Justice And Jason


From top: Jason Corbett and Molly Martens on their wedding day in 2011; Grace Garvey

Reading the reaction to the news that Molly Martens and her father, Tom, have had their convictions for the murder of Jason Corbett overturned and are now considering a plea bargain, I was reminded of a heated discussion I once had.

It was 1988 and I was in London for the summer, working in Harrods, a shop so labyrinthine I sometimes got lost on the way to the loo. It was the tail end of an era when the odd old Etonian would choose Trinity College Dublin as an alternative to Oxbridge, which is how I ended up in Soho one evening having dinner with a college friend and his Tory dad. The father was chatty and, somehow, conversation turned to the Birmingham Six. At that point, the six Irish men were 13 years into a life sentence for the IRA Birmingham pub bombings of 1974. I had read enough about the case to be persuaded of their innocence and didn’t mind saying so.

The father was appalled, and railed against the cost of keeping the six at Her Majesty’s pleasure. The gallows was too good for them, he fumed. He was entrenched in his position and no amount of reasoning on my part could move him. He couldn’t countenance the fact that their convictions were unsound; in hindsight, they were simply too ‘other’ and he couldn’t relate. Coming from a place where the anomalies of the case were dispassionately discussed, this was an eye-opener for me.

Similar intransigence surrounds the Martens case, it seems. For those unfamiliar with it, Limerick man, Jason Corbett, was found beaten to death in his home in North Carolina in 2015. His American wife, Molly Martens, and her father, ex-FBI agent Tom Martens, were convicted of his murder two years later.

In February 2020, their convictions were quashed and a retrial ordered, partly because evidence that Jason may have abused Molly, which would have bolstered their self-defence claim, was excluded from the trial. The state appealed, but three weeks ago, the North Carolina Supreme Court upheld the judgment. A retrial was expected to take place sometime next year, but having since been offered a manslaughter plea bargain, this might not go ahead.

Judging by comments on social media, this case has created a dichotomy of us and them. Largely, the Irish contingent feels the Martens should rot in jail, while the Americans are open to the idea that justice has not been done.

The general public first heard of the case when Marian Finucane interviewed Jason’s brother, John, two weeks after the killing. He spoke of getting the awful call at work and the battle for custody of Jason’s children that ensued. Jason’s first wife had died of an asthma attack and Molly had cared for them since 2008, first as an au pair in Limerick and subsequently as their stepmother in the US. John surmised that Molly, a suspect by then, wanted custody of the children to gain control over Jason’s estate. He gave a glimpse of the horror that had engulfed his family, and listeners responded with sympathy, wishing the children a safe return home.

In February 2020, the North Carolina Court of Appeals found that both Martens had grounds for a new trial. The ruling said:

‘All of the evidence supports that Jason was the initial aggressor in the affray, and the first person who used deadly force.’

Mike Earnest, Molly’s uncle, said the result came as a surprise only to those who read news reports in Ireland. He claimed many Irish media organisations had published ‘fiction’ about the case, which is why so many were surprised at the appeal’ success.

One such bone of contention was the widely reported fact that Jason was planning to leave Molly to return to Ireland with the children for good. According to Jason’s sister, Tracey Corbett Lynch – who got custody of the children – this was the crux of the dispute.

The Martens family contend this is not true. According to Mike Earnest, no evidence was presented at trial to support this. He said:

“The sheriff and district attorney issued subpoenas and search warrants to try to find any email, text, internet search, anything that would have corroborated this – and they came up empty-handed.”

At the very least, he believes Jason would have been discussing such a move with his employer, but no such evidence was found.  he added:

“This is yet another example of fiction being presented as fact in an effort to paint Tom and Molly with a conspiratorial brush.”

In August 2017, Tom Martens’ sister, Mona Earnest, set up a crowd funding campaign to pay for the appeals. She received ‘an unbelievable amount’ of hate mail from Ireland but got several donations too. One of these came from a journalist who said she believed the pair had acted in self-defence, noting what she described as a tendency in the Irish media to take the side of men who abuse their wives. ‘We have had several murder-suicides in this country and the newspapers focused on “what drove nice, respectable pillar-of-the-community so-and-so to do it?” rather than on the fact that it should not have happened,’ she wrote. ‘Irish editors are biased in favour of the Corbett family,’ she added.

The problem with claims of domestic abuse is that abusers tend to be shape shifters and notoriously difficult to pin down. Tom Martens claims Jason dictated what his wife would wear and what she could buy; he would text her repeatedly, demand to see her phone and look at her computer history, all signs of coercive control if true. The Corbetts point to Molly’s loose relationship with the truth and her secret recording devices stashed about the house. Jason had packed up his life and moved to the US at Molly’s behest. Was that her way of isolating him from family and friends?

Although Molly had been de facto mother to the children for most of their lives and wished to adopt them, Jason wouldn’t agree to it. Was he trying to maintain the upper hand, or had he genuine concerns? Molly had invented a younger sister who had died, a fabrication that would give most people pause for thought. In a recent interview with Elle magazine, she says she hasn’t necessarily lied more than the average person, but that everything she’s ever said and done has come to light.

Jason’s children, then aged 8 and 10, were interviewed by social services in the days following his death and both described incidents of domestic abuse – punching, hitting and hair-pulling ­– in the home. Jack later recanted his statement, saying he had been coached by Molly to lie. For this reason, their evidence was not presented at the trial, but the Martens maintain the later statement given in Limerick, where the children now live with their aunt, was given ‘under coercive circumstances without any of the safeguards to ensure trustworthiness or reliability’.

One thing that can’t be denied is that deadly force was used that fateful night. Jason suffered at least a dozen blows to the head. Mike Earnest believes Tom Martens did what he was trained to do to eliminate the threat to his daughter’s life. But despite the alleged struggle, neither Tom nor Molly sustained a single mark.

At the heart of these tragic events are two families whose lives have been torn apart. Both insist on the integrity of their stance. If the Martens accept the plea bargain on offer, they’re likely to be released on bail before returning to prison to serve whatever remaining time is agreed. If they opt for retrial, the Corbetts will be forced to relive the trauma of Jason’s death.

While we might sympathise with one side or the other, tribalism has no place in due process. Everyone is entitled to a fair trial. Real cases are messy, and more nuanced than can ever be conveyed in a courtroom drama. All we can hope for is that justice is served.

Grace Garvey is a Communications and Content Marketing Strategist. Grace can be reached at ggarvey2021@gmail.com

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25 thoughts on “Justice And Jason

  1. RuilleBuille

    Excellent piece. The constant parroting of the Corbett family’s false narrative is wrong.

  2. gringo

    Terry Prone would be proud of this. Grace would convince you that this was a case of assisted suicide.

  3. Kim Cardassian

    The author has taken a very oversimplified view on this case, granted it’s a short article. The grisly bludgeoning of Corbett repeatedly, the absence of any sign of a struggle, the police confirming that Molly was trying to mark her neck on purpose while in custody, are very strong indicators of what happened that night.

    4 of 7 judges voted for a retrial on the back of the exclusion of the children’s statements. However one of the judges commented the evidence against the Marten’s was overwhelming.
    I can’t imagine the state of mind an 8 and 10 year old would be in days after the murder of their father.

    There is no retelling of Martens defence with the children’s testimony that will justify murder.

    Additionally, the DA has no impetus to follow through on the conviction. He’s an elected official and will want reelection. In a case where 2 Middle class White Americans, one of which is former FBI, is up against a dead foreigner, this is not a priority for him.

    1. Lilly

      So do you think it should have been a unanimous verdict rather than a majority verdict to justify a retrial?

      It’s interesting that they were split on party lines, Democrats in favour Republicans against.

  4. Charger Salmons

    Excellent piece Grace.
    The Irish media has long since fallen into the trap of being patriotic stenographers for anything Irish rather than objective reporters.
    In much the same way as they plead for special favours for the ‘ undocumented ‘ Paddies in America when in reality they’re illegal immigrants and should be treated as such.
    But that’s what happens when you report from a kneeling position.

    1. General Public

      Indeed, much like the British press who coddled the McCanns as they were being made suspects in their daughter’s disappearance. Slavishly parroting anything the McCanns spokesman Clarince Mitchell told them to.

  5. Diddy

    So maybe they had a violent relationship? Doesn’t change the fact he was murdered with a paving slab.

    1. johnny

      ..it was the little league baseball bat-no?

      “On a recording titled “Jason Comes Home Late. Dec. 2013,” he finds the door locked and rings the bell repeatedly. She opens it within 39 seconds and apologizes. “You never mean to do anything, do ye?” he asks angrily, then mocks her. Molly pleads, multiple smacking sounds can be heard, and she begins to whimper. “I hate you,” she sobs quietly before the recording cuts out. She says Jason had a key, but was too drunk to get the door open, and, as often happened in their home, “the fury would just rise and rise and rise until whatever was going on was all my fault.”

      I am Tom.

      1. Finbar

        On the other hand, there were seemingly recording devices placed all over the house and found in the car too. You would have thought if there was a consistent pattern, there would have been more than one incident over all this time (assuming too it is unedited). Unfortunate too how that there wasn’t a recording of the night he was killed (supposedly recordings lost or never made).

    2. johnny

      ps-‘paving slab’ (lost in translation) is in america a decorative brick from the garden walkway, most often pervious and very light-if your were selecting a self defense weapon in open carry north carolina it would not be that.

      ‘little league bat”=youth/kids sized restricted (can’t have lil johnny hitting the ball hard and too far) bat for playing with softballs…ok,ok a little more than whiffle ball but still a child’s toy.

      i was in a bar one evening in Dublin,mouthy big fella from the ‘hood sized up to me said,your sisters a good fit….i am tom…..

        1. Johnny

          It was not a very thick brick it’s porous and a lightweight.

          ..brick was on the bedside locker was that they had to bring it in out of the rain for some reason.”

          Link above.

          .. meant for a craft project, it was brought inside because of rain”

          …when Jason grabbed the bat from her dad, she “tried to hit him with a brick (garden decor) I had on my nightstand.”

          From recorded interview withheld at trial.

          The ‘bat’ was a gift from a very loving and overly protective grandfather to a 10 year old,called a ‘little league bat’…cause wait for it……it’s specially designed to look like a major league (adult) one to fool the little ones,no really…yeah it is.

          .. Jason refused to let go, repeatedly insisting he was going to kill Molly, father and daughter fought for survival. Tom cried on the stand as he described seeing Molly go from “wiggling” to “limp” while Jason dragged her in a “tight choke hold” toward the master bath. Tom testified that some of his initial strikes with the bat didn’t seem to do anything beyond “further enrag[ing]” Jason, who later knocked him to the floor. Tom kept hitting Jason “until I considered the threat to be over,” according to his testimony, which occurred when Jason “went down.”

          We can’t have domestic violence victims fighting back,now can we.

          Over reliance on grisly crime scene photos,self defense is messy sometimes,experts then were used to sell the prosecution’s overkill theory.

  6. Kingfisher

    The ambulance man who stopped her rubbing at her throat… the tranquillisers in his blood… her obsessive online pursuit of his children…
    “Smacking sounds” could be clapping sounds; angry words are not violence.

  7. Termagant

    Sounds like Jason was a pretty lousy fella.
    But it sounds like Molly was fairly lousy as well, and ultimately Jason’s the one who died while Molly had no scratch on her.

    “One of these came from a journalist who said she believed the pair had acted in self-defence, noting what she described as a tendency in the Irish media to take the side of men who abuse their wives. ”
    Sounds wonderfully unbiased.

  8. Kingfisher

    By all local accounts he was a gentle giant; there may be a certain amount of gaslighting going on here.

  9. SB

    Surely if it was a an abusive relationship, a supportive father would help his daughter leave her husband – not drug him, and then batter him to death with a brick while he’s unconscious? I’m not saying he was, but being an abusive husband does not carry the death penalty.

  10. Fergalito

    I’ll just leave this here..

    “Grace Garvey is a Communications and Content Marketing Strategist”

    1. Grace Garvey

      If you are suggesting that I have been engaged by anyone involved in this case, that is not so.

      I wrote about this because I was surprised at the anger unleashed by the NC Supreme Court’s decision to grant the Martens a retrial. I surveyed the information available in the public realm and concluded that the decision was the correct one. I shared my thoughts here because I have been part of the Broadsheet community since its inception. Feel free to disagree with my conclusion but please don’t suggest some ulterior motive.

      1. Fergalito

        My comment was facetious and ham-fisted. I’m not suggesting any ulterior motive. Apologies.

        Your article is impeccably written, I’ll be more mindful of letting my fatiguedness and ennui lazily spill over online with a cynical “copy and paste” exercise.

        The gaff is already chock full of it.

  11. Nullzero

    Even if someone is an abusive spouse, it doesn’t excuse them being bludgeoned to death. Let’s not forget Tom Martens was a former FBI agent, a person who should be held to a higher standard who engaged in this killing.

    The notion that we’re as a nation appalled by this this cae simply because the victim was Irish is a huge over simplification.

    The man was killed Savagely and his killers should remain in prison even if he was a nasty character.

  12. RidersOnTheStorm

    Jason’s daughter, Sarah, now aged 14, tweeted yesterday: Molly Martens – My abuser is offered a plea deal to Manslaughter by the DA of Davidson county Garry Frank. Why? It was Murder, the only abuser in our house was Molly Martens.
    and the few retweets in that thread of her Aunt Tracey.s Statement, leave me in no doubt that the jury were correct when they unanimously found both the Martens guilty of murder.

    1. Lilly

      It makes me sad that Jason’s child is on Twitter interacting with adults. Maybe it’s not possible to shelter her from this so she can enjoy normal teen years but it would be preferable IMO.

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