An eight-year legal saga over the brutal death of Irish native Jason Corbett ended last week inside a spacious, pale-blue-painted courtroom in the small city of Lexington, North Carolina. 

In the early morning hours of August 2, 2015, paramedics found his bludgeoned body inside the Davidson County home he shared with his wife, Molly, and his two young children from a previous marriage, Jack and Sarah. Six months later, Molly Corbett and her father, former FBI agent Thomas Martens, were charged with second-degree murder—a shocking turn of events that helped catapult the case to national and international headlines, including 20/2048 Hours and incessant coverage back in Ireland

Prosecutors have argued that the two beat Jason with a baseball bat and a paving brick because Molly believed Jason was going to take the children away from her, and to benefit from his $600,000 life insurance policy. The defense claimed he was killed as an act of self-defense against an abusive spouse. 

The pair were convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to a maximum of 25 years in prison in a 2017 trial. But the state appellate courts overturned that ruling, and sent the case back for a retrial. The judge moved the trial to Forsyth County due to heavy media coverage, where it was scheduled to start this month, and imposed a strict gag order on everyone involved.

Yet, in a surprise move late last month, Molly Corbett, 40, and Thomas Martens, 73, accepted a plea deal for voluntary manslaughter. 

Michael Hewlett brings us to the end of the legal saga.

Conclusion, But No Closure
A Davidson County murder case with bizarre twists drew international media coverage. But the conclusion brought little closure for two children who have now lost both their parents.

Molly Corbett, left, swears on the Bible as she pleads no contest to voluntary manslaughter during a hearing, Monday, Oct. 30, 2023. (Walt Unks/The Winston-Salem Journal via AP, Pool)

Ill Conceived

A Court of Appeals ruling asserting that “life begins at conception” was withdrawn last week after sparking fierce criticism about its potential implications. 

Republican Court of Appeals Judge Hunter Murphy made the statement in an October decision that dealt with terminating parental rights and had nothing to do with abortion. The ruling upheld a trial court’s decision that the Department of Social Service could remove a Durham woman’s child who was in utero when the mother was charged with abusing her older child. Social workers removed the baby, referred to as Opal in court documents, in 2017, three days after the woman gave birth. 

Eugene H. Soar, an appellate court clerk, signed an order on November 9 saying the decision had been withdrawn. The order did not state a reason. 

The appeal came after a district court awarded guardianship of Opal’s two older siblings to their grandmother after the mother pleaded guilty to felony child abuse. But the court directed DSS to put Opal up for adoption and terminated the mother’s rights. The judge gave two reasons: The mother hadn’t paid child support for Opal despite having a job, and she had abused her older sister while the not-yet-born Opal was, as state law phrases it, “residing in the home.”

Legal experts worried that Murphy’s ruling would have wide-ranging impacts on families across the state. Maxine Eichner, a law professor at UNC-Chapel Hill law school, told NC Newsline that the decision was rooted in “personhood,” which defines a fetus as a person from the moment of conception and is an idea championed by anti-abortion activists. 

The case now goes back to the same three-judge panel, including Murphy, for a new ruling.

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