"The degree of skull fractures in this case are the types of injuries that we may see in falls from great heights or in car crashes under other circumstances.”
Associate Chief Medical Examiner Craig Nelson, M.D.
It was the 2nd of August 2015. A Sunday. Thirty nine year old Jason Corbett was at home asleep with his wife Molly Martens, his two children ten year old Jack and eight year old Sarah and Molly's parents, Tom and Sharon Martens, in Wallburg, Davidson County, North Carolina, United States.
Jason was from Limerick, Ireland and when his wife Margaret, the mother of Jack and Sarah, died after an asthma attack, he hired the then twenty four year old Molly Martens as an au pair. He needed help with the children. Jack was three a half years old and Sarah was just one and a half. Molly moved to Ireland from Knoxville, Tennessee, United States to look after the children and shortly after, a romantic relationship developed between Molly and Jason. Jason, Molly, Jack and Sarah moved to Davidson County, North Carolina in 2011 for Jason's work. He was the plant manager of an international packaging company. Jason and Molly married that same year.
Life seemed good for the Corbetts. Jason worked at the packaging plant and Molly looked after the children and coached a children’s swimming team.
Their House in North Carolina
In the early hours of that morning, the 2nd of August, a 911 call was made at 3am. Tom, Molly's father, made the call. He told the Operator:
“My, my, uh,daughter’s husband, uh, my son-in-law, uh, got in a fight with my daughter, I intervened, and I, I think, um, and, he’s in bad shape. We need help.He, he’s bleeding all over, and I, I may have killed him.”
The 911 Operator advised Tom to administer CPR and with their guidance, Molly and Tom took turns administering CPR until the paramedics arrived. Police and paramedics responded to the call and were there within ten minutes. Jason was dead when they arrived. His naked body was lying on the floor in the first-floor master bedroom.
One of the paramedics checked Jason and determined that he had suffered “severe heavy trauma to the back of the head.” When the paramedic tried to lift Jason's chin, their fingers "went inside the skull.”
Police found a significant amount of blood inside the home. There was blood on the floor and walls of the bedroom and dry blood on portions of Jason’s body.
There was also blood observed on a brick paver that was on the bedroom floor close to a lamp that had been knocked over and there was a small, “28 inch, 17 ounce Louisville Slugger” baseball bat leaning against the dresser inside the bedroom.
Police checked on the children and found them asleep in their bedrooms.
When Molly went to the sheriff’s office that morning, she told police that Sarah had had a nightmare and thought the fairies on her sheets were bugs and lizards and Sarah woke them up. Jason was angry that he had been woken up and began to fight with Molly and began choking her.
Tom told police that he heard noise and when he went to Molly's bedroom, he saw Jason strangling Molly and a subsequent altercation took place that ended with Jason’s death. Following further investigation and questioning, both Tom and Molly Martens were arrested and charged with second degree murder and voluntary manslaughter. They both pleaded not guilty and a joint trial was set.
The Jury would have to decide whether Jason was brutally murdered as he slept or whether there was an altercation between Tom, Molly and Jason and if so, did Molly and Tom lawfully use deadly force to defend themselves?
It was the Prosecution's case that Jason was not angry and there was nothing unusual about Jason's demeanor the day before he was killed. It was their case that the attack began when he was asleep because he planned to move back to Ireland with the children. It was their case that he was beaten to death and then the 911 call was only made after Molly and Tom devised a story to tell the police. The Court heard that on the 1st of August 2015, Molly’s parents, Tom and Sharon, traveled from their home in Knoxville, Tennessee, to visit Jason, Molly, Jack and Sarah in Davidson County.
Molly Martens, Jason Corbett and Jack and Sarah
The Court heard that Tom and Sharon arrived at the house in Davidson County around 8.30pm that night. Jason was in the driveway at the time with a neighbor and Jason helped the Martens unload the car and carried their bags inside.
Tom, Sharon, Jason, Molly and Sarah had dinner together shortly afterwards. They ordered pizza. Jack did not have dinner with them as he was at a party and only returned home at 11pm.
David Fritzsche testified on behalf of the Prosecution. The Court heard that he lived next door to the Corbetts and that they often socialized together. They spent the afternoon together on the 1st of August having a few beers outside their house. David told the Court that he was with Jason from 3.30pm to 8.30pm and testified that his demeanor was “typical” and “was very calm.” When the Martens arrived at 8.30pm, David testified that Jason's demeanor did not change and he observed Jason greeting them and helping them unload their car.
The Prosecution focused on the forensic evidence in the case. The Court heard that the evidence showed that Tom hit Jason in the head with a baseball bat and that Molly admitted that she tried to hit Jason in the head with a brick landscaping paver and the Jury were told that the evidence supported a finding that Molly did in fact hit Jason in the head with a brick.
The Court heard that a violent attack had taken place and that was clear from the injuries Jason sustained and the blood found inside the house. He was hit multiple times with the bat and hit with the brick.
Paramedic Amanda Hackwork testified. She told the Court that when she touched Jason’s body, “his torso felt cool” and there was dried blood on his body and she asked a colleague how long did the Martens say they waited before calling 911. The Martens claimed they called 911 as soon as Jason was on the ground.
Sergeant Barry Alphin of Davidson County EMS testified that when attempting to lift Jason's chin, all his fingers on his left hand went inside Jason's skull. He observed severe heavy trauma to the back of the head.
Paramedic David Bent testified that Jason had “dry blood on him” and he told the Court that he saw Molly attempting to perform chest compressions but those compressions were not effective.
Molly and Tom Martens
Associate Chief Medical Examiner Craig Nelson, M.D. testified. He carried out the Autopsy on Jason's body. The Court heard that the cause of death was blunt force head trauma and the manner of his death was homicide.
Dr. Nelson testified that there were multiple blunt force injuries found on Jason's body. There were ten different areas of impact on the head. At least two different areas of impact had features which suggested there had been repeated blows. There were two large lacerations on the back of Jason's head. They also showed evidence of repeated blows. Dr Nelson could not say exactly how many repeated blows there were because "with repeated blows there may be additional injury or further crushing of already injured tissue.” But, he could say with certainty that there were at least twelve blows.
Dr Nelson testified that there was an almost triangular area where a portion of Jason’s skull was missing. Dr Nelson told the Court that he was of the opinion that with the ten different areas of impact on Jason's head you would expect a “loss of consciousness based on the underlying skull fractures” in the two complex areas.
He told the Court that one of the blows occurred after death.
The toxicology report showed that Jason had an alcohol level of “point 02 percent” and the presence of the drug trazodone.
In relation to the drug trazadone, the Court heard testimony from Expert Pharmacologist Dr. Russell Patterson. Dr Patterson testified that while trazodone is an anti-depressant drug, it is extremely rare for it to be prescribed as an anti-depressant as it is not very successful in that realm. Dr Patterson told the Court that there is “one significant side effect” associated with trazadone and that is "to induce sleep” and the Court heard that physicians started using it “therapeutically” or “off label” for sleep.
The Court heard that Molly and Jason were patients at Kernersville Primary Care and nurse practitioner Katie Wingate testified that Molly requested a sleep aid. She was prescribed trazadone on the 30th of July 2015 and she filled her prescription that day. Jason had not been prescribed trazadone. The Court heard that Jason attended Kernersville Primary Care two weeks before his death and said that he felt dizzy and more stressed and angry lately for no reason.
The Prosecution also called Davidson County Sheriff’s Office Lieutenant Frank A. Young to testify and Lt Young told the Court that he was tasked with taking photographs of any injuries Molly may have had on her body. He testified that he observed her tugging and pulling on her neck with her hand. He made several requests for her to stop. He did not notice any injuries on her apart from some dried blood on her cheek, forehead, and hair.
Lt Young testified that there were no injuries on Tom either. There was blood on the front of his shirt, the face of his watch and “red stain, red dots, stains around a couple of his fingernails.” There was no damage to his glasses.
The Court heard about Deputy Dillard's written report of the incident. The report noted that Molly was “very obviously in shock” and was in the fetal position on the ground beside his car. He recalled that Molly:
“was making crying noises but he didn’t see any visible tears. She was also rubbing her neck. It wasn’t a constant. She would do it and stop and do it and then stop while continuing to make the crying noises.”
When paramedics examined her, they observed redness on Molly’s throat. They asked her if her neck hurt and she told them that it did and said that she was choked. The paramedics noted the redness and soreness. They did not observe any other injuries on Molly or Tom.
That same day, Molly submitted a written statement about the incident to police:
My husband, Jason Corbett, was upset that he awoke and an argument ensued with him telling me to “shut up,” (etc.) and he applied pressure to my throat/neck and started choking me. At some point, I screamed as loud as possible. He covered my mouth and then started choking me again with his arm. My father, Tom Martens, came in the room and I cannot remember if he said something or just hit Jason to get him off me. Jason grabbed the bat from him and I tried to hit him with a brick (garden decor) I had on my nightstand. I do not remember clearly after that.
The Court, as part of the Prosecution's case, heard testimony from Stuart H. James in relation to bloodstain pattern analysis. He testified that Jason was “descending” to the floor as he was being hit. He concluded that:
1. In relation to the blood spatter on Tom's boxer shorts, they were impact spatters which would be consistent with him being in close proximity to Jason when the blows were struck to Jason's head. The blood on the shorts was Jason's blood.
2. There was also blood spatter, small spatters, on the front underside of the left leg of the shorts and that was consistent with Tom being close to and above Jason while Jason's head was on the floor.
3. Blood spatter was found on Tom's red polo shirt. These were also impact spatters and were consistent with Tom being in proximity to Jason when blows were struck to his head. That blood was also Jason's blood.
4. There was blood spatter on Molly's pajama top and they were worn impact spatters and were consistent with Molly being in proximity to Jason when the blows were struck to his head.
5. There were blood spatters on the lower legs and cuff area of Molly's pajama bottoms and they were also impact spatters and consistent with her being in proximity to Jason when blows were struck to his head and when he was closer to the floor.
6. The cement paver stone had transfer and spatter stains and hair fragments on it. The stone’s condition was consistent with having caused more than one impact to Jason’s head.
7. There were transfer stains and hair fragments on the Louisville Slugger baseball bat. Those stains and fragments confirmed the conclusion that the bat’s condition was consistent with having impacted Jason’s head.
The Court heard that Molly suffered with mental health issues for a long period of time and wanted to adopt Jason’s children but he would not allow her to do so.
In their closing statement, the Prosecution suggested that Tom and Molly had delayed calling 911 so that they could devise a story and that was evident from how cool Jason's body felt when the paramedics arrived.
It was the Defense's case that Tom and Molly were not guilty. It was their case that Jason died as a result of reasonable grounds that were used by Tom to defend himself and his daughter.
There were a number of questions that needed to be answered. Why was the brick inside the bedroom? Why did Tom have a bat?
While the former question was not answered at the Trial, the second one was. Tom had the bat as he brought it with him, along with a tennis racket, to Davidson County as it was a gift for Jack. As Jack arrived home late the night of the 1st of August, the Court heard that Tom decided not to give it him until the next day.
Tom gave evidence at the Trial.
He testified that he and his wife visited Jason, Molly, Sarah and Jack.
Tom testified that Jason was pleasant and social that evening. The Court heard that prior to marrying Molly, Jason had transferred money to America to purchase the house in Davidson County so there would be no mortgage on it and he transferred money to furnish it. The Court also heard that Jason transferred $49,073.39 "for the marriage” to Tom.
Tom was asked if he hated Jason. He testified that he never said he hated Jason, but admitted that he had conversations which “were negative in tone or critical of Jason’s behavior,” and that he “just didn’t like him.”
The Court heard that Tom and Sharon slept in the guest room the night of the 1st of August. That bedroom was located just below the bathroom that adjoined Jason and Molly’s bedroom.
Tom told the Court that he woke when he heard “a scream and loud voices,” above their bedroom. He jumped out of bed, grabbed the Little League bat that remained with his luggage by the bed, and ran upstairs. Tom entered Jason and Molly’s bedroom and told the Court that Molly and Jason were facing each other and Jason had his hands around Molly’s neck. He remembered it clearly because it was a scene that remained frozen in his mind.
When Tom entered the bedroom, he closed the bedroom door and Jason got Molly into a tight chokehold with her neck in the crook of his right arm.
Tom asked Jason to “Let her go” and he testified that Jason said “I’m going to kill her.” At that point Jason moved towards the bathroom, still holding on to Molly, and Tom told the Court that he swung the baseball bat at the back of Jason's head. That impact, according to Tom, had no effect on Jason. Tom continued to hit Jason “as many times as I could to distract him because he now had Molly in a very tight chokehold and she was no longer wiggling.”
Tom testified that Jason dragged Molly into the bathroom but he could not close the door as Tom was in the way. Tom hit Jason in the head with the bat again. Jason moved back into the bedroom, still with Molly in a chokehold, and when all three were back in the bedroom, Tom swung the bat at Jason. Jason reached out and grabbed hold of the bat and that gave Molly an opportunity to get away from him.
Tom testified that, as they struggled for the bat, Jason shoved Tom across the width of the bed and Tom fell face first onto the floor. He heard Molly scream, “Don’t hurt my dad.”
Tom got up and saw Jason holding the bat standing in:
“a good athletic position looking between me and Molly.”
Tom and Jason again fought for control of the bat and Molly picked up a brick paver that was sitting on her nightstand and used it to strike Jason. Tom got the bat from Jason and hit Jason until he was down on the ground.
Molly did not testify at the Trial. The Court heard that Jason had a life insurance policy and that Molly was the beneficiary.
Tom and Molly were found guilty of second degree murder and sentenced to 20-25 years each in the custody of the North Carolina Division of Adult Correction.
Molly and Tom appealed based on a number of different points. One such point was in relation to interviews the children gave after their father's death that the Jury did not hear. When the Trial took place, Jack and Sarah, had moved home to Ireland and as such were beyond the subpoena power of the Trial court.
Jason Corbett and Molly Martens
Molly and Tom wanted the children’s hearsay statements from their interviews used at Trial on behalf of the Defense. The Trial Court denied their motion to admit the children’s hearsay statements.The Defense believed that the statements should have been heard by the Jury and as such, they appealed.
Molly claimed that Jason had been abusive towards her throughout the course of their marriage and that she was the victim of domestic abuse. No evidence was put forward at Trial in relation to that alleged abuse. Molly had never reported it and she did not testify at the Trial. But she argued that the statements the children made corroborated it and they should have been heard by the Jury.
The interviews related to two interviews in particular, one made the day after Jason's death and one made after Jason’s funeral. The interviews included statements from both Jack and Sarah in relation to their father's temper. After Jason's death, Sarah and Jack, stayed with Molly’s brother. A Social Worker from the Union County Department of Social Services conducted separate interviews with the two children. The children's statements referred to Jason getting mad at Molly and that Jason was angry on a regular basis. The interviews also included an incident when Jason pulled Molly’s hair and “smacked her in the face.”
Four days after Jason's death, Jack and Sarah, received child medical evaluations at the Dragonfly House Children’s Advocacy Center in Mocksville, North Carolina. Detectives Mark Hanna and Nathan Riggs observed the forensic medical interview portions of the evaluation and the Detectives submitted the following questions related to the investigation of Jason’s death. They wanted the children to be asked:
Find out about Domestic Violence in home. Is Jack afraid of Dad? Do kids like/hate Molly?
Find out about paver in bedroom
Ask Sarah about the nightmare that woke her up
Ask about how the emergency # - why was it setup? Who set it up? When? Who wrote #?
Ask where grandma and granddad usually sleep when they stay
Ask if Dad ever mentioned a trip to Ireland this month
Ask about relationship with Molly
Ask about Sarah sleeping in bed with Molly
The interview conducted with the children revealed that Jason would get angry over “simple things” such as “bills” and “leaving lights on” and referenced incidents where Jason allegedly hurt Molly. In one of the interviews, Sarah explained that she sometimes had nightmares and would come to Molly for comfort, but that Jason would get “very angry” if she accidentally woke him up.
The question in relation to why the brick was in Molly's bedroom seemed to have been answered in the interviews too. The children said that they planned to paint it but as it had been raining , they brought it inside and Molly put it on her desk.
The interviews were crucial for the Defense as they seemed to corroborate what Molly had stated, namely that she was the victim of domestic abuse and the row began that fatal night as Jason was woken up after Sarah had a nightmare and Jason was angry.
In February 2020, the North Carolina Court of Appeal ruled that Molly and Tom were entitled to a new Trial. The North Carolina Supreme Court upheld the decision of the Court of Appeal. They were released on bail on a $200,000 bond pending a retrial. They were ordered to surrender their passports and banned from having contact with Jack and Sarah.
It is important to note, with so much emphasis on interviews given by two young children shortly after their father had just died and while in the custody of Molly's family, that both Jack and Sarah have since recanted the statements they made. They said that they were “coached to lie” about domestic abuse. They have since told the Davidson County District Attorney’s Office from their residence in Ireland that Molly coerced them into making those statements which were completely false and that it was actually Molly who had been abusive.
No decision has been made yet as to whether Tom and Molly will be offered a plea deal or if not, when a retrial will take place.
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