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Corbett trial: Prosecutors bid to reject attempts to overturn verdicts due to 'jury misconduct'

Two weeks ago, Corbett and Martens were each found guilty of second-degree murder.

Molly Martens-Corbett and her father, Tom.
Molly Martens-Corbett and her father, Tom.
Image: GoGetFunding

DAVIDSON COUNTY PROSECUTORS have filed documents to reject a motion by defence lawyers to dismiss the second-degree murder convictions of Thomas Martens and Molly Corbett in North Carolina.

In the 11-page response, the prosecution’s motion says the defence did not present any competent evidence of “external” influence on the jury to support findings of misconduct.

The defence’s motion, filed on 16 August, argues that post-trial, voluntary media interviews and social media posts by the jurors show misconduct throughout the trial that violates North Carolina law and Constitutional protection.

Jason Corbett death

Jason Corbett, Molly Corbett’s husband, died on 2 August 2015. Davidson County Sheriff’s Office deputies responded to a report that day of an assault at the Corbetts’ home at Panther Creek Court in Wallburg.

Martens, a 67-year-old retired FBI agent who was visiting the Corbetts with his wife, told authorities he was awakened by an argument between his daughter and son-in-law and went to their bedroom with a baseball bat, where he found Jason Corbett attacking his daughter.

Martens and Molly Corbett claimed Jason Corbett was choking Molly Corbett and threatening to kill her, and they acted in self-defence. Investigators did not believe that explanation.

Authorities said Jason Corbett was planning to leave Molly Corbett — his second wife and former nanny to his children — and return to his home country of Ireland.

Guilty

On 9 August, a jury decided that they did not act in self-defence and found them both guilty of second-degree murder. Both were sentenced to between 20 and 25 years in prison by Superior Court Judge David Lee.

The defence’s motion lists several examples of alleged misconduct by the jurors.

The motion says “private” conversations were held between the jurors prior to closing arguments.

It states that opinions were formed about Molly Corbett’s character outside the evidence presented at the trial and opinions were formed regarding Molly Corbett as the “aggressor” outside the evidence presented. It also states truthful answers were not provided regarding some jurors’ ability to serve on the jury, opinions were expressed by jurors during evidence presentation and additional juror comments indicated bias.

Statements to the media

In regard to private conversations, the prosecution argues that the jurors’ statements to the media pertain to “internal” mental processes of the jury, which makes them inadmissible.

In reference to a statement by Tom Aamland, the jury foreman, the prosecution’s motion says he used the words “felt” and “believed,” which are references to mental processes and mindset and thus inadmissible.

In their motion, the defence lawyers also allege that two jurors sat in a car having an unknown conversation during an evening recess while deliberations were ongoing. The prosecution says in its motion that this allegation is “wholly incompetent and irrelevant.”

In reference to the jurors observing Molly Corbett during the trial, the prosecution’s motion says all of the jurors’ comments contain language that indicates they concern what effect Molly Corbett’s demeanour had upon their mind. The prosecution says that quotes specifically containing “I believe”, “I think” and “I feel” are indicative of mental processes that are inadmissible as evidence.

The prosecution filing continues by saying Molly Corbett’s demeanour was “before the jury at all times” regardless if she had testified.

In the motion, the prosecution uses State v Brown to argue that jurors are to consider evidence by “not only what they hear on the stand but what they witness in the courtroom”.

The prosecution also says the jurors’ consideration of Molly Corbett’s demeanour does not violate her constitutional and statutory privilege to testify.

The prosecution’s motion then considers the defence’s allegation that opinions were formed about Molly Corbett being the “aggressor.”

The state argues in the motion that opinions and discussions by the jurors have been consistently held to be “internal influences” even when they are contrary to the court’s instructions. The prosecution argues that the statements regarding Molly Corbett are internal and inadmissible as evidence.

In its motion, the defence questions the ability of juror Nancy Perez to serve on the jury after she became ill while viewing an autopsy photo of Jason Corbett. Perez later claimed she was ill because she didn’t have breakfast.

The defence alleges that after the trial, Perez said the photos were the source of her sickness.

In response, the prosecution’s motion says Perez’s later explanations are irrelevant to the court’s decision to allow her to remain. The state says the court, as well as the defence lawyers, observed the juror throughout the trial and that the juror never appeared incapacitated during other gruesome photos.

The defence’s final allegation claims Perez displayed a bias toward Martens based on comments she made after the trial.

The motion includes Perez stating:

I believe not once in his mind did he think, oh Davidson County, po-dunk town [sic], would even question his 40 years of FBI experience. I feel like he thought he could outwit Davidson County, and Davidson County outwit the Martens.

The defence lawyers say during jury selection, potential jurors were asked if Martens’ FBI experience would make it hard to be nonbiased and no juror expressed any bias toward the FBI. The motion suggests that the comments made by Perez call into question her ability to serve on the jury.

In its motion, the prosecution says the defence had opportunities to question Perez, and the court, counsel and court personnel had opportunities to learn of any juror misconduct. The state adds that no juror has reported any juror misconduct.

The prosecution then argues that social media posts and press interviews by Perez reveal her mindset and thought processes she reached after considering all the evidence.

The state says the quotes include “I believe” and “I feel,” which indicate internal thoughts. The motion says the internal opinions do not reflect any prior bias.

Toward the end of the motion, the prosecution says the defence’s motion does not prove jury misconduct in the form of “external” influences. It also states that the defence lawyers have only provided general assertions and speculation and the defence did not use any affidavit by a juror.

Comments

Davidson County District Attorney Garry Frank said the prosecution’s motion speaks for itself.

“There are very limited circumstances where there is justification to look into the deliberation of the jury,” Frank said.

It is a very serious matter and a high legal standard that must be met to challenge those deliberations, as it is stated in the motion.

Walter Holton, the defence lawyer for Molly Corbett, said the prosecution’s response misses the mark.

He said that if nothing is done, the jurors’ actions will have made a mockery of the jury system.

“When jurors voluntarily seek publicity after a trial, and in the process admit they disregarded the court’s instruction about not discussing the case prior to deliberation, the court has to take some action,” Holton said.

Holton said the defence will file a reply to the prosecution’s motion. After that, the documents by the defence and prosecution will be reviewed by a judge, who will decide whether to hold an evidentiary hearing.

Read: Lawyers for Molly Corbett and Thomas Martens seek new trial

More: ‘Their daddy is vindicated’ – Jason Corbett’s sister thanks public for their support

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Ben Coley

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