WALLBURG — A statement from the sister of a deceased Irish businessman claims the office of Davidson County District Attorney Garry Frank has offered Molly Corbett and Thomas Martens a plea deal in hopes of avoiding a second trial.
A plea agreement was offered last week, said Tracey Corbett Lynch, the sister of Jason Corbett, who was killed in August 2015 at his home in the Meadowlands. According to Lynch, Frank told her that he would offer Molly Corbett and Martens, who had their sentences overturned by the North Carolina Supreme Court, an opportunity to plead guilty to manslaughter.
“We are devastated that the District Attorney for Davidson County has decided to offer a plea deal and not seek a retrial of Tom and Molly Martens who admitted killing Jason Corbett, leaving his children, then aged 10 and 8, orphaned,” Lynch said. “What does it say for justice in North Carolina that you can drug a father of two, then beat him to death with a baseball bat and a paving brick, literally crush his skull, and still escape a murder conviction?”
In August 2017, a jury in Davidson County Superior Court convicted Molly Corbett and Martens of second-degree murder after being given the choice between second-degree murder, voluntary manslaughter or not guilty. A voluntary manslaughter conviction would result in considerably less prison time than what they are serving now.
Frank has not told the TIMES whether such a plea offer has been made. The district attorney has made clear the discussion of pre-trial negotiations before anything is finalized is not his policy.
A retrial was granted by the North Carolina Supreme Court last month after a 4-3 decision. In a 76-page decision, four justices agreed that both defendants were unfairly hindered from mounting a proper defense in the first trial.
“It is the responsibility of the courts, including this Court, to ensure that both the State and criminal defendants are afforded the opportunity to fully present their cases,” the opinion stated. “Here, Tom’s and Molly’s sole defense to the charges levelled against them was that their use of deadly force was legally justified. By erroneously excluding admissible testimony which was relevant to the central question presented to the jury, the trial court impermissibly constrained defendants’ ability to mount their defense.”
Specifically, the court found the exclusion of statements from Jack and Sarah, Jason Corbett’s children, deprived the jury of evidence that was relevant to fairly finding the defendants guilty or not guilty. The court called it a rare case in which evidentiary errors were so prejudicial that it inhibited the ability to present a “full and meaningful” defense.
It was an affirmation of the ruling that came in February 2020, in which the appeals court found that both had grounds for a new trial after they were sentenced to 20-to-25 years in prison for their role in Jason Corbett’s death. Reaction to the decision included disappointment from Lynch, who expressed her misgivings with the court’s decision on social media.
In the dissenting opinion, written by Justice Phil Berger Jr., he alluded to the depths of proof that Martens and his daughter had killed Jason Corbett. He also offered that both were given an opportunity to speak on their own behalf. Molly Corbett did not take the stand during the initial trial.
“The evidence against defendants in this case was overwhelming,” the dissenting opinion stated. “Each defendant had the opportunity to argue and present their arguments of self-defense to the jury. Neither defendant has established the possibility of a different result.”
Staff writer Daniel Kennedy can be reached at 336-888-3578, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.