News Roundup

Three years ago, the North Carolina Supreme Court in State v. Corbett, 2021-NCSC-18, ___ N.C. ___, 855 S.E.2d 228, 252 (2021), affirmed the court of appeals’ reversal of the defendants’ convictions for second degree murder. The case garnered national and international attention. The victim, Jason Corbett, was a citizen of Ireland, who had relocated to Davidson County, North Carolina, in 2011 following the 2006 death of his first wife, who was the mother of his two children. Jason moved to North Carolina with his two children and his then-romantic partner, Molly Martens, who had been his children’s au pair in Ireland. Jason and Molly married later that year.

Molly’s parents, Thomas and Sharon Martens, who lived in Tennessee, visited the Corbett home on August 1, 2015. Thomas, a retired FBI agent and former attorney, testified that he awoke to the sounds of a struggle in the middle of the night and discovered Jason choking Molly. Thomas said he attempted to stop Jason by hitting him with an aluminum baseball bat. Molly also hit Jason with a brick paver. Jason’s skull was fractured from multiple blows, and he died at the scene. Both Thomas and Molly were charged with murder. The North Carolina Supreme Court determined that the trial court erred by (1) excluding hearsay statements from the children that their father was abusive toward Molly and that their father had become angry that evening upon his daughter awakening him, and (2) by excluding testimony from Thomas that he heard Molly yell “don’t hurt my dad” during the altercation.

Molly and Thomas were released from prison on Thursday: Molly from the the North Carolina Correctional Institution for Women in Raleigh and Thomas from the Caldwell Correctional Center in Lenoir. Following the state supreme court’s decision, each entered pleas to voluntary manslaughter and served about seven more months behind bars.

Keep reading for more criminal law news.

Amanda Knox re-convicted of slander. Last month, Jeff Welty wrote about American Amanda Knox’s return to an Italian Court nearly a decade after her conviction for the 2007 murder of her roommate was overturned by Italy’s highest court. The European Court of Human Rights ordered Italy to pay damages to Knox in 2019 based on the manner in which she was questioned by police following her arrest, which involved “intense psychological pressure,” the denial of Knox’s right to counsel, and questionable conduct by Knox’s interpreter. During that interrogation, Knox wrongly accused Diya “Patrick” Lumumba, the Congolese owner of the bar where she worked part time, of the killing. She retracted that accusation hours later. Those accusations were the basis of Knox’s conviction for slander. A new trial was ordered the slander charges based on the human rights violations found in connection with the questioning of Knox. On Wednesday, Knox was again convicted of slander. She will not serve any more jail time as the four years she spent in jail before her murder conviction was overturned will be credited against the three-year sentence for slander.

Testimony underway in Hunter Biden’s trial on federal gun charges. The trial of Hunter Biden, the son of President Joe Biden, began this week in the United States District Court for the District of Delaware. Hunter is charged with three felonies related to his purchase and possession of a Colt revolver in 2018:  lying to a federally licensed gun dealer, making a false claim on his application to purchase the gun by saying he was not a drug user, and illegally possessing the gun for 11 days (before his sister-in-law threw it in a trash can outside a store). Hunter was indicted on the charges in September after a plea deal that would have averted trial collapsed.

Hallie Biden, the widow of Hunter’s brother, Beau, testified yesterday about finding the gun in Hunter’s truck and throwing it away outside a market near her home in an effort to keep the gun away from Hunter and her children. Prosecutors allege that Hunter was addicted to crack cocaine when he bought the gun.

Hunter also has been federally indicted for felony tax offenses. That trial is scheduled in September in California.

Louisiana judges soon may be statutorily authorized to order surgical castration as punishment. The Associated Press reports that the Louisiana legislature has approved legislation that would permit judges to sentence a person to surgical castration after the person has been convicted of certain aggravated sex crimes against a child under 13. The bill will now proceed to the desk of the governor. The AP reports that while a handful of states have laws that allow for chemical castration (and permit an offender to opt for a surgical procedure), the National Conference of State Legislatures was unaware of any states that allow judges to order surgical castration.

Prosecutors say alleged Gilgo Beach serial killer kept blueprint of crimes on computer.  New York prosecutors charged New York architect Rex Heuermann with two more murders this week, bringing to six the total number of women he is charged with killing over the course of three decades. A prosecutor described a disturbing document that he said authorities discovered on Heuermann’s laptop. The document purportedly sets forth a series of checklists with tasks to complete before, during and after killings, as well as practical lessons for “next time.” CNN has prepared a timeline of the killings and the investigation leading to Heuermann’s July 2023 arrest.

I can’t bring myself to end the news roundup on that somber note, so I’ll leave you with something more colorful if not more cheery.

Do not pick up a peacock on your way to school. The Associated Press reports that animal control officers in Saginaw Township, Michigan are struggling to capture an elusive peacock. Apparently a local high school student saw the bird on his way to school on Monday and decided to pick it up and bring it with him to school. (?) The peacock escaped. Animal control officers almost caught it the next day, but it got away again, reportedly leaving the officers with scratches and a tree-climbing experience that that the animal control director said may need to be incorporated into future training. All of this leads me to the inexorable conclusion that when the peacocks start showing up at school, it is definitely time for summer break.