Big setback | 

Disappointment for Jason Corbett family as Tom and Molly Martens murder retrial delayed again

Pre-trial hearing in Davidson County Superior Court to confirm retrial date is postponedThe family initially told a retrial could happen in May or June – now unlikely to happen before late autumnRetrial expected to last seven weeks

Thomas Martens and his daughter Molly Martens Corbett. Inset Jason Corbett

Ralph Riegel

THE US retrial of father and daughter Tom and Molly Martens for the murder of Irish businessman Jason Corbett (39) is now not expected before late autumn as a key North Carolina trial date hearing was postponed.

Judge David Hall was to confirm a trial date with prosecutors and the two defence teams next Monday.

However, that pre-trial hearing in Davidson County Superior Court has been postponed.

It is understood the court session will not proceed because of a scheduling conflict.

No date has been set, as yet, for a new pre-trial hearing at which a date for the full retrial will be confirmed.

Mr Corbett's Irish family had not planned to travel to North Carolina for the hearing after attending a key court session last March.

Mr Corbett's two children, Jack (17) and Sarah (15), came face to face at that March hearing with their step mother and step-grandfather for the first time since their father was beaten to death in the bedroom of his North Carolina home in August 2015.

Both children were accompanied to the Davidson County Superior Court hearing by Mr Corbett's sister, Tracey Corbett-Lynch, her husband Dave, and their children, Dean and Adam.

Tom (71) and Molly Martens (37) sat on the left of Lexington's Courtroom Nine beside their legal teams.

Neither looked at the two children or members of the Corbett family as they entered to sit on the right side of the courtroom.

The Limerick family travelled to North Carolina to demonstrate their ongoing support for North Carolina prosecutors - and to underline their plea for an early retrial date.

The family had initially been told a retrial could happen in May or June.

However, a retrial is now unlikely before autumn - a major disappointment to the Limerick family given that Jack and Sarah are facing important exam years in secondary school.

It is expected the retrial - which will involve direct evidence from Jack and Sarah Corbett - could last for up to seven weeks.

In a gesture of support for the Corbett family, two members of the 2017 trial jury who unanimously convicted Tom and Molly Martens of second degree murder attended the court hearing last March.

Both embraced the Corbett family outside the courthouse following the ending of the pretrial hearing.

Judge David Hall of Forsyth County, who was specially appointed to hear the retrial, was told by Assistant District Attorney Alan Mr Martin that the State had made full disclosure to the defence legal teams of Douglas Kingsberry, R. Vannoy and Jones Byrd.

Judge Hall is a former prosecutor.

Mr Martin revealed the disclosure included 9,725 pages of documents as well as digital files including photographs and audio-recordings.

Neither Mr Kingsberry nor Mr Vannoy were involved in the original Davidson County Superior Court trial though Mr Kingsberry was involved in the successful appeal of the ori ginal conviction to the North Carolina Supreme Court last year.

Mr Vannoy said he would endeavour to familiarise himself with the State document discovery as quickly as possible.

Mr Martin told Judge Hall that the prosecution hoped to reach agreement with the defence legal teams on a hearing schedule which will include a specific date for the retrial.

That retrial date was to be confirmed at the second administrative hearing in Lexington on May 23.

Pre-trial motions were also expected to be dealt with on that date.

Judge Hall issued a special warning given the high profile nature of the Martens case.

"This case has garnered, it is fair to say, a tremendous amount of media coverage by what I consider the news media and what I consider the entertainment media," he said.

Judge Hall said his priority was to ensure that justice was served – and the rights of the media would have to be balanced against that. He issued an order specifically prohibiting either the prosecution or defence legal teams, or any of their staff or agents, from making any extra judicial statements about the case.

Judge Hall also said he would not allow what he termed any "media exploitation" to undermine the operation of the justice system.

"My only rule is to see these parties receive a fair trial without any external forces in play.

"We are here for one purpose and that is to serve justice."

Judge Hall also said that he will not be allowing filming or video-recording of the retrial as he said he believed it can impact witnesses, jurors and even attorneys.

He bluntly warned that, in respect of media matters, he reserved all powers to enforce the court's orders including the loss of liberty for those found to have committed contempt of court.

Mr Martens, a former FBI agent, and his daughter, Molly, who was the Irish widower's second wife, face a retrial after their 2017 convictions were overturned by the North Carolina Supreme Court last year.

Davidson County District Attorney Garry Frank previously said his prosecution team had secured a successful conviction in 2017 and were confident of securing another conviction.

But he acknowledged that there was a "backlog and schedules" with "considerable time" required to deal with these because of the ongoing fall-out from Covid-19.

Tom and Molly Martens were unanimously convicted of Mr Corbett's second degree murder after a five week trial in August 2017 and received 20-25 year prison sentences.

However, they subsequently won a retrial after a challenge to the North Carolina Court of Appeal and then North Carolina Supreme Court.

Both served three and a half years in prison before being freed.

Prosecutors have already ruled out any question of the trial being moved away from Davidson County where the original 2017 conviction was delivered.

The Tennessee-based father and daughter beat the Limerick-born packaging industry executive to death at his luxury home outside Winston-Salem in North Carolina in August 2015.

Both claimed they acted in self-defence after they alleged they had been attacked by the Irish father-of-two.

Mr Martens insisted he feared for his life and that of his daughter.

However, the original trial heard evidence that Mr Corbett was likely asleep in bed when the first blow was struck.

Tom and Molly Martens were found totally uninjured at the scene – while the skull of the Irish widower had been so badly shattered by a concrete paving slab and a metal baseball bat that a pathologist could not accurately count the number of blows inflicted.

Prosecutors later claimed that an attempt had been made to drug Mr Corbett - and that the father and daughter deliberately delayed calling emergency services just to ensure the Irish executive was dead when they finally arrived.

Paramedics told the original trial they were startled to find Mr Corbett's body was cold when touched.

Mr Corbett's life insurance policy had also recently been changed to ensure Ms Martens was the only beneficiary.

The Limerick man had steadfastly refused to sign adoption papers which would have given Ms Martens equal rights to his two children by his late first wife, Margaret 'Mags' Fitzpatrick, who died of a freak asthma attack in November 2006.

Mr Corbett's family have consistently maintained that the murder was orchestrated because he wanted to return his two children to Limerick amid growing fears over the mental health status and bizarre behaviour of his second wife.

The death last year from Covid-19 of Mr Martens' lead counsel, David Freedman, had not been expected to impact the timeline of the retrial.

Mr Freedman's firm still represents Mr Martens.

The retrial was ordered last year after plea bargain talks collapsed over the refusal of Tom and Molly Martens to spend any further time in prison.

Both had spent over three and a half years in prison before their conviction was quashed by the North Carolina Supreme Court.

Any plea bargain deal hinged on the duo receiving the normal term for a lesser charge such as involuntary homicide or manslaughter, requiring them to spend at least a further 12 months behind bars.

Once the plea bargain had been ruled out, planning for the retrial commenced.

Mr Corbett's Limerick family have promised to support prosecutors in delivering a second murder conviction.

His sister, Tracey Corbett-Lynch, has spearheaded a determined seven year campaign for justice for her brother.

"Our campaign will continue until justice has been done for Jason and those who so cruelly took his life are held to account. We have full faith in North Carolina prosecutors and in the US justice system," she vowed last year.

Unlike the first trial, testimony from Mr Corbett's two children, Jack and Sarah Corbett, is likely to prove central to the prosecution in the retrial.

Both were asleep in upstairs bedrooms of their home at Panther Creek Court outside Winston-Salem in North Carolina in August 2015 when their father was beaten to death downstairs.

The refusal of the original trial judge to allow statements taken from the children in August 2015 by North Carolina social services officials to be entered into evidence was critical to Tom and Molly Martens getting their convictions overturned.

Since his release from prison, Mr Martens has lived at his Knoxville home in Tennessee.

His daughter, Molly, went on an extended US holiday with her brother, Connor, in which she visited Chicago and New York.

Molly Martens married Mr Corbett in June 2011 after travelling to Ireland several years earlier to work as a nanny for the Irish widower's two children who were both aged two years and under when his first wife died from an asthma attack.

He later began a relationship with Ms Martens while totally unaware of her history of mental health problems.

The Limerick businessman relocated to the US in 2011 after his Tennessee-born wife repeatedly complained of homesickness.

Mr Corbett's family have maintained he was in the process of bringing his children back to Limerick when he was attacked and killed in his bedroom.

The 2017 trial heard an attempt had been made to drug Mr Corbett, he was initially attacked while asleep in bed and he was beaten even after he lay dead on the bedroom floor.

When the concrete paving slab was later lifted from the floor by forensic officers, it left its outline in blood on the carpet.

Mr Corbett's blood, tissue and hair was also found embedded in the brick.

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