Delay due to 'Covid bottleneck’ will mean Molly and Tom Martens will be free for almost two and a half years before retrial starts
Mr Corbett’s daughter Sarah (16) fought back tears as she sat just metres from her stepmother and step-grandfather who were released from North Carolina prisons early last year having successfully appealed against their 2017 second-degree murder convictions.
Sarah was flanked at the hearing by her late father’s sister, Tracey Corbett-Lynch, and Tracey’s husband Dave, who travelled to North Carolina from their Limerick home especially for the hearing.
Molly Martens stared directly ahead as Judge David Hall confirmed the proposed 2023 trial date.
Ms Martens – who still refers to herself as “Molly Corbett” – wore a plain grey jacket and black skirt to the hearing in Lexington in Davidson County.
Her father Tom, a retired FBI agent, appeared at the hearing wearing a dark suit and formal blue shirt.
Neither spoke during the hearing in Davidson County’s court five.
Mr Corbett’s Irish family looked distraught as Judge Hall said it was impossible to stage the retrial any earlier – with Mr Corbett’s killers now set to be free for almost two and a half years before their retrial is staged.
Judge Hall said that the retrial will take place on June 26 next year as he referred to “the Covid bottleneck” which has impacted the court services.
He said that, despite the best efforts of all parties involved, it proved impossible to hold the retrial any earlier.
“There were efforts by everyone involved to bring the trial to motion earlier but there were realities that could not be overcome,” he said.
Molly and Tom Martens were released from custody after successfully having their second-degree murder convictions quashed by first the North Carolina Court of Appeals and then, in early 2021, by the North Carolina Supreme Court.
Both had served just over three and a half years of their 20-25 year prison terms.
The pair successfully appealed after insisting throughout their 2017 trial that they acted entirely in self-defence.
Mr Corbett’s family had expressed concerns that a lengthy delay in staging the retrial could jeopardise the key exam years in Ireland of Mr Corbett’s two children, Jack (18) and Sarah (16).
Both children – who were left orphaned by their father’s brutal killing in August 2015 – celebrated birthdays over the past 10 days.
Jack is now scheduled to sit his Leaving Cert while Sarah is awaiting her Junior Cert results.
Yesterday's hearing was staged six months after a preliminary retrial hearing last March – and four months after a trial date was originally supposed to have been confirmed last May.
Any retrial is expected to last for up to seven weeks.
Judge Hall said a further administrative hearing will take place on November 16 next at a location yet to be determined.
A status meeting for the prosecution and defence will then take place on January 9 in Lexington.
The judge set a deadline of March 17 for both the prosecution and defence teams to have all major trial matters addressed.
He said a final pre-trial hearing, to deal with all outstanding trial motions, will be heard on June 12.
The full retrial is then expected to begin, with jury selection commencing on June 26.
Under North Carolina law, criminal convictions require a unanimous jury verdict.
Three members of the Corbett family – Tracey and Mr Corbett’s two siblings, Marilyn and Wayne – formally wrote to Davidson County district attorney Garry Frank last month to urge an expedited retrial.
Mrs Corbett-Lynch has spearheaded the campaign for justice for her brother and declined to comment on the matter for legal reasons.
Like Jack and Sarah, she is now expected to be a witness at the retrial.
Family members believe that the ongoing trial delays have been deeply unfair to the two children who, unlike in the original 2017 trial, will now give evidence for the prosecution.
Mr Corbett’s two children came face to face at the March hearing with their stepmother 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.
Their father, a packaging industry executive, was beaten to death in his bedroom with a concrete brick and a metal baseball bat.
The 2017 trial heard that an attempt had been made to drug Mr Corbett, he was beaten even after he was dead and both Tom and Molly Martens then delayed calling emergency services to ensure he was dead when they arrived.
Judge Hall of Forsyth County, who was specially appointed to hear the retrial, yesterday warned both prosecution and defence teams that no comment can be made to the media in relation to the case without his approval.
“I will not permit anything to compromise the integrity of this trial,” he warned.
“Please take this very seriously… the order will be enforced blindly,” he said.
He added that his priority was to ensure justice was served.