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Sister, wife of murdered Irish man in custody dispute
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Sister, wife of murdered Irish man in custody dispute

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Mystery has surrounded the death of Jason Corbett, an Irish businessman found bludgeoned to death in his home in Meadowlands, a pricey golf course community in Davidson County.

On Friday, his widow and sister from Ireland fought for custody of the two children Jason Corbett left behind.

Jason, 39, of County Limerick, Ireland, was found dead in his home in the early hours of Aug. 2.

Corbett’s two children from his first marriage — Jack, 10, and Sarah, 8 — lived with him and his wife Molly, 31, in Wallburg. The children’s mother, Margaret Fitzpatrick Corbett, died in 2006 of a sudden asthma attack.

Tracey Lynch, Jason’s older sister, said she flew to the United States from Ireland as soon as she heard of her brother’s death and thought that she would get custody of the children, who were born in Ireland.

“When I got to New York, the Department of Social Services called and told me the situation had changed,” Lynch said last week.

The children were put in the care of their stepmother.

Lynch said her brother’s will named her and her husband, David, legal guardians of his children should something happen to him. The will, however, was written before Corbett’s marriage to Molly.

The Davidson County Sheriff’s Office has said that suspects in Jason’s death were not being sought outside of the home.

Other details in the investigation have not been released, but Sheriff David Grice told the Irish Daily Mail newspaper that Molly and her father, Thomas Martens, 65, of Knoxville, Tenn., are persons of interest in Jason’s death. Neither Molly Corbett nor Martens has been criminally charged in the case. Grice told the Daily Mail that Jason was bludgeoned to death with a baseball bat.

Deputy C.S. Dagenhardt wrote in a report that Deputy D. Dillard responded to an assault call at the couple’s home at 160 Panther Creek Court, according to the Lexington Dispatch. While Dillard was en route, the Davidson County 911 Center told him that the caller had been in an argument with Jason and struck him with a baseball bat, Dagenhardt wrote.

Deputies arrived at the home and found a man inside with head injuries, the Lexington Dispatch said..

Molly’s attorneys, David Freedman and Jones Byrd, said Molly is the only mother Jack and Sarah have really known.

“She’s raised them since they were young,” Byrd said last week. “Both children refer to her as mom or mommy. She’s just looking forward to the matter being resolved so she can focus on her children.”

Molly’s uncle, Michael Earnest, as well as other family members, came to the custody hearing Friday to support Molly.

Molly, Earnest said, is an all-around good person.

“She did well in school and was an active swimmer,” Earnest said. “She spent 99 percent of her time taking care of the children. It would’ve been easy for her to try to be the children’s friend but she earned their love by being a parent.”

Earnest, as well as Molly’s brother and father, work or have worked in federal law enforcement agencies. She was the only girl in a family with four children.

“Family is extremely important to Molly,” Earnest said. “She would want the kids’ extended family to be a part of their lives.”

Lynch said she and her siblings have had little contact with the children since their father was killed.

“Last time I spoke to Jack, it was for maybe about half a minute,” Lynch said. “My brother trusted me enough to put his children in my care. They don’t have any blood relatives here. I’m very concerned about their safety.”

In the four years since Jason and Molly’s wedding, Molly had not adopted Jack and Sarah. Lynch said that was because her brother did not want her to adopt them.

Journey to America

After Jason’s first wife, Margaret, died, he considered taking time off from work to care for his children but found an American au pair named Molly Martens to help him take care of Jack and Sarah, who were 2 years old and 3 months old, respectively, at the time of Margaret’s death, Jason’s friend and long-time work colleague Morgan Fogartysaid to the Irish Independent newspaper.

In 2011, Jason moved to North Carolina with Molly and his children and married in her hometown of Knoxville. Corbett was the manager of Field Boxmore Health Care Packaging. His children were in the U.S. on Corbett’s work visa.

Lynch said it was always her brother’s intention to come back to Ireland. “He loved America but he missed home,” she said.

Fogarty told the Irish newspaper that Jason’s love for Irish culture, namely rugby, would have prompted Jason and his kids’ return to Ireland.

“They liked America, and he had lovely neighbors but they didn’t have the same culture that he was into,” Fogarty told the Irish Independent. “He was always going to come back. He wanted the kids to grow up as teenagers in Ireland and his aim was always to come home.”

An ongoing battle

Ann Connolly, Corbett’s cousin who lives in Scottsdale, Ariz., has been helping the Lynch family understand the American justice system and connecting family and friends in Ireland and America.

The family set up several online campaigns, including a Facebook page titled Bring Jack and Sarah Home with nearly 15,000 likes, fundraising campaigns on GoFundMe and PayPal and an email campaign with attention to Vice President Joe Biden, whose mother is from County Mayo in Ireland.

“These kids are children of Ireland,” Connolly said. “We want to do everything we can to get them home.”

At the custody hearing Friday, Clerk of Superior Court Brian Shipwash appointed a guardian ad litem, a trained volunteer appointed by the court to advocate for the best interests of the children. The children will remain in Molly’s custody during the remainder of the custody proceedings, Freedman said.

Connolly said on her Facebook page that the court should come to a decision Thursday.

The Irish Consuls from Charlotte and Atlanta attended the hearing as representatives from Ireland’s foreign affairs department.

“We are working to ensure that the best interests of these young Irish citizens are protected, and we’ll continue to provide the appropriate counselor assistance,” said Shane Stephens, Consul General of Ireland in Atlanta.

Jason and Molly’s home in Wallburg has an assessed value of $340,000, Davidson County tax records say. Neither the Lynches nor Molly Corbett applied for custody of the estate.

Jason’s body was released to the Lynch family and flown to Ireland on Thursday by the Kevin Bell Repatriation Trust.

The trust, named for a 26-year-old Irishman killed in a suspected hit-and-run in New York, offers financial assistance to bereaved families to repatriate bodies of loved ones who have died abroad in sudden or tragic circumstances.

“We want to go home with Jack and Sarah and bury Jason,” Lynch said. “We’re not burying Jason in Ireland without them.”

jhowse@wsjournal.com (336)727-7203

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