Corbett’s wife testifies, says she believes husband

DOVER — The wife of an ex-Air Force airman accused of murder by abuse of a child in his care in 2012 testified Tuesday that her husband has always maintained that the toddler fell down stairs causing severe injuries from which the child died four days later.

“Absolutely not,” was Aubrey Corbett’s response when asked if she believed her husband inflicted a series of traumatic wounds on Nov. 3, 2012, that proved fatal to 21-month-old Evan J. Dudley.

On trial is Magnolia resident Justin K. Corbett, 28, charged with a Class A felony that could bring 15 years to life in prison with a conviction.

A day earlier in Kent County Superior Court, the cause of the toddler’s injuries — including seven separate bruises under his scalp and wounds to the top of his head, jaw, nose, cheek, forehead, thigh and elbow, retinal hemorrhages to both eyes, including one detached retina — were disputed by prosecution and defense.

While Mr. Corbett claims his mistake was leaving the child unattended near a set of eight carpeted stairs, the prosecution charged the babysitter with beating the child to death at his Dover Air Force Base Housing residence in the 100 block of Avocado Avenue.

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Justin K. Corbett

Prosecutors assert that a single fall could not have caused the extensive amount of injuries that occurred.

According to Mr. Corbett, his son pushed the toddler down the stairs as they emerged from a Saturday afternoon nap on a rainy day. Mr. Corbett said he was in another room at the time looking for a cell phone he thought might be ringing.

Providing backup care

The second day of the proceedings began with Mrs. Corbett describing her family’s relationship with Nicole Dudley, a single mother who included them in her Family Care Plan while deployed in Qatar as an U.S. Air Force supply technician beginning in May 2012.

Deputy Attorney General Josette Manning questioned Ms. Dudley about the couple’s approach to disciplining their two children and the late toddler, which included ordering time outs, taking things away and administering a “pop” to their “hand and bottom” at times to get a message across to them.

Asked if she had seen her husband become frustrated with Evan, Mrs. Corbett responded with “I’m sure … he’s a child.”

Probed further, Mrs. Corbett described other forms of discipline as using a wooden spoon, flip flop, and flyswatter to “pop” their children .

“Yes, he’s their father,” Mrs. Corbett responded when asked if her husband administered the punishments described to his kids.

When it came to Evan, however, Mrs. Corbett said her husband avoided the physical discipline.

“Justin was pretty calm when it comes to that,” she said. “I was more of the one.”

Mostly, though, “hurting their feelings was enough,” when it came to discouraging the children from bad behavior, Mrs. Corbett testified.

According to Mrs. Corbett, her husband treated the late toddler “like one of his own” and never had issues when previously caring for all the children alone.

Testimony described the Corbett couple as parenting as a “shared experience” and that Mr. Corbett was in “full agreement” to assist with Evan’s care when his mother was deployed.

An extended stay

The toddler arrived at the Corbett’s home on Oct. 26 when the primary caregiver was unavailable and stayed there until the day in question. Costumed in a monkey suit his mother wanted him to wear, Evan went Halloween trick-or-treating with the family, which was dressed as skunks, according to Mrs. Corbett.

Mrs. Corbett said Evan displayed no unusual marks other than the normal bumps, scratches and bruises toddler boys would get when roughhousing and occasionally falling.

Returning home from a trip to the Wal-Mart in Camden just past 4 p.m. on Nov. 3, 2012, Mrs. Corbett said she received a call from her husband reporting that the boy had fallen and power of attorney papers were needed.

“I could tell something was wrong,” she testified.

Rushing home, Mrs. Corbett said she arrived to find an ambulance readying to leave.

At least two Delaware State Police troopers were inside the residence; there could have been 20 people outside, but she was unsure due to her overriding concern for Evan, she said.

“The ambulance doors were closing when I arrived,” she remembered.

With no time to speak with her husband due to worry for Evan, Mrs. Corbett said she went to Bayhealth-Kent General Hospital in Dover and presented paperwork.

After an update from a nurse, she said she went to an emergency room and “saw [the] little boy, they were working on him … fighting for his life.”

The toddler was transported to A.I. duPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington. Mrs. Corbett testified that she went home to pack a bag before heading to the hospital, speaking quickly with her husband who said the child had fallen down the stairs.

Evan’s primary caregivers were at the hospital when Mrs. Corbett said she arrived.

En route, Mrs. Corbett said she conversed with his mother Nicole on a call set up by the Red Cross, and continued to speak once inside the hospital.

The “longest day and a half ever or two days” followed, Mrs. Corbett said as Evan’s mother traveled home to be with her injured son.

Ordered to leave

The day after the incident, Mrs. Corbett said she was told by Child Protective Services that she must return home to Dover and her husband had to leave the house.

Mrs. Corbett said she sat and prayed after later returning to the hospital while “there was nothing else I could do” and dreaded the moment when she would look Evan’s mother in the eye upon her return after caring for her child and describing it as “ … who wants to face a mother after that?”

While few details were available other than an acknowledgment of head trauma injuries, Mrs. Corbett said she knew Evan was going to die.

After leaving the hospital on Nov. 7, an exhausted Mrs. Corbett said she went to a hotel room where her husband was staying. Later that day, she said, police “came in my house … pretty much with a search warrant.”

Speaking further with her husband, Mrs. Corbett said, “He fell down the stairs, that’s the only thing I’ve ever been told.”

Mrs. Corbett said she and her husband had cared for more than an overnight “two or three times” for extended stays. She described herself as “pretty familiar” with the child and said Evan did “fairly well” scooting down the stairs at the Corbett’s home or sliding on his belly and would “laugh when doing it.”

When Ms. Dudley was deployed, Mrs. Corbett testified that she and her husband cared for Evan two to three nights a week, giving him dinner and bathing him, and taking him to his primary caregiver’s boyfriend at times.

During the extended stay, Mrs. Corbett said Evan was put to bed with no apparent concerns on Nov. 2, 2012.

“He ate very well,” she remembered.

Remembering the day

On the day the toddler was injured, Mrs. Corbett said she and a friend left home for a Harrington craft fair by 8 a.m. and did not return home until about 1:30 p.m. or so.

Her son and Evan were asleep at the time, she testified, her daughter was watching television and her husband was folding laundry.

Mrs. Corbett said she communicated with her husband throughout the day via text and nothing seemed unusual.

After fixing lunch and spending 30 to 45 minutes at home, Mrs. Corbett said she left with her daughter to go grocery shopping in nearby Camden at roughly 2 p.m. At one point, she said, “Justin said the day with the kids went fine.”

After Mrs. Corbett’s testimony, the prosecution indicated that four first responders were scheduled to take the stand in the afternoon. The trial is expected to continue through at least early next week.

Judge Robert B. Young oversaw the proceedings as a jury of five men and 11 women listened to the testimony.

Mr. Corbett, represented at trial by attorneys William Deely and Caitlin Gregory, served a tour in Afghanistan and received an honorable discharge from the Air Force after the incident.

The prosecution team includes Ms. Manning and Deputy Attorney General Annmarie Puit.

Mr. Corbett was arrested on Feb. 18, 2014 and indicted on April 7, 2014.

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