LEXINGTON, N.C. (WGHP) — Thomas Martens and Molly Corbett have been re-sentenced after the results of their 2017 murder trial in Davidson County were overturned.
Martens pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter, and Molly Corbett pleaded no contest to the same charge as part of plea agreements. The district attorney dropped a charge of second-degree murder.
On Wednesday, they were both sentenced to a minimum of 4 years, 3 months, and a maximum of 6 years, 2 months, behind bars. They received credit for 3 years, 8 months already served, leaving them with a minimum of 7 months and a maximum of 2 years, 6 months remaining. They were ordered to have no contact with Jason’s family.
Martens’ attorneys, Jay Vannoy and Jones Byrd, said their client accepts the judgment.
“This has been a long eight years on both sides, and it’s over finally,” Vannoy said. “It’s a tragic set of circumstances. I think anybody who listened to any of it would know that.”
When asked if either of the defendants had anything to say before being taken away in handcuffs, Vannoy told reporters, “Mr. Martens said, in typical Tom Martens fashion, ‘Go take care of my family.'”
The death of Jason Corbett
Prosecutors alleged that Molly Corbett and Martens, her father, beat Molly’s husband, 39-year-old Jason Corbett, to death with a paving brick and a baseball bat on Aug. 2, 2015.
During the case, both of them argued self-defense, saying that Jason Corbett had strangled Molly Corbett. Martens has said that he beat Jason in a “life-and-death struggle.”
The 2017 trial
Molly Corbett and Martens had pleaded not guilty and filed a motion to have the trial moved out of Davidson County, but it was initially denied and the trial moved forward.
The trial, however, was called into question with court documents claiming that several jurors acted inappropriately during the 2017 trial.
The jurors reportedly admitted that they had conversations about the case against the instructions of the judge, said that they “formed opinions about Molly Corbett despite the fact that she did not even take the witness stand” and violated the court’s instruction that her decision not to testify should not influence the jury. Jurors also reportedly “developed their own theories” about the case that were “not supported by the facts or evidence.”
Jack and Sarah Corbett, children from Jason Corbett’s previous marriage, gave statements to the Dragonfly House Children’s Advocacy Center in Mocksville and the Union County Department of Social Services about Jason Corbett abusing Molly Corbett, but they did not testify and their testimony was not used.
In 2020, the NC Court of Appeals overturned the second-degree murder convictions, in part because Judge David Lee excluded the statements that Jason Corbett’s children made during the initial trial.
Prosecutors have argued that Jack and Sarah recanted their statements about abuse.
In 2021, the Supreme Court upheld the court’s decision, stating that the committed testimony impacted the initial trial, and the case was slated to be re-tried.
Change of venue request
Counsel asked for the trial to be moved out of Davidson County to Forsyth or another county, citing the “unprecedented” coverage both by the press and on social media, saying much of the information circulating is “false.” The document also accuses the Corbett family of continuing to make statements about the case to the media, calling Thomas and Molly murderers “while portraying Jason Corbett as a saint.”
An oral order was entered by Judge David L. Hall on Sept. 21, 2022, saying that no one should be making extrajudicial statements about the case.
“Within 20 minutes after the Judge entered this Order, social media postings complaining of the Order and making other extrajudicial statements regarding the case were made by Jason Corbett’s family or representatives of his family,” the document alleges.
On Dec. 1, 2022, a written order was submitted that prohibited counsel and past and potential witnesses from making public comments.
“Due to the enormous and unprecedented media and social media coverage in this case, as well as the fact that there has already been one trial held in Davidson County with jurors from Davidson County who made admissions that they violated the instructions of the Court, there exists such a great prejudice in Davidson County against Molly Martens Corbett and Thomas Martens that there is no way they could receive a fair and impartial jury in Davidson County, and no way their constitutional rights as guaranteed under the North Carolina and United States Constitutions to due process and a fair trial can be adequately protected in Davidson County,” the document states.
Forsyth County Resident Superior Court Judge David Hall said he would allow the case to move to Forsyth County, a victory for the two defendants.
“After careful review, I determine that Forsyth County is the most proper venue for the joint trial of these matters,” Hall said. “The considerations attendant with this decision are myriad, and certainly specific to the factual and procedural posture of these cases. Your arguments were all well-founded and exceptionally persuasive. In the final analysis, the totality of the circumstances, and particularly the fact that these matters are on for re-trial, satisfy the defendants’ extraordinary burden.”
On Wednesday, Nov. 1, the state played two separate videos of Jack and Sarah Corbett, Jason Corbett’s children, talking to a social worker at the Dragonfly House Child Advocacy Center in Mocksville in 2015. This took place hours after Jason Corbett’s funeral service the day after Molly and Martens killed him.
Jack and Sarah recanted the testimony in the video in 2016 after moving back to Ireland with Jason’s family, saying their testimony was influenced by Molly. The omission of these videos and their contents ultimately helped the defense secure an appeal and possible retrial.
In Sarah’s video, she described the events of Aug. 1 and Aug. 2 to the social worker. She remembered going to play at a neighbor’s house and her dad drinking beer at the neighbor’s home. She woke up in the middle of the night because she had a nightmare and went downstairs to Molly and Jason’s room.
Sarah revealed to the social worker she was quiet whenever she woke up in the middle of the night. Sarah said Jason had yelled at her in the past for going into their room. Sarah didn’t notice an overabundance of drinking and said she noticed her dad drinking with friends or at parties.
Sarah shared her dad would get mad at Molly for “ridiculous reasons” like leaving the light on. He would yell at her every day, sometimes multiple times a day, and call her throughout the day when she was with the kids.
Sarah said she noticed physical abuse from her father like her dad stepping on Molly’s feet and even rolling over her foot with a car. Molly told Sarah her dad was not a “good dad.”
Jack told a similar story of being woken up early on Aug. 2 and not knowing what was going on until hours later when Molly sat the kids down and told them Martens hit Jason with a baseball bat, and she hit Jason with a brick. Jack said that at that moment, he felt angry and upset.
Jack told the social worker the couple didn’t get along well and his father would get angry over leaving the lights on and bills. He witnessed Jason physically and verbally abusing Molly and described a time he saw his father punch Molly in the arm.
He described feeling sad and angry when Molly would curl up in a ball and cry under the covers of their bed after these altercations. Jack shared his dad would talk about moving back to Ireland when he was angry. Jack shared he was not afraid of his father, despite Molly confiding in him that she was. At the time, the kids said they wanted to stay in the United States with Molly.
Molly speaks hours after Jason’s death
Also on Nov. 1, the judge watched Molly Corbett’s interview with a Davidson County deputy hours after Jason’s death.
Molly admitted to the investigator there is a history of domestic violence in their home. The physical abuse reportedly started in Ireland. In the spring of 2015, she went to Novant Health in Kernersville complaining of head trauma after she said Jason slammed her head into the headboard of their bed. She did not tell doctors where the pain in her head came from. Molly claims, when Jason was mad, he would stomp on her foot and make it seem like an accident.
She says he was not physically abusive to the children but was verbally abusive every day. She mentioned her parents were aware of the abusive nature of Jason and that he often seemed loving and supportive to people on the outside.
She walked the deputy through their evening and her parents arriving to go to bed and at one point, getting up to help Sarah change her sheets in the middle of the night. When she came back to bed, she said Jason got angry and started yelling at her then started choking her. She could not remember where and how he started choking her. After the altercation between Jason, Molly and Martens started, Molly says she remembers Jason saying, “I’ll kill her.”
Toward the end of the questioning, when the deputy starts to talk about the next steps and notifying Jason’s family, she says she is scared of them and worries they will “kill her” and try to take the kids.
On Thursday, more new evidence was presented in the sentencing hearing of Molly Corbett and Thomas Martens.
Sheila Tyler, a social worker for Cabarrus County, interviewed Jack, Sarah and Molly Corbett along with members of the Martens family the day after Jason Corbett was killed. Tyler was acting in a support role for Davidson County Social Services.
First, she interviewed Sarah who told her she likes when her dad is not in the home. She told Tyler her father screams and yells at Molly. She shared that Jason got angry regularly over leaving lights on and doors open, and when her parents would fight, she would stay in her room, sometimes for a long time.
Sarah said she was never physically abused but told the interviewer she saw her dad physically hurt Molly by smacking her, and Sarah and her brother Jack would run away and pretend not to see it.
Jack’s interview with Tyler was similar. He said he didn’t want his parents to fight, and the fighting made them sad. He and Sarah tried to stop Jason and Molly from fighting by pulling them apart.
Tyler also spoke to Molly who said she rarely felt safe, and Jason sometimes destroyed her belongings and furniture. She told Tyler that Jason would pressure her into sex and sometimes hold his hand over her mouth and nose, causing her to pass out.
She also told the interviewer Jack and Sarah would lie daily to protect her.
The court also heard a recording from Feb. 2015 taken by Molly at the Corbett family kitchen table. The court could hear an argument between Molly and Jason about dinner and the timeline of the day. At one point, Sarah gets mad at Jason for yelling and asks if they’re going to fight. Both children ask Molly and Jason to stop fighting and try to change the subject.
At one point in the recording, Jason flips over a chair, and the kids yell. The state argued the recording was an attempt by Molly to manufacture evidence, but the defense countered saying she made the recording because there was a pattern of abuse.
Were Jack and Sarah coached?
The state and defense then argued over the significance of the children recanting their statements of abuse to the court years after they made them.
Jack told the court in 2016 that Molly told him what to say and said he wanted to see justice for his dad.
Sarah also recanted her statement years later and said both Molly and her dad yelled, and she never saw a physical fight.
Molly was allegedly influenced by the idea her family in Ireland could take her away. Both children mentioned they missed Jason and recalled fun and wonderful things they used to do together.
The state argued you could see evidence of coaching in the kids’ testimony. For example, Sarah spoke differently when she was speaking about something she was comfortable with like school versus laying out the chain of events of the day her dad died.
She told the interviewer at the Dragonfly House she “forgot her place” at one point and used the same phrases Molly used in interviews. The state also argued Jack used words beyond the vocabulary of a young child and said repeatedly he wanted his parents to stop fighting and did not just mention his dad.
The defense argued the testimonies to DSS and the Dragonfly House were too similar to be coached, especially when the DSS interview was unplanned.
The judge stated he believed he could see aspects of coaching and truth in both of the children’s statements.
Friends and acquaintances of Molly Corbett, who claim Molly opened up to them about abuse by her husband, Jason Corbett, spoke before the court on Friday.
Some of the statements were referenced in Molly’s and her father’s, Thomas Martens, first murder trial but none of the women ever took the stand.
They detailed the verbal abuse they heard directly. None of them saw any serious physical abuse but heard from Molly it had happened. These women all had similar stories. They said Jason tried to control what Molly wore and who she talked to. Two of the women heard phone conversations where Jason was screaming at Molly and calling her names.
On Friday, the court heard story after story from neighbors, friends and even people who didn’t know Molly Corbett well about how Molly confided in them about the abuse going on in her home.
Molly’s neighbor at the time, Shannon Grubb, claimed Molly came to a neighborhood party one time with a toboggan on, pulled a bloody tissue out of her hat and told Shannon she’d had a fight with Jason before coming.
Another neighbor, Billie Jacobs, told the judge she knew sooner or later somebody was going to get hurt. She said Molly would tell her about Jason choking her to the point of passing out during sex.
When these friends suggested Molly leave, they said Molly would tell them it would be okay and that she didn’t want to leave the children.
It’s important to remember earlier this week, there was a video played in court of Molly’s interview with a detective hours after Jason’s death where the detective asked Molly if she told anyone about the abuse and Molly said no.
The state claims of the more than 50 people detectives interviewed, the five women called to testify Friday are the only ones who claim there were inaccuracies recorded in their original statements.
On Friday, the state honed in on information gathered from people who know the Corbetts. The attorneys conducted interviews where people say they heard Molly claiming to be the biological mother of Jason’s daughter, Sarah Corbett. They said she even came up with an elaborate story about birthing complications.
State attorneys also said Molly also lied about knowing Jason’s first wife and claimed she wanted Molly to be the children’s mother after she died. Molly was visibly irritated during this, leaning over and whispering to her attorney.
The defense also spent time Friday morning discussing the blood on Molly’s pajamas and on the brick paver, which she used to hit Jason. Molly’s attorney argued there was so much blood on the brick not because Molly hit Jason excessively, but because the brick could’ve soaked up blood from the carpet where it was sitting while Molly performed CPR on Jason.
Three different medical experts took the stand on Monday to analyze the circumstances surrounding Jason’s first wife’s death and evidence Molly was strangled the night Jason was killed in 2015.
Thomas Martens’ defense team says he walked in on Jason choking Molly with his hands and then with his arm and that led him to attack Jason with a baseball bat. One expert believes the scratch behind Molly’s ear, the redness on her neck and complaints of trouble swallowing and a scratchy throat are evidence of strangulation. Molly’s defense has also asserted she urinated on herself during the encounter, which experts testified can happen if a person passes out from lack of oxygen.
The state fired back by calling Molly’s credibility into question, saying most of the information about her physical statement from that night came from statements to investigators and not from copious amounts of physical evidence. The state’s expert testified the redness on her neck could be from rubbing and pulling on it throughout the night, which multiple first responders saw.
The second part of the day centered around Jason’s first wife Margaret who is Jack and Sarah Corbett’s mother. She died a short time after giving birth to Sarah. This was the first time the court has heard speculation surrounding her death.
The autopsy performed in Ireland says she died from an asthma attack, but every expert to testify in this sentencing hearing says there is no physical evidence to support those findings.
Molly’s legal team tried to push the possibility Margaret was strangled. The signs to look for would be large swollen lungs and mucus plugs, and the report does not mention the abnormalities.
One expert said redness around her mouth and nose were compelling along with her complaining about shortness of breath and saying she felt like she was “going to die” an hour before. The expert said if she was strangled, it’s possible the swelling didn’t start negatively impacting her until later.
All three experts stated the autopsy left out a critical piece of information: an analysis of Margaret’s upper throat. Without that information, they wouldn’t be able to definitively say what caused her death.
The state pushed the sentiment that there was no evidence pointing to one cause of death last week during testimony from a different medical expert. They also said she experienced pain in her chest and arm.
Tuesday’s testimony centered around Thomas Martens’ character. Four different character witnesses took the stand, including one of Martens’ sons and his brother-in-law.
They described a family-oriented man, who took family time just as seriously as he did his job managing a team of FBI special agents, and a rule follower, who encouraged his team to be the best workers and people they could. One forensic psychiatrist used the phrase “Type A” to describe how Martens approached problems and situations.
The psychiatrist testified he interviewed Martens about the night Jason Corbett was killed, breaking down how a rule-following Martens went upstairs thinking he could diffuse the sound of his daughter and Jason fighting quickly. As the situation turned more serious, his logical brain couldn’t make sense of what was happening, and he entered into fight or flight.
The expert explained the ferocity of the attack, and Martens’ inability to remember it made sense to him and was along the lines of what he would expect a typical trauma response in this situation to be.
Domestic violence expert
Another standout moment of Tuesday’s hearing was a quiet and frustrated audible response from Jason’s family when a domestic violence expert took the stand. The expert went over the interviews and evidence from Molly Corbett of what he believes was behavior concurrent with domestic abuse from Jason.
The expert said Molly’s biggest driver was keeping the children, Jack and Sarah. If she divorced Jason, she knew the children would be taken away. If something happened to Jason, she also knew his family in Ireland would take the children from her.
The expert drew the conclusion this meant she and Martens would have little reason to want Jason dead and would have every reason to use a reasonable amount of force in the situation. The expert also claimed the use of force against Jason is reasonable because of his size, the threats he made against her, and the fact she is a victim of abuse.
The state pushed back showing the expert dozens of bloody photos of Jason’s body from the autopsy and the Corbett’s home, drawing his attention to the gruesome scene and the extent of Jason’s injuries.
The state asked if those pictures showed a reasonable use of force. The expert came back saying the pictures look like a measure of how terrified and scared Martens and Corbett were.
The response drew groans and sighs from Jason’s family with one person saying out loud, “Oh, my God.”