skull had been crushed.
But Molly Corbett and Martens claimed self-defense. Martens testified during the trial that he and his wife had driven from Tennessee to visit Molly and had stayed overnight in a guest bedroom in the basement. Martens had brought a baseball bat as a gift for Jack. Noise from upstairs woke him up on the morning of Aug. 2, 2015. He said he grabbed the bat and followed the sounds to the master bedroom, where he said he saw Jason with his hands around Molly’s neck.
Then Jason put Molly in a chokehold, according to Martens, and repeatedly threatened to kill her and Martens. Martens claimed that he hit Jason multiple times to save his daughter in a struggle that started in the bedroom, moved to an adjacent bathroom and then back into the bedroom. At one point, Jason grabbed the bat and threw Martens across the bedroom. Martens said he managed to get the bat back from Jason and beat Jason until Jason was not moving. Molly told police that sometime during the struggle, she tried to hit Jason with the paving brick. And according to court testimony, she did hit Jason with the brick.
The appellate court ruled that Judge David Lee, who presided over the Superior Court trial in Lexington, made several decisions about evidence that prevented Molly Corbett and Martens from mounting an effective defense. Specifically, the court said Lee was wrong to exclude statements that Sarah and Jack made to social workers with the Union County Department of Social Services and Dragonfly House Child Advocacy Center in Mocksville. In those statements, the children said Jason was emotionally and physically abusive to Molly. Prosecutors contend that the children later recanted those statements.
The court also ruled that Lee should have excluded testimony from Stuart James, a national expert in bloodstain-pattern analysis. James found out the day before he testified that stains on the inside hem of Martens’ shorts and on the bottom of Molly Corbett’s pajama pants were never tested to confirm that they were blood and that it was Jason’s blood. But he made the critical conclusion that the location of these stains meant that Molly Corbett and Martens were at or above Jason’s head when they hit Jason. The court said that if the stains were not confirmed as blood, there is no way James should have been allowed to testify about them or make any conclusions.
And finally, Lee was wrong to give an instruction on what is known as the aggressor doctrine to the jury. The aggressor doctrine says that a defendant cannot raise a claim of self-defense if there is sufficient evidence that he might have been the aggressor. The appellate court argued that state prosecutors did not present any evidence to contradict Martens’ version of events. And the fact that Martens and Molly Corbett had no visible injuries isn’t enough evidence to prove that Martens was the aggressor, the court said.
It could take a year or more before the N.C. Supreme Court rules on the appeal.