Jason Corbett killing: Defence claims Limerick man had murdered his first wife

The hearing on Thursday saw Judge David Hall issue a more detailed gag order around the trial
Jason Corbett killing: Defence claims Limerick man had murdered his first wife

Jason Corbett (pictured) was beaten to death with a baseball bat. File picture: Brendan Gleeson

An attorney for Molly Martens, who is going on trial, along with her father, Thomas Martens, for the 2015 murder of her husband, Limerick businessman Jason Corbett, made a startling allegation in court on Thursday morning — Jason Corbett murdered his first wife and nearly killed his second wife in almost the same manner if not for Martens' actions in beating Jason to death with a baseball bat.

Douglas Kingsbery, Molly Martens' attorney, was complaining that Jason Corbett's family has continued to make public statements about the case despite a gag order and he specifically mentioned statements that Jason's sister, Tracey Corbett Lynch, has made in her newest book, "Loss and What It Taught Me About Living: A Memoir about Love, Grief, Hope and Healing." 

It is the second book she has written about the case. Her first book, "My Brother Jason," went into detail about her belief that Molly Martens and Thomas Martens plotted to murder her brother in cold blood.

Kingsbery said statements about Jason Corbett being a "great guy" and a "loving and gentle husband" are false. That's because, he said, Jason Corbett was violent and physically abused Molly Martens, his second wife, for years before he died on August 2, 2015.

And statements that Corbett Lynch makes in the book about the death of Jason's first wife are also false. It has been reported that Margaret Fitzpatrick Corbett died of an asthma attack in 2006.

Molly Martens (pictured) is accused of hitting Jason Corbett with a paving brick. File picture
Molly Martens (pictured) is accused of hitting Jason Corbett with a paving brick. File picture

Kingsbery said that's not true. He said it would be his contention that Jason Corbett killed his first wife in nearly the same way that defense attorneys allege Jason Corbett attacked Molly Martens on August 2, 2015. At the first trial, Thomas Martens testified that he found Jason Corbett choking his daughter and that he took a baseball bat and beat Jason with it in an effort to defend himself and his daughter. Molly Martens is accused of hitting Jason Corbett with a paving brick.

Davidson County prosecutors have alleged that Molly Martens and Thomas Martens brutally beat Jason Corbett to death. They contend he was hit in the head at least 12 different times and that his skull was crushed. Jason Corbett was found in the early morning hours on August 2, 2015, and Davidson County sheriff's deputies found blood spatter all over the bedroom walls, floors and bedding.

Kingsbery said in court that Jason Corbett lied to authorities about the circumstances surrounding his first wife's death. He did not provide any other details at the hearing.

At the first trial, the attorneys for Molly Martens and Thomas Martens attempted to introduce statements allegedly made by Michael Fitzgerald in which he said he believed Jason Corbett had caused his daughter's death. The attorneys wanted to introduce the statements to support claims of self-defence. Michael Fitzpatrick died in 2016, and Fitzpatrick allegedly made the statements to Martens.

Judge David Lee, who presided over the first trial, denied a request to introduce the statements.

Molly Martens, 38, and her father, Thomas Martens, 72, a former FBI agent, are charged with second-degree murder in Jason Corbett's death, a case that has garnered both national and international attention. They were convicted on August 9, 2017, after a high-profile, month-long trial in Davidson Superior Court and were each sentenced to 20 to 25 years in prison. 

However, the N.C. Court of Appeals overturned the convictions in 2020, and last year, the N.C. Supreme Court upheld that ruling, sending the case back to Davidson County for a re-trial. The new trial is scheduled to start on June 26, 2023. As in the first trial, Molly Martens and Thomas Martens claim they acted in self-defence.

Today's hearing

The hearing on Thursday took place in Davie Superior Court, where Judge David Hall, a superior court judge from Forsyth who is assigned to the case, issued a more detailed gag order prohibiting attorneys, their staff and anyone who could be called to testify from making public statements outside of court in an effort to stem what Hall called enormous and unprecedented media coverage. 

He said the media coverage presented a "clear threat" to ensuring a fair trial with an impartial jury. Hall expressed frustration that the case has received so much media coverage locally, nationally and internationally, and he said the gag order was a temporary yet necessary limit on free speech to make sure that the constitutional right to a fair trial is protected.

Kingsbery, however, told Hall that it might be too late. "The animals are out of the barn," he said.

Kingsbery said that "Irish stakeholders," in reference to Jason Corbett's family, had made numerous public statements about the case, and Corbett Lynch has done radio, television and newspaper interviews to promote her new book. The unintended consequence of the gag order, he said, is that he can't respond to what he said are false statements made by Jason Corbett's family in the media.

"It is frustrating, and it is unfair, and it rises to a constitutional level because it affects Molly Corbett's (Martens) right to a fair trial," he said.

Tom Martens (pictured) testified that he found Jason Corbett choking his daughter and that he took a baseball bat and beat Jason with it in an effort to defend himself and his daughter. File picture
Tom Martens (pictured) testified that he found Jason Corbett choking his daughter and that he took a baseball bat and beat Jason with it in an effort to defend himself and his daughter. File picture

According to statements made at Thursday's hearing, attorneys for Molly Martens and Thomas Martens filed sealed motions in Davidson Superior Court on October 3, seeking some kind of relief for alleged violations of the gag order. 

It was not immediately clear why the motion was sealed, and the criminal case files were not immediately available. Hall did not hear the motions because they were based on his earlier gag order.

After the first trial, Molly Martens and Thomas Martens, as well as prosecutors and three jurors, were featured in an ABC News/20/20 special about the case. Molly Martens did not testify in the first trial but said in the interview that Jason Corbett was abusive. 

Irish news outlets have reported extensively about the case. Hall noted that national media outlets in the United States, including the New York Times, Los Angeles Times and CBS News, also have reported on the case.

Hall, a former Forsyth County prosecutor, said he is perplexed as to why this case has gotten so much attention. "I've been a part of a number of high-profile cases, but I've never seen the breadth and depth of the coverage I've seen for reasons I do not understand," he said.

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