Originally created 04/08/06

Appeal delays dentist's trial



ATLANTA - The Gwinnett County trial of a dentist accused of killing his wife will be delayed while the Georgia Supreme Court decides whether evidence from a previous killing in Augusta can be admitted.

Clearing the way for the appeal by the defense team of Barton Corbin, Superior Court Judge Michael Clark acknowledged that jury selection in Gwinnett County likely will not start until mid-September.

"It was my hope that we'd get this case tried April 17," Judge Clark said during a motions hearing for Mr. Corbin, who is accused of killing his wife, Jennifer Corbin, on Dec. 4, 2004, in their suburban Atlanta home.

Mr. Corbin, 42, also will stand trial in Richmond County for the 1990 death of his former girlfriend Dorothy "Dolly" Hearn - but not until completion of the Gwinnett County trial.

A conviction in the Gwinnett County would make Mr. Corbin eligible for the death penalty if he is later found guilty in Augusta.

Mr. Corbin's attorneys have argued that he is innocent in both cases and that the two women committed suicide.

His lawyers did not want evidence from Ms. Hearn's death to be allowed in the Gwinnett County trial in part, they say, because witnesses' recollections have changed over the 16 years since she was found dead in her Augusta apartment.

Judge Clark denied that motion, prompting the request to the state Supreme Court, where justices now will decide whether to take up the appeal.

Gwinnett District Attorney Danny Porter said the appeal could be expedited if the Supreme Court does take it up, making a September trial start still possible. "For a case of this size, we're moving pretty expeditiously," he said. "I'd rather do it right than fast."

Also on Friday, Judge Clark ruled that the trial would be subject to a recent change in state law.

Ms. Corbin's death happened before the Criminal Justice Act of 2005 took effect, and Mr. Corbin's attorneys argued that it should not apply.

Judge Clark's ruling that those new rules be in effect means that Mr. Porter will have the same number of jury strikes as the defense team and be able to give the last words to jurors during closing statements.

Reach Vicky Eckenrode at (404) 681-1701 or vicky.eckenrode@morris.com.