A former FBI agent and his adult daughter convicted of killing the woman’s husband by bashing his head with a bat should receive a new trial on the recommendation of a divided North Carolina appeals court that overturned those convictions on Tuesday.
Thomas Martens, 70, and his daughter Molly Corbett, 36, were convicted in 2017 of second-degree murder in the death of 39-year-old Jason Corbett, who was found naked on the floor of the couple’s master bedroom on Aug. 2, 2015.
Jason, a native of Ireland, began dating and then married Molly after hiring her as an au pair to care for his two children after his first wife died, according to the Winston-Salem Journal.
Defense testimony at the trial of the accused killers alleged that Molly had endured years of abuse from her husband. Martens, an FBI agent for more than 30 years who was visiting overnight at the couple’s home in an upscale Davidson County golf community, claimed to be defending his daughter after he allegedly encountered Jason strangling her.
Prosecutors countered that Martens and Molly had no injuries indicating self-defense, and suggested they delayed calling 911 to cover up the crime. They portrayed Molly’s desire to adopt Jason’s two children for herself as a motive for the murder, along with her desire to benefit from Jason’s $600,000 life insurance policy.
Additionally, prosecutors said a former co-worker of Martens’ recalled him saying that he hated his son-in-law.
A medical examiner testified that Jason was struck at least 12 times in the head with a Louisville Slugger, leaving his skull crushed.
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The 2-1 decision issued Tuesday by the North Carolina Court of Appeals — in a 169-page ruling — concluded that errors made by the trial judge warranted a new trial. But the verdict was not erased; because that ruling was split, it opens the door for prosecutors to appeal the conviction further to the state Supreme Court, reports the Journal.
Davidson County District Attorney Garry Frank and Laura Brewer, a spokeswoman for the state Attorney General’s Office, both told the newspaper that their next steps are under review.
For now Martens and Molly remain in prison, reports local TV station WFMY.
“We are extremely pleased with the Court of Appeals’ opinion today with respect to the evidentiary issues at trial, and look forward to the opportunity to be heard in a fair fashion on behalf of our client, Tom Martens,” said his attorney, Jones P. Byrd, according to the outlet.
An attorney for Corbett, Douglas E. Kingsbery, told WFMY: “This is still an active criminal case, and as such, I don’t believe it is appropriate for attorneys who are involved in the case to comment outside the courtroom on the merits of legal issues in the case.”
Corbett’s uncle, Michael Earnest, hailed the appellate court’s decision as a step toward “freeing two innocent people,” reports the Winston-Salem Journal.
Upon their conviction, Martens and Molly each were sentenced to a minimum of 20 years in prison.
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