Molly and Thomas Martens will go on trial next June for the murder of Limerick businessman Jason Corbett, a US judge has said.
It will be the second time the father and daughter will face second-degree murder charges in the death of Mr Corbett in 2015.
The North Carolina Court of Appeals overturned their convictions in 2020, and the North Carolina Supreme Court upheld that ruling last year, sending the case back to Davidson Superior Court for a retrial.
Mr Corbett’s Limerick family had strongly advocated for a new trial date to be set, which will now begin on June 26, 2023.
Molly Martens was Jason Corbett’s second wife, whom he met in 2008 in Ireland when Jason hired her to work as an au pair for his children, Jack and Sarah.
The two married in 2011, moved to the US, and settled in an upscale golf community in Davidson County.
On August 2, 2015, Davidson County Sheriff’s deputies, responding to a 911 call, found Mr Corbett’s naked body in the master bedroom of the couple’s house.
Davidson County prosecutors alleged that Ms Martens and her father Thomas, a former FBI agent, brutally beat Mr Corbett to death with a 28in Louisville Slugger baseball bat and a concrete paving brick.
A medical examiner testified Mr Corbett had been hit in the head at least 12 times and that his skull was crushed. Molly and Thomas Martens claimed self-defence.
At the first trial in summer 2017, Mr Martens took the stand and testified that he and his wife had travelled from Tennessee to visit Ms Martens and had stayed overnight in a guest bedroom in the basement.
Mr Martens said he had brought a baseball bat as a gift for Jack.
Early in the morning on August 2, 2015, Mr Martens said he heard a noise, grabbed the bat, and went upstairs to investigate.
When he got to the master bedroom, he found Jason Corbett with his hands around his daughter’s neck and said he later put his daughter in a chokehold.
Mr Martens said he believed he and his daughter were in mortal danger and he beat Mr Corbett with the baseball bat in a fierce fight that went from the bedroom into an adjacent bathroom and back into the bedroom again.
The original trial was marked by graphic testimony and photos of the crime scene. One of the jurors became sick after seeing some of the crime scene photos.
The jury convicted Molly and Thomas Martens of second-degree murder and Judge David Lee sentenced each to a sentence of 20-25 years in prison.
But in 2020, the North Carolina Court of Appeals overturned the convictions, saying that Judge Lee had made errors that were so prejudicial it denied Molly and Thomas Martens a fair trial.
One error had to do with excluding statements that the children, who are now teenagers, made to social workers at the Union County Department of Social Services and Dragonfly House Child Advocacy Centre in Mocksville, about 40km from Davidson County.
Those statements were made soon after Mr Corbett’s body was found.
In the statements, the children said Mr Corbett physically and emotionally abused Ms Martens, which would have been used to bolster arguments that he was a violent man and would give credibility to Martens’ testimony that this was self-defence.
The court said the statements contained information that would have helped the jurors in the case.
The court also said prosecutors never explained why the paving brick was in the bedroom and even referenced that there was no explanation for it during closing arguments.
Jack told social workers he and Sarah were planning to paint the brick and Ms Martens placed it in the bedroom because it had been raining and didn’t want the brick to get wet.
Prosecutors have argued that Jack and Sarah had recanted those statements.
During the trial in 2017, the children were in Ireland and could not be forced to testify.
At the new trial, the children are expected to testify and made their first appearance in any court proceeding having to do with the criminal case back in March.
The other error, noted by the appeal court in 2020, had to do with including testimony from Stuart James, a national expert on bloodstain-pattern analysis.
The court ruled that Mr James had testified about stains found on the inside hem of Mr Martens’ shorts and the bottom of Ms Martens’ pyjama pants without confirming the stains were blood.
It was also never confirmed that it was Mr Corbett’s blood on the clothes.
The court said Mr James should never have been allowed to testify about those stains.
Last year, after prosecutors appealed, the North Carolina Supreme Court upheld the ruling to overturn the convictions.
Yesterday, Tracey Corbett Lynch, her husband David Lynch, and Jason Corbett’s 16-year-old daughter Sarah attended the hearing to set the retrial date.
Mr Corbett’s 18-year-old son, Jack, did not attend. After the hearing, Sarah Corbett tweeted, “His name was JASON,” with a picture of her father attached.
As of this week, no pre-trial motions have been filed.
The only thing that has been filed is a gag order issued by Judge David Hall, a Forsyth Superior Court judge assigned to the case, that prohibits prosecutors, criminal defence attorneys, law enforcement officers, and any other stakeholder from making public comments about the case.