Opening arguments made in Corbett trial

DOVER — There’s no dispute that 21-month-old Evan J. Dudley died after suffering several traumatic injuries while in the care of a then-Dover Air Force Base airman on Nov. 3, 2012.

The question is: What caused the wounds?

The fate of Justin K. Corbett, accused of murder by abuse or neglect by recklessly causing the death of a child, hinges on what a jury believes in the trial that began Monday morning in Kent County Superior Court in Dover.

In an opening statement, attorney William Deely referenced Mr. Corbett’s explanation that the child was injured after being pushed down a set of eight carpeted stairs by his toddler son; he left the children unattended while searching for a cell phone and did not see the accident, according to the defense.

Deputy Attorney General Josette Manning, however, claimed evidence will show that Mr. Corbett, 28, beat the child to death at a residence in DAFB housing at in the 100 block of Avocado Avenue, with all the injuries not possibly caused by just one fall.

Justin K. Corbett exits the Kent County Courthouse in Dover late Monday morning during a trial recess. (Delaware State News/Craig Anderson)

Justin K. Corbett exits the Kent County Courthouse in Dover late Monday morning during a trial recess. (Delaware State News/Craig Anderson)

Both sides pledged to present testifying medical experts to bolster their case, analyzing a series of seven separate bruises under the child’s scalp, and injuries to the top of his head, jaw, nose, cheek, forehead, thigh and elbow, retinal hemorrhages to both eyes, including one detached retina.

While the prosecution opined that Mr. Corbett, a Magnolia resident who later received an honorable discharge from the Air Force, was not trying to murder the child and rendered aid afterward while trying to save his life, his alleged multiple blows to the child’s head and body caused the eventual death that came in a hospital on Nov. 7, 2012.

Judge Robert B. Young is overseeing the trial, scheduled for two weeks. Eleven women and five men were selected for the jury.

A murder by abuse charge is a Class A felony, bringing a prison sentence of 15 years to life if convicted.

Injuries in question

As a babysitter, Mr. Corbett made a “horrible mistake” to leave the children alone by an open set of stairs, according to Mr. Deely, but he didn’t see the accident; the attorney pointed to “large men” working to save the boy’s life by pushing him and holding him in lifesaving attempts that brought bruises, and upcoming witness testimony that a fall could cause “these injuries.”

Ms. Manning contended that while it can’t be determined why Mr. Corbett injured the child or how it was done, he was the only person capable of causing them; she noted that the child was healthy before left at Mr. Corbett’s apartment and “all those injuries together, some minor, some not, [there are] too many to be explained by one fall.”

During opening remarks, the defense replayed a more than seven-minute 911 call Mr. Corbett made at 3:51 p.m. after the child was injured on Nov. 3, 2012, when the airman described the infant as “dead to the world, he is just laying here.”

A dispatcher was heard instructing Mr. Corbett on how to perform life-saving measures including a series of chest compressions and told him he did a “good job” as paramedics arrived.

During the call, Mr. Corbett described the child’s lips as turning light blue and with blood in his mouth, the infant gasping for air every 40 seconds with his eyes open.

At times, Mr. Corbett was heard pleading “come on Evan, come on buddy.”

The state indicated that Mr. Corbett did not seem frantic when the paramedics arrived, which the defense attributed to his military deployment and combat experience where he’s seen death and is trained to keep a calm demeanor in the midst of an extremely stressful situation.

Emergency responders will later testify about the 40 minutes spent attempting to revive the child through CPR to restore breathing and a heartbeat, according to Ms. Manning.

The mother testifies

Dressed in Air Force fatigues, the child’s mother Nicole Dudley, 30, testified to her strong relationship with Mr. Corbett’s wife, who shared the experience of being pregnant at the same time, hosted her baby shower and attended church with her.

In her Family Care Plan, Ms. Corbett was designated as a backup caregiver when Ms. Dudley, a supply technician and single mother, was deployed to Qatar for six months beginning in May 2012.

The child was left with the Corbett family in November 2012 when the primary caregiver/godparents were unavailable, and was reportedly experiencing separation anxiety evidenced by crying and a small tantrum after seeing his mother on Skype.

Ms. Dudley last saw her son through pictures and videos around Halloween and “he was wearing the costume I wanted him to wear.”

Mr. Corbett was alone with the children when the injuries occurred, according to statements, and his wife was not home much of the day before being notified of the tragedy.

In the short aftermath of paramedics arriving at the scene, the prosecution said Mr. Corbett called his wife and told her of the injuries, asking for a power of attorney that she had.

During testimony, Ms. Dudley said she dropped to the ground in Qatar upon notification of her son’s injuries from a first sergeant in charge of her squad, not believing that it could be true.

The airman spent two days in transit back home, and went immediately to A.I. du Pont Children’s Hospital in the Wilmington area after landing at the airport.

‘Get to Evan’

While a doctor wanted to speak with the family at one point, an arriving Ms. Dudley testified that she “had tunnel vision and hadn’t really slept in two days. I just wanted to get to Evan.”

She remembered sitting with her parents when told that her son was brain dead and she removed him from life support machines herself.

During the ordeal, Ms. Dudley testified that she had a short conversation with Ms. Corbett, who she described as “frantic and kept saying she was sorry.”

As the 911 call was played, Ms. Dudley closed her eyes and dropped her head into her hands. She remained composed during testimony, and cried upon returning to her front row seat in the audience gallery.

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

Caitlin Gregory is co-counsel for Mr. Corbett, with Deputy Attorney General Annmarie Puit on the prosecution.

The trial began with a glitch, as a 15-minute delay was ordered due to technical difficulties with a courtroom screen system.

Noting to the jury that he was old enough to remember when “colored crayons” were considered high tech, Judge Young continued by saying “With all our technology I’m sure it’s wonderful.

“It’s very annoying when it doesn’t work.”

Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at canderson@newszap.com

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