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'These rights are under attack.' Cheers and applause greet Rockingham vote to become 'Second Amendment Constitutional Protection County.'

WENTWORTH — Rockingham County Commissioner Kevin Berger consulted with his father, North Carolina Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, as he prepared a resolution to make the county a so-called Second Amendment Constitutional Protection County.

And on Monday night, before a packed room of supporters of the move, commissioners unanimously passed a resolution to adopt the largely symbolic title, joining at least 23 other N.C. counties that have adopted similar resolutions. The vote brought a crowded chamber to its feet with passionate cheers and applause.

With the resolution, Rockingham County joins a state and national movement by local governments that contend state and federal restrictive gun laws will infringe on their Second Amendment right to bear arms. Among the laws they oppose: universal background checks, bans on assault-style weapons and laws that enable authorities to remove guns from individuals deemed a threat to themselves or others.

With a population of about 92,000, the rural county has already granted 7,800 conceal carry permits to gun owners and Rockingham County Sheriff Sam Page told commissioners on Monday night that his goal is to reach 10,000 such permits.

While Rockingham did not, many N.C. counties use the term “Second Amendment Sanctuary.” It’s been used widely across the nation and in neighboring Virginia where a Democrat-controlled state legislature has recently tightened gun controls with “Red Flag Laws.’’

Before the vote, Berger told the audience that he first discussed the move several months back with fellow Commissioner Reece Pyrtle.

“I also had some conversations with the chair of the Stokes County Board of Commissioners … and with my father Sen. Phil Berger,’’ the Madison lawyer said.

“All of this started, of course, because of the government action in the state of Virginia. The very rights the forefathers guaranteed citizens are under attack by a certain group of people who believe that the government knows what’s better for the people than the people do,’’ Berger said.

“Make no mistake, these rights are under attack from judges and certain political figures that have gained control at various levels of government,’’ Berger said. “To our neighbors in Virginia, we have housing, business space … so you don’t have to go to West Virginia; we’re closer for many of you, and we’d love to have ya.’’

Neighboring Surry and Stokes counties, also represented by Phil Berger, each passed similar resolutions in January with wording nearly identical to that used in the Rockingham resolution.

Some 13 other of North Carolina’s 100 counties were expected to vote on similar resolutions Monday night, according to Rebecca Ceartas, executive director of North Carolinians Against Gun Violence, a group that opposes such resolutions and lobbies for stricter gun controls.

An overflow room was set up to accommodate the standing-room only crowd at Monday night’s commissioner’s meeting. Among the residents were scores of employees of Sturm, Ruger & Co., a leading firearms manufacturer with a facility in Mayodan. They arrived wearing matching red T-shirts that bore the Ruger logo.

Page, nationally known for his solidarity with President Donald J. Trump on immigration policy and tapped as North Carolina chairman of Trump’s reelection campaign, spoke in favor of adopting the resolution and repeated his oath of office, words he originally spoke when elected 20 years ago.

Rockingham County Register of Deeds Ben Curtis praised the resolution during his public comments and criticized courts for upholding laws that put restrictions on guns.

“We find ourselves in a time in which we have three equal branches of government, and one has become more powerful than the other two,’’ Curtis said. “How a judge can check a president, I’m confused by that. How a judge can check the vote of the people, I’m confused by that.’’

Local Libertarian politician and former professional wrestler Houston Barrow urged commissioners to lobby for a state constitutional amendment that would eliminate permits for purchasing or carrying a concealed firearm.

“The Second Amendment is all we need,’’ Barrow said. “We don’t need permits to protect our rights. Power doesn’t just go from the top down; power goes from the bottom up.’’

But local veteran Nicholas Chapman, who served 15 years as an Air Force staff sergeant, disagreed about the necessity of permits.

“It takes a strong person, whether they are a man or a woman, to protect their kids or other people. But I will say … I firmly believe that if someone is 21 years of age or older, they ought to be able to protect others, but they need to be trained where they can and can’t go. What they can and can’t do. So if y’all do pass this, I would ask that y’all look further into the conceal-carry permit,’’ Chapman said. “Everything we do in life, you need training to learn. It helps.’’

Noah Windsor, 16, a Rockingham County Early College student, told commissioners that they must “please stand with the people and realize the people should have the power.’’

Commissioner candidate Ann Brady asked commissioners and the sheriff to consider removing the clause within the resolution that supported the county’s goal of issuing 10,000 conceal carry permits.

Minutes after the resolution was approved, commissioners produced commemorative placards that featured mounted copies of the resolution and presented them to Page and other dignitaries.

The cost of the placards was not available, but Rockingham County Manager Lance Metzler confirmed they were bought with money from the county’s general fund.

Here’s looking at you

Pedestrians get an eyeful now when walking down Spring Garden Street. Thanks to street artist Brian Lewis (aka JEKS), the latest mural to grace a Greensboro building features a woman with windswept hair and piercing blue eyes. “Those eyes are so beautiful,” Janice Williams said Tuesday while walking past the mural. Check out more of the city’s mural art at greensboro.com.

New trial for Molly Corbett and Thomas Martens in Davidson County killing

Winston-Salem — The N.C. Court of Appeals has overturned the second-degree murder convictions of Molly Corbett and Thomas Martens in the death of Corbett’s husband, Irish businessman Jason Corbett, and ordered a new trial.

The judges were split 2-1 in the ruling, which concluded that the trial judge made errors that deprived Molly Corbett, 36, and Thomas Martens, 70, from getting a fair trial in 2017 in Davidson County Superior Court. Because the judges were split, state prosecutors have a right to appeal the decision to the N.C. Supreme Court.

The case drew national and international attention.

Jason Corbett, 39, hired Molly Martens, her maiden name, to work in Ireland as an au pair to take care of his children, Sarah and Jack, after his first wife died. Jason and Molly began dating and then married in 2011, moved to the United States and settled in an upscale golf community in Davidson County.

Then four years ago, Davidson County sheriff’s deputies, responding to a 911 call, found Jason Corbett’s nude body in the master bedroom of the couple’s house. Prosecutors alleged that Molly Corbett and Martens, her father and a former FBI agent, brutally beat Jason to death with a 28-inch Louisville Slugger baseball bat and a concrete paving brick. A medical examiner testified that Jason was hit in the head at least 12 different times and that his skull was crushed.

Claims of self defense

Molly Corbett and Martens claimed self-defense. Martens testified in court that he and his wife had traveled from Tennessee to visit Molly and had stayed overnight in a guest bedroom in the basement. Martens brought the baseball bat as a gift for Jack.

Martens said that on the morning of Aug. 2, 2015, he heard noise from upstairs, grabbed the bat and went to investigate. He followed the sounds into the master bedroom where he said he found Jason with his hands around Molly’s neck. Then Jason put Molly in a chokehold, according to Martens, and repeatedly threatened to kill her.

Martens testified that he hit Jason multiple times to save his daughter in a struggle that started in the bedroom, moved into an adjoining bathroom and then back into the bedroom, where Jason grabbed the bat and threw Martens across a bed. Martens said that he believed both he and his daughter were in mortal danger and that he rushed Jason, got the bat back and beat Jason until he went down. At some point in the struggle, according to a statement she gave to police, Molly she tried to hit Jason with the paving brick.

According to court testimony, she did hit Jason with the brick.

The appellate court ruled that Judge David Lee, who presided over the trial, made several decisions about evidence that prevented Molly Corbett and Martens from mounting an effective defense. If Lee had not made those decisions, the jury might have rendered a different verdict, the court said.

According to Irish media outlets, Jason Corbett’s family was shocked at the court’s decision. Tracey Corbett-Lynch, Jason’s sister, has written a book, “My Brother Jason: The Untold Story of Jason Corbett’s Life and Brutal Murder by Tom and Molly Martens.” In the book, she alleges that Molly Corbett manipulated Jason and conspired to murder him with her father’s help.

In a statement, Jason Corbett’s family said: “We will not be commenting at this time on the decision and we would ask that our family’s privacy would be respected.”

Walter Holton, one of Molly Corbett’s attorneys, said in a statement that his client has always cooperated with investigators and that she and Martens have consistently told the truth.

“This was self-defense, plain and simple,” Holton said. “Molly has no fear of the truth. She is not the one trying to suppress the children’s statements that were given at the time this event occurred and were given, in what the court has called, the exact correct circumstance in interviewing children. This opinion takes a huge step toward the truth and we welcome that.”

David Freedman, one of Martens’ attorneys, said he is happy that the court “recognized the rule of law.”

Michael Earnest, Molly Corbett’s uncle, said this is the first step toward “freeing two innocent people from prison.”

Garry Frank, the district attorney for Davidson County, and Laura Brewer, a spokeswoman for the state N.C. Attorney General’s Office, both said they are reviewing the decision. Frank said his office plans to consult with the attorney general’s office before any appeal is made.

Prejudicial error

Lee made a number of prejudicial errors, the appellate court said Tuesday.

One error had to do with excluding statements that Sarah, now 13, and Jack, now 15, made to social workers at Union County Department of Social Services and Dragonfly House Child Advocacy Center in Mocksville. Those statements were made soon after Jason Corbett’s body was discovered.

Prosecutors had sought to exclude those statements, saying they were not reliable because they were hearsay and made during a time when the children believed that the statements might be used in a custody battle between Molly Corbett and Tracey Corbett-Lynch and her husband, David Lynch.

But the court agreed with the defendants that the statements were obtained for a medical diagnosis and treatment and that they were reliable. And the children could not be forced to come from Ireland to testify, making the statements even more critical, the court said.

In the statements, the children said that Jason physically and emotionally abused Molly Corbett, which would have been used to bolster arguments that Jason was a violent man.

The court also said that the statements contained information that would have helped the jurors in the case. For example, the court said prosecutors never explained why the paving brick was in the bedroom and even referenced that there was no explanation for it during closing arguments.

But Jack did provide an explanation, the court ruled. Jack said Molly, he and Sarah were planning to paint the brick and Molly Corbett put it in the bedroom because it had been raining and no one wanted the brick to get wet.

Prosecutors argued that the children had recanted those statements, but the court’s decision said Jack recanted the statements at his home in Ireland with prosecutors present. Sarah recanted, the court said, in diary entries that were never authenticated.

The court also ruled that Lee should have excluded testimony from Stuart James, a national expert in bloodstain-pattern analysis. James found out the day before he testified that stains on the inside hem of Martens’ shorts and on the bottom of Molly Corbett’s pajama pants were never tested to confirm that they were blood and that they belonged to Jason.

Despite that, James testified that the lack of testing didn’t change his opinion, even though the fact that the stains were not tested violated his own protocols, the court said.

He made the critical conclusion that the location of those stains meant that Molly Corbett and Martens were at or above Jason’s head when they hit Jason.

The court said if the stains weren’t confirmed as blood, there’s no way that James should have been allowed to testify about them or make any conclusions.

Lee also was wrong, the court said, to give an instruction on what is known as the “aggressor doctrine” to the jury. The aggressor doctrine says that a defendant cannot raise a claim of self-defense if there is sufficient evidence that he might have been the aggressor.

The court argued that state prosecutors presented no evidence to contradict Martens’ version of events. And the fact that Martens and Molly Corbett had no visible injuries isn’t enough, the court said.

There was other corroborating evidence, including a blonde hair found on the palm of Jason’s right hand. That hair was never tested.

Also, the court noted, Molly was found suffering from shock. Her attorneys said during the trial that there was redness around her neck. Prosecutors said that one of the law-enforcement agents who observed her didn’t see any visible tears or any signs she was injured. She also declined medical treatment, prosecutors said at trial.

The court, however, dismissed the allegations of jury misconduct that defendants raised in a motion for appropriate relief in Davidson County Superior Court. Lee denied that motion.

“The tragic and unusual circumstances of this case are a humble reminder of the importance of the jury’s vital role in our delicate system of justice,” the court said. “Due to the compounding evidentiary and instructional errors that occurred both before and throughout the three-week trial in this matter, defendants were prevented from presenting a meaningful defense, or from receiving the full benefit of their claims of self-defense and defense of a family member. As a result, the jury was denied critical evidence and rendered incapable of performing its constitutional function.”

An interesting article in today's paper

‘A good start’: The Kansas City Chiefs have arrived. Staying on top will be tough, but possible. Page C5

Police: No charges will be filed in recent shooting of painting contractor in High Point

HIGH POINT — Prosecutors cited the state’s self-defense law as their reason for not charging a man who shot a painting contractor in the chest Jan. 30, according to a spokesman for the High Point Police Department.

The Violent Crimes Unit consulted with the Guilford County District Attorney’s Office, which declined to prosecute at this time, police said Tuesday morning.

Lt. Matt Truitt said the case was declined because of the state’s “castle doctrine,” which gives residents the right to defend themselves with deadly force in certain situations.

Officers responded to a reported shooting at 8:25 a.m. on Jan. 30 to 802 Lakecrest Ave. at Chatham Woods apartment complex. Byron Castillo, 48, an independent painting contractor from Winston-Salem hired by the complex, had gone to one of the apartments to complete some type of painting work, police said.

Police said Tuesday that Castillo was mistakenly sent to the wrong apartment, and after identifying himself as maintenance, began knocking on the door and attempted to gain entry with a key that did not work.

The 28-year-old occupant “perceived that someone was attempting to break into his apartment and retrieved his firearm,” police said. The man could see Castillo pulling on the door handle and that he had something in his other hand manipulating the deadbolt.

Fearing for his safety, the man opened the door and shot at Castillo, striking him once in the chest, police said. Castillo then went to the complex’s office to tell someone he had been shot, Truitt said.

Castillo remains in intensive care at a local hospital and “his condition is still continuing to improve,” police said Tuesday.

Both parties cooperated fully in the investigation, police said.

Cyrus Brown, the lead assistant district attorney in High Point, declined comment on the case Tuesday morning when reached by phone at his office.