Jury could not ignore violent nature of Corbett’s death
Decision to put only Tom Martens on the stand reflected ‘difficulty in keeping to same story’
Molly Martens Corbett and her father, Thomas Martens.
Explaining to the jury the violent nature of the Limerick man’s death at his home in Wallburg, North Carolina on August 2nd, 2015, Davidson County assistant district attorney Alan Martin gave the most vivid demonstration.
Striking an aluminium baseball bat against inanimate objects inside the courtroom in Lexington, Mr Martin shouted as he slammed it down before the jury.
“What type of force did it take to split the skin from the skull?” he asked, adding that the flesh was ripped from the bone.
“They beat him to the point his injuries were similar to those in falls from great heights and car crashes,” Mr Martin said. “Jason Corbett is not here to tell you where they beat him, but his blood tells you.”
In another demonstration, assistant district attorney Greg Brown laid face down on the courtroom carpet as his fellow prosecutor mimicked the fatal assault with swings of the bat.
It was a visually arresting end to a highly emotional trial. On the opening day of evidence, the courtroom heard that Thomas Martens and his wife, Sharon, drove to Wallburg on August 1st to visit their daughter Molly and Mr Corbett.
David Freedman, lawyer for Martens, said the former FBI agent brought an aluminium baseball bat as a present for Mr Corbett’s son, Jack, but decided to take the bat to bed with him in the basement of the Corbett household as it was too late to hand it over when they arrived.
On hearing an alleged commotion at 3am the following morning, Mr Freedman said his client ran upstairs with the bat, at which point the confrontation occurred.
In later testimony, Martens said he saw Mr Corbett with his “hands around Molly’s neck” in the couple’s bedroom.
Having freed his daughter from Mr Corbett’s grasp, Martens said a tussle then ensued over the bat which ended in him striking his son-in-law with it a number of times. “I hit him until he couldn’t me,” he said, adding that he was “really scared”.
Opening the prosecution case, Mr Martin described how there was blood all over the walls of the bedroom, on both sides of the bedroom door and in the bathroom.
“You don’t expect to see so much blood,” Sgt Barry Alphin, a paramedic who was first on the scene after receiving a call about a cardiac arrest, told the trial.
Corporal Clayton Dagenhardt of the Davidson County Sheriff’s Office recalled carrying Mr Corbett’s young daughter, Sarah, from her bedroom to the downstairs basement, and telling her to close her eyes in order to avert her gaze from the scene.
During another hearing, one of the jurors became physically ill as details of the trauma inflicted on Mr Corbett were explained by Dr Craig Nelson, an associate chief medical examiner with the North Carolina Medical Examiner’s Office.
“The degree of skull fractures in this case are kinds we would see in falls from great heights or car crashes,” he said, adding that 10 different areas of impact had been identified on the head of the deceased, two of which had sustained “multiple blows”.
Bloodstain pattern analyst Stuart H James told the jury blood spatters on the boxer shorts and shirt that Martens had been wearing were embedded in the weave of the fabric, and that the stains were consistent with the wearer of the clothes having been in close proximity to Mr Corbett when he was struck.
Bloodstains were also present on a pyjama top worn by Molly Martens Corbett, as well as on her forehead and right cheek.
The courtroom was shown photos taken by crime scene investigators of hair and a piece of scalp on the bedroom floor, and another photo entered by the defence showed hair still gripped in the hand of Mr Corbett after his death, which was presented as evidence of a struggle between the couple.
During the trial, Corbett family members silently watched as he was discussed in the past tense. A handful of times, lawyers would occasionally slip up, mentioning that “Jason is a father of two”, before quickly correcting themselves.
On the opposite side of the room, Martens sat for most of the proceedings without speaking while others gave testimony of his career achievements, but also spoke of his personal ill-will for his daughter’s husband.
Joann Lowry, a former work colleague of Martens, recalled him saying of the Corbett family: “We’re always glad to see them come home, but we’re also glad to see them leave . . . That son-in-law, I hate him.”
Ms Lowry said it was “common knowledge” among Martens’ work colleagues that he disliked his son-in-law.
In lieu of speaking to the jury, Molly Martens Corbett stood solemnly before Judge David Lee, answering his questions with one-word answers. She indicated politely she knew her rights as presented to her and was choosing to exercise her constitutional right not to testify on her behalf.
By doing so, the attention was then focused solely on her father.
When he finally did take the stand, Martens calmly described his relationship with Mr Corbett as challenging through the years, but more peaceable recently.
Martens was asked about training he received while a member of the FBI, where he served in criminal investigation and counterintelligence for over 31 years. “It’s basically spy versus spy,” Martens said.
Also employed with top-secret security clearance at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Martens was trained in self-defence.
During questioning, Mr Brown insisted he must have learned a means of neutralising the threat to his daughter without killing him.
And what of Sharon Martens, Tom’s wife, who remained in the basement bedroom while the struggle persisted upstairs? Martens said he never saw her during the incident.
Mr Martin addressed this only as the trial drew to a close. “Tom Martens kept Sharon out of it because they had to keep their story straight,” Mr Martin said.
He suggested it is difficult to maintain the same story between two people, but for three, it would become nearly impossible.
He suggested it was the testimony not to be heard which raised most questions. A recording of an hour-long interview between Sharon Martens and Lt Wanda Thompson of the Davidson County Sheriff’s Office was not provided to the jury.
Nor did the jury hear testimony from the lead detectives in the case, both of whom sat behind the prosecution throughout the trial. These and other pieces of information were among the snippets jurors had a right to learn, the defence had argued.