The family of the Irish businessman murdered at his home in North Carolina almost five years ago have expressed their shock that the father and daughter serving life sentences for his violent killing will get a retrial.
A North Carolina Court of Appeal ruled yesterday that Molly and Tom Martens are entitled to a new trial following an appeal of their convictions for the second-degree murder of Jason Corbett.
The 39-year-old father of two from Limerick was beaten to death with an aluminium baseball bat and a paving stone at the North Carolina home he shared with Molly, his second wife.
Molly and Tom, who claimed they had acted in self-defence, are serving 20- to 25-year jail sentences for second-degree murder. The pair began the process of appealing their convictions in 2018.
In a 169-page ruling published yesterday, the North Carolina Court of Appeal ordered a new trial due to a number of “prejudicial errors”.
The court described the case as “deceptively simple”, boiling down to whether Tom and Molly had lawfully used deadly force to defend themselves during an altercation with Jason.
“Certain evidentiary errors” in the Martens’ original trial were so prejudicial they inhibited their ability to present a full defence, the Court of Appeal ruled.
“Moreover, the trial court erred in instructing the jury on the aggressor doctrine as to Tom, given the absence of evidence to support such an instruction,” said the court.
The ruling of the three judges on the panel was not unanimous, with one of the judges dissenting.
Prosecutors in the case now have until mid-March to lodge a petition to appeal this ruling to the North Carolina supreme court.
Jason’s family in Limerick have reacted to the decision with shock.
A spokesperson for the family said they are aware of the Court of Appeals decision.
“We will not be commenting at this time on the decision and we would ask that our family’s privacy would be respected,” said the spokesperson. “We will not be making any further comment at this time.”
Lawyers acting for the Martens had argued that statements given by Jason’s children, Jack and Sarah, to social workers following Mr Corbett’s death should have been allowed to be entered as evidence in their trial.
They also argued that the judge in the trial excluded key evidence that explained Tom Martens’ mindset on the night in question, and alleged juror misconduct.
The Martens family have welcomed the Court of Appeal ruling. Mike Earnest, Ms Martens’ uncle, said the ruling backs their argument that the father and daughter did not receive a fair trial from day-one.
“We don’t know if Tom and Molly will be released at some stage on bail if the Court of Appeal ruling is referred to the Supreme Court,” said Mr Earnest.
“This ruling has turned the whole case against my niece and brother-in-law on its head. In the trial, Molly was found not to be the aggressor and now it has been shown that Tom wasn’t an aggressor in this case by the appeal court.”
Mr Earnest said he does not know how long it will take for a retrial to be held but added it could take anything from up to six to 18 months before it will come before the courts.