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Saturday 21 April 2018

Police told children to 'keep eyes closed' as they passed death scene

Molly Martens-Corbett enters court with her lawyer Walter Holton yesterday
Molly Martens-Corbett enters court with her lawyer Walter Holton yesterday

Police officers removing the children of Jason Corbett from the house where he was killed tried to keep them from seeing the gruesome scene where he was bludgeoned to death.

Mr Corbett's two children were urged to close their eyes and bury their heads as they were carried past the blood-spattered room.

Davidson County Sheriff's Department officer Corporal Clayton Dagenhardt told the murder trial that he saw blood on the walls, floor, bed, hallway and bedroom.

Cpl Dagenhardt was the first officer to enter the master bedroom at the family's home in Panther Creek, North Carolina, after the alarm was raised.

Mr Corbett (39) was struck repeatedly with such force over the head that part of his scalp detached from his skull.

His wife Molly Martens (33) and her father, retired FBI agent Thomas Michael Martens (67), both deny his second degree murder on August 2, 2015.

They have argued self-defence, claiming Mr Corbett was attacking his wife.

The trial heard the Limerick father suffered a minimum of 12 major blows to the head.

Parts of his skull broke loose in two different areas.

Startled

A pathologist said the sheer extent of the damage to Mr Corbett's skull was similar to the degree of injuries suffered "in falls from a great height or in car crashes".

Cpl Dagenhardt used his mobile phone to photograph the scene where Mr Corbett's naked and blood-stained body was lying on the floor.

After paramedics removed the body, he went upstairs with another policeman to determine who else was in the property.

Mr Corbett's two children, Jack and Sarah, both aged under 10, were asleep in separate bedrooms.

He went into Sarah's bedroom. "She was asleep - she had not been disturbed in any way," Cpl Dagenhardt said.

His colleague awoke Sarah's brother, Jack.

"She was startled when I woke her," added Cpl Dagenhardt. "I said I wanted her to close her eyes (when he brought her downstairs)."

Sarah agreed with the policeman's suggestion that he carry her downstairs.

"I told her to turn her face into my neck and I told her to close her eyes," Cpl Dagenhardt said. "I then walked backwards so she didn't open her eyes and she wouldn't be exposed to anything."

A blood trail had been left from their father's body.

With his colleague, Cpl Dagenhardt then brought the two children downstairs where he found Sharon Martens, Thomas Martens's wife, standing by a downstairs bedroom door.

"(She was) calm," he said. "I advised her we had an active investigation and we had to leave the children in her care."

Cpl Dagenhardt said blood that comes from a body is "runny". However, he said some of the blood he saw appeared to be congealed like Jell-O.

The trial also heard graphic evidence from North Carolina pathologist Dr Craig Nelson about the precise injuries suffered by Mr Corbett.

The hearing had to briefly pause after a juror became ill when post-mortem photographs showing the extensive damage to his skull were shown.

She began retching in the jury box and had to briefly leave Courtroom C of Davidson County Superior Court.

Dr Nelson offered testimony as to the extent of the head injuries suffered by Mr Corbett.

Complex injuries were sustained to both the left and right sides of his skull.

The blows were sufficiently forceful to drive fragments of skull into his brain, and when a pathologist touched his scalp during the post-mortem examination parts of his skull fell out on to the surgical table.

His nose was also broken and there were injuries to his torso and extremities.

Dr Nelson told the eighth day of the trial that it was clear Mr Corbett suffered blunt-force trauma blows to the head rather than sharp-force blows.

"It [a post-mortem examination photo] shows detachment of scalp from the skull and the connecting tissues," he said.

"It illustrates the depth and underscores that this was a laceration and therefore a blunt-force trauma injury rather than a sharp-force injury."

In one photograph, Mr Corbett's scalp was effectively "drooping with gravity".

"Two sites [of the skull] showed areas of repeated blows," he said. "There is a triangular area where parts of the skull are missing."

Dr Nelson said it appeared one injury was sustained after Mr Corbett was already dead.

"It has the appearance of a post-mortem injury," he added.

Unconscious

"There was very little bleeding, suggesting it was after death, after the heart stopped beating."

Any eight of the 12 blows to the head could have rendered Mr Corbett unconscious.

However, in two areas where the skull had sustained complex injuries it was impossible to tell precisely how many blows had been sustained.

"It indicates more than one blow [to two areas] but it cannot tell you precisely how many blows [were sustained]," Dr Nelson added.

In cross-examination with the defence, Dr Nelson said he couldn't determine precisely what had caused the injuries.

"The injuries don't have any specific features to tell me exactly what object caused them," he said.

Dr Nelson ruled that death was due to blunt-force trauma to the head and was a homicide.

He said toxicology tests showed a low level of alcohol in Mr Corbett's system as well as traces of the sleep medication trazodone.

Nurse Katie Wingate-Scott of the KPC health centre, confirmed to the trial that Ms Martens was prescribed trazodone in 50mg doses on July 30 - three days before her husband's death.

The prescription was given after the Tennessee woman complained she could not sleep owing to a congenital circulatory problem with her foot.

Trazodone is also used as an anti-depressant and has sedative properties.

Ms Wingate-Scott treated both Ms Martens and Mr Corbett who were patients of the centre. The medication was never prescribed for Mr Corbett.

Pharmacist James Hiatt confirmed that the prescription in Ms Martens's name was filled and collected.

Mr Martens claimed the father-of-two was attacking his daughter. The trial continues before a jury of nine women and three men.

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