The district attorney whose office prosecuted Molly Martens and her father, Thomas Martens, in the killing of Jason Corbett said that while he was not satisfied with the outcome, he believed his office was doing “as best it could under the circumstances” to deliver justice have taken care of.
Garry Frank told the Irish Times he was pleased with his office’s efforts to achieve justice or prevent injustice.
He said changes to the rules of evidence implemented by the North Carolina Supreme Court resulted in prosecutors “being more exposed, in our opinion, to a possible successful defense.”
On Wednesday, a court in Lexington, North Carolina, sentenced Molly Martens and Thomas Martens to 51 to 74 months in prison for the August 2015 killing of Limerick man Jason Corbett in the bedroom of his home near Winston-Salem.
Last month, prosecutors agreed with the defense that Molly Martens would not contest the charge of intentionally killing her husband.
Thomas Martens pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter. In exchange, prosecutors dropped the second-degree murder charge.
Molly Martens and her father were originally sentenced to 20 to 25 years in prison for second-degree murder. However, these convictions were overturned by an appeals court, a decision that was later upheld by the North Carolina Supreme Court.
In an interview with The Irish Times, Mr Frank explained his office’s deliberations on negotiating the plea agreement with the defence.
He said his office has been dealing with involuntary manslaughter in the case from day one. His office initially charged the defendants with intentional homicide and second-degree murder. He said his office withdrew the manslaughter charge when it moved on a second-degree murder charge because it could not prosecute both cases at the time.
“But the general consensus in my office was that involuntary manslaughter was an acceptable disposition from day one.”
Mr Frank said: “From day one this was a difficult case as the two people who could give evidence about what happened in that room were the defendants. We had to use the physical evidence to try to make our case about what happened in that room.
“Then when the case went to the Supreme Court, they not only overturned the verdict but also changed some rules; In our opinion, the trial judge’s evidentiary rulings gave us a greater chance of a possible successful defense.”
He said his office must make its decision “taking into account all the evidence, all possibilities and the age of the case with a view to re-engaging witnesses and prosecuting the matter.” The latter “wasn’t really a major factor, but it was part of the overall factor as to whether it would be an acceptable path to proceed with the voluntary manslaughter claim.”
Mr. Frank said one of the changes introduced by the Supreme Court was that interviews originally conducted by Mr. Corbett’s two young children at Dragonfly House, a child protection center in North Carolina, could be used as evidence.
He said the rule changes around evidence meant it was “more likely that the defense’s theory that this was domestic violence and the father [Thomas Martens] being a hero for coming in and protecting his daughter [Molly Martens] at least one juror would have believed that, and that would have been all it would have taken to derail the conviction.”
One of the most controversial aspects of the case was the defense attorney’s claim that Jason Corbett may have killed his first wife, Margaret Corbett. Health authorities in Ireland determined she died as a result of an asthma attack.
Mr Frank said medical experts hired by his office in the United States claimed they could not give a cause of death but agreed it was not asthma.
Mr Frank said he had not criticized Margaret Corbett’s autopsy carried out in Ireland in 2006 and his office had not done so in court. He said the report “left some things open” that could have been pursued by the defense.
He said that after Molly Martens and Thomas Martens were initially taken to the county jail following Wednesday’s sentencing, they would then be transferred to the North Carolina Correctional Facility.
He said that department would calculate how long they would remain in prison as they had already been incarcerated for 44 months before the appeal court overturned their original sentence. This would be based on their past history and behavior in custody.
Asked whether the prosecution was satisfied with the verdicts, Mr Frank said: “I wouldn’t say we are satisfied. I mean, I can only speak for myself. You know, what does everyone think about this idea, almost like sports where you win or lose, you know, there’s a winner or a loser. Or if there is a dead person, there is no winner in that case. It is an attempt to seek justice. And justice is a moving target. Everyone wants everything to be so, that there is a clear winner and a clear loser. But I tell people that sometimes my job is as much about preventing injustice as it is about getting justice.
“And basically, you take what you’re given. You have to rely on the quality of your witnesses, on the evidence, you have the law, and we felt that the first judge was right on some points of law and was overruled. And then we have to step back and look at it from that perspective. So… I’m not happy with the result. But I am satisfied with the efforts of my office to achieve justice or prevent injustice.”
Asked whether justice was assured by Wednesday’s verdict, he said: “As best we could and under all the circumstances, I would say yes.”