1. Headline
  1. Headline
Courtesy of the Barber family
Jennifer and Barton Corbin
By Rob Stafford Correspondent
NBC News

This report airs Dateline Saturday, Feb. 3, 2007. It first aired Oct. 18, 2006.

On a Saturday morning, in an upscale Atlanta suburb, a young son saw something no child should ever see.

911 Operator: Where is he at now?  Is he with you?

Kelly Comeau: Yes.

911 Operator: Okay.  Alright.  How old is he?

Kelly Comeau: Seven.

911 Operator: He’s seven?

Kelly Comeau: Uh-huh (affirms).

And what he saw would soon open the eyes of investigators to something they had missed for years.

Gil Hearn, Dolly Hearn's brother: The deep, dark secret had been exposed.

This is a tale of two tragedies, of two young women who lived and died at different times and in different cities but left behind a mysterious trail of almost identical clues. Could solving one case lead to the truth in the other?

For one family, the story began on December 4th, 2004.

Heather Tierney, Jennifer Corbin's sister:  Typical Saturday morning and the phone rang. And I was immediately hysterical and I asked where she was, was she okay. And he said, “No, Heather, I’m sorry she’s gone.”

“She” was 33-year-old Jennifer Corbin, the wife of Dr. Barton Corbin, a tall, handsome dentist, who was 40. They’d been married seven years and had two adorable sons, ages 7 and 5. On the surface they led a storybook life and had a big beautiful home filled with photos of a fun, loving family. He was the picture of the adoring dad; she a devoted mom. Jennifer had been a free spirit when she was younger, but having children changed all that.

Tierney: She was born to be a mom, and when she became a mom, she did it 110 percent. She became Miss PTA— the SUV-driving, baseball-toting Supermom. 

Her sister Heather marveled at Jennifer’s ability to connect with people in ways that others could not.

Tierney: She was very easy-going and a great listener. She’s an amazing listener.

Jennifer connected so well with people of all ages, she was hired as a part-time pre-school teacher at her church.

Her family took Bart in as one of their own.

Max Barber, Jennifer's father:  We loved Bart Corbin. He came into the family very quickly. He did a lot of traveling with us, vacations. He spent most of his weekends with us.

Bart was very bright and could be a lot of fun.

Tierney: Bart is a very funny person. He’s got a very quick wit. And it, people, I think are drawn to that. If you know, crack on him, he has a crack that’s five times better than yours. He thinks very fast and is very funny.

But now all that was a distant memory. Jennifer’s family felt unimaginable grief because the way Jennifer died was almost as painful as the loss itself. Her older son was the one to find her body and run to a neighbor, who called 911.

Kelly Comeau (911 call): My girlfriend’s dead.

911 Operator: Okay, what do you mean by that?

Kelly Comeau: She’s been shot.  Her son just ran over and got me.  They live across the street from me. 

911 Operator: Okay.  Do you think that she can be helped?

Kelly Comeau: No.

Tierney: It’s like somebody took the engine of a jet and put it on backwards and just sucked the air out of my lungs. Never in a million years did I ever think I would have to live my life without my sister. 

Heather was the first relative to hear the news. Right away she called her parents, Narda and Max Barber.

Max Barber:  I just hung up the phone and I drove straight to the house. I pulled up in the driveway behind a couple of Gwinnett County police cruisers.  They wouldn’t let me to see my daughter.

So he went to the neighbor’s to get Jennifer’s sons. The older one, Dalton, was crying very hard. He’d been the one to find his mother first that morning.

Max Barber:  He’s running across the street in his underwear and he’s going to remember constantly hitting the doorbell.

Police, who shot this video, found Jennifer’s body in her bedroom. She was dressed in a nightgown lying on her side.

Charles Ross, assistant district attorney: And there is a blood trail coming down from her nose directly down to the bed.

Assistant District Attorney Charles Ross helped investigate the case along with Danny Porter, the prosecutor of Gwinnett county, just outside Atlanta. 

Ross: There is a gun that is tucked under the sheet with her hands basically above it.

There were divorce papers on the bed as well.

Rob Stafford, Dateline correspondent: Going through a troubled time in life?

Danny Porter, Gwinnett County prosecutor:  Right.

Stafford: What’s the initial impression of this scene?

Porter: Suicide.

There was reason to believe Jennifer Corbin might have killed herself. Her marriage that once seemed so perfect had soured. And there was evidence she may have worried about losing her children in what was certain to be a nasty divorce and custody fight.

Still when Dateline first spoke with Jennifer’s family shortly after she died in December 2004, they were adamant that Jennifer would never have committed suicide.

Stafford:  Is it possible that Jenny took her own life?

Tierney:  Positively no way. And I’ll tell you, there are two reasons--  Dalton and Dillon. She lived for those kids. She certainly would not have committed suicide and let her children find her that way with a gun next to her. Jennifer would never have abandoned those kids.  No, you could not convince me of that in a million years. No way.

Max Barber: I knew that she was dead and I knew that somebody did it. And it wasn’t Jennifer.

Stafford: Did you think you knew who did it?

Max Barber: In my heart, absolutely.

Stafford: That second that you found out.

Max Barber: That second.

Stafford: Can you say who that person is?

Max Barber: No. No, I don’t want to.  I’ll let Gwinnett County do it’s job.

It turns out, the Gwinnett county prosecutor wasted no time doing his job. He was about to take a journey into a troubled marriage and a dark past.

Jennifer Corbin was found dead from a single gunshot to the head. Her family insisted this was not suicide.

Narda Barber, Jennifer Corbin's mother: I think the biggest breakthrough came when I got a phone call.

Now just a few days after the death, her mother received a stunning call that would ignite the investigation.

Narda Barber: It is enormous. It is beyond belief.

The caller said Bart Corbin had been involved in another volatile relationship 14 years earlier with a fellow dental student named Dolly Hearn, a beautiful, vivacious woman Jennifer’s family never knew about.

Gil Hearn, Dolly Hearn's brother: She lit up every room that she entered with her smile. 

Dolly’s brother Gil says his sister dated Bart during her third year of dental school, which was 150 miles from Atlanta in Augusta, Georgia. At first they seemed to get along well. Then their relationship became strained.

Travis Hampton, friend of Dolly's: Near the end of their relationship, things started going wrong.

Dr. Travis Hampton was a friend and classmate of both Bart’s and Dolly’s. He says Bart became incredibly possessive of Dolly and when she broke up with him, strange things began to happen to her. Dolly filed these police reports complaining that someone had broken into her apartment, vandalized her car, and stolen a package from her mailbox. One day a school project disappeared and then her cat.

Hampton: At first she thought that she was just unlucky. But after awhile realized that luck had nothing to do with it. She was being targeted.

Dolly was so convinced Bart was the culprit she tried to secretly record a conversation with him, hoping he’d confess, but Bart became suspicious.

(recording)

Dolly Hearn: Is there any way that you can give them back. I mean are you sure?

Bart Corbin: What do you want me to say?  I mean, how do I not know you don’t haven’t got a recorder on you or something? 

Dr. Hampton says Dolly confided in him, telling him she feared what Bart might do.  

Hampton: She actually wanted to stay at our house one night because she didn’t want to sleep at her house alone.

But by the time summer break arrived, the harassment seemed to have stopped. Dolly looked happy as she attended her brother’s high school graduation. He was valedictorian.   She beamed as he gave his speech.

Gil Hearn, brother: I glanced at Dolly, and she just had the biggest smile that she was directing right at me.

Then just a few days later—A terrible shock.

Gil Hearn: My mom said—“We lost our Dolly.” My first response was natural in that “No.  This can’t have happened.”  And, that really is the worst thing that she could have told me.

Dolly’s roommate discovered her body in their apartment on the afternoon of June 6, 1990, just as Bart was about to graduate from dental school. She died of a single gunshot to the head.

Charles Ross: The gun had been placed in front of her in her lap.  She was sitting with her legs crossed sitting up. And there’s a gunshot wound off to the right side of the head.

To the investigators in Augusta, Georgia back in 1990, it looked like suicide.

Ross: There were not crime scene technicians working the case as we do today. All the medical examiner had at the time was simply that it was a female with a gunshot wound to the head and the gun was found in front of her.

Stafford: Is there anyway your sister could have taken her own life?

Gil Hearn: There’s absolutely no thought in my mind, or any of the family’s mind that she would have done that. 

Like Jennifer’s family, the Hearns were adamant that Dolly had not taken her life.  Because of the troubles Bart and Dolly had in their relationship, authorities investigated the possibility of foul play in 1990 and interviewed Bart Corbin. But they couldn’t find conclusive evidence of  either a homicide or suicide—and no one was charged. 

Gil Hearn: The hardest part has been having no official closure—having a case that was just casually ruled suicide and having to see my parents make their best efforts to get law enforcement to cooperate to see it through to the end.

Over the years, the Hearn family fought to prove Dolly didn’t take her life, even hiring a private investigator. But that didn’t help them.

Stafford: Your family’s own independent expert is saying this looks like it probably was a suicide.

Gil Hearn: Right, so that obviously made things more difficult. Because it did nothing to convince us that it was suicide.

Gil said his family was well aware that Dolly had been living in fear in the months before her death.

Stafford: You’re saying your sister was afraid?

Gil Hearn:  Yes. Definitely. I would describe him as Jekyll and Hyde. He was obviously bright.  He could perform well academically.  He could relate well to people, he could fool a lot of people.

Dolly’s classmate says he wasn’t fooled - he even told Dolly to take precautions.

Hampton: And I suggested to her she might want to get a gun to protect herself. And her dad loaned her a gun.  I know that her father had told her you need to get away from him or you’re going to wind up in a dumpster one day.

In fact, from the day Dolly died, her family was convinced she was murdered.

Gil Hearn: I knew that Bart had killed her. There was never any doubt in my mind.  There was never any doubt in my parent’s mind.

But Dolly’s death remained a cold case for 14 years, until Jennifer Corbin was found dead and investigators began to look at Dolly’s case in a whole new light.

Stafford: What are the chances that two women who are both involved in a volatile relationship with the same man both kill themselves in the exact same way?

Ross: It certainly seemed very, very unlikely. And as the investigation unfolded, similarities were just staggering. It couldn’t have been a coincidence.

The Dolly Hearn case was reopened in Augusta.  The lead investigator there re-examined her death with a new perspective and new crime scene technology.

Danny Porter, prosecutor Gwinnett county: He takes the crime scene photographs and blows them up and turns them over to his expert. The expert begins to look at the blood spatter patterns and finds three significant findings that tell him the body was manipulated after the wound was inflicted.

As evidence against Dr. Corbin mounted, prosecutors tapped his phone.

Danny Porter, prosecutor:  One of the people calls and says, I heard they were reopening the Augusta case.  And he said, “Yeah, I don’t know why they want to learn about that b*tch in Augusta. Double check this... I don’t have any idea about it.”

Stafford: That’s the way he referred to Dolly Hearn?

Porter: That’s the way he has always referred to her. And not only is it offensive, but you start seeing another side of his personality through these unguarded conversations.

It was a side Dolly’s parents had seen 14 years earlier. They always believed Bart Corbin had staged a suicide in their daughter’s case. Now they were convinced he’d struck again. They felt a duty to support Jennifer’s family to attend her funeral, to console her parents who should never have suffered the same way they had. 

Max Barber: We hugged for a long time. And when she pulled away from us, she held my hands and she just looked at me and she says, “There hasn’t been a day in 14 years that Bill doesn’t talk about Dolly.” And I shook Dr. Hearn’s hand and I just remember saying to him, “I’m sorry that we have to meet under these circumstances.”

     

Jennifer Corbin’s family knew nothing about her husband Bart’s girlfriend, who died from a single gunshot back in 1990. But like the girlfriend’s family, Jennifer’s relatives immediately told police that no matter how her death looked on December 4, 2004, this wasn’t suicide. It was murder. 

Max Barber: I said, “Have you arrested Bart Corbin?” And his reply to me was, “Why”?

Since we first spoke with Jennifer’s family last year, they’ve become much more outspoken about what they think really happened that terrible day.

Narda Barber: I knew that there was no one else that could have done it but Bart. I just could not understand how they could possibly not realize what we knew.

It’s what even Jennifer’s 7-year-old son Dalton assumed, right from the moment he found his mother’s body and ran to the neighbor who called 911.

911 Operator (call): Okay.  Was there anybody home last night? Was your dad home?  Or—

Dalton Corbin: Yeah, he’s the one who killed my mom.

In reality, Dalton didn’t see or hear the fatal shot, but he clearly remembered how his parents fought and how at times his dad’s temper would just explode.

Dalton Corbin: They were fighting for a long time.

911 Operator: It was a long time?

Dalton Corbin: Yeah it like you’re like for today.  And like the other— and like yesterday and the day after that. 

911 Operator: So they’ve been fighting a lot lately?

Dalton Corbin: Yeah. 

Jennifer’s family became well aware of the hair-trigger temper Dolly Hearn’s family had known years ago.

Heather Tierney, Jennifer Corbin's sister: One minute he is happy-go-lucky. The next minute, it is just like he goes into a rage.

According to Jennifer’s family, Bart often lost his temper with the boys calling them names like “idiot” and “crybaby.” And after years of frustration, Jennifer finally had had enough.

Narda Barber, Jennifer Corbin's mother: And she said, “Mom, Mom, I do not love Bart. I have loved him because he is the father of our children, but I am ready to leave and I’m ready to get on with my life.”

The turning point came on Thanksgiving day, 2004 after a family dinner at her sister Heather’s house. They say Bart didn’t seem himself and suddenly wanted Jennifer and the boys to leave. Her sister, Rajel, remembers that day well.

Rajel Caldwell, Jennifer Corbin's sister: “Okay, Bart wants to go, it’s time to go.” And she left and it wasn’t much longer that Dad got the phone call that Bart had slapped her, punched her, hurt her in the car and Dad told her to immediately come back.

Rob Stafford, Dateline correspondent:  And where were the kids?

Caldwell: The kids were in the vehicle with Jennifer and Bart.

The following Monday, Bart filed for divorce, asking for the house, custody of the children and child support. Two days later, Jennifer called 911 saying she caught Bart going through her purse and taking a journal she kept and her cell phone. And that he took a shotgun from the house and drove off wearing only a towel.

(Jennifer's first 911 call)

911 operator:  He’s—only has a towel on?

Jennifer Corbin: Yup.

Tierney:  Jennifer called me. It had just happened. She called me. She was crying hysterically.  

Three days later, Jennifer was dead. Her family was overwhelmed by grief and outraged by Barton Corbin’s reaction—or lack of one. 

Tierney:  I don’t know if there’s a guideline of how a person should react when your wife has been found dead, but I would think that the initial reaction would be something along the lines of, “Oh my God, where are my children? Oh my God, where’s Jennifer? Oh my God, what happened?”  There was not a peep. There was not a word.

Danny Porter, Gwinnett County District Attorney: That’s really what I focused on. Why didn’t he come and get his kids? He left them at the home the night before and he never comes. He never shows up.

All that amounted to circumstantial evidence. But what Gwinnett County District Attorney Danny Porter really wanted was hard proof tying Bart to the gun found on Jennifer’s bed. That would be critical to the case. But a weapons check could only trace it to a gun dealer in Alabama way back in 1957 — years before Bart was born. The district attorney did know Bart had a friend in Troy, Alabama, named Richard Wilson.

Porter:  So I dispatched investigators to Alabama for the first time on December the 15th of 2004 to talk to Richard Wilson in Troy, Alabama. He initially says that the only thing he knows is that he had talked to Bart and learned that Jennifer had died and he tells us he doesn’t know anything about a gun.

Investigators also used Bart’s cell phone records to map his movements on that fatal night. Bart said he was at his brother’s house around 2 a.m., Jennifer’s estimated time of death. But cell phone records put him right near the house where Jennifer died.

Porter: That’s the first critical piece of information that blows his alibi out of the water. It puts him at the residence at about quarter of two in the morning till about five after two in the morning.  And that’s the time of the murder. 

And investigators found the angle of the bullet wound and the trail of blood on Jennifer’s face weren’t consistent with a suicide. 

Stafford: So if this indeed was a suicide, how would Jennifer have held the gun?

Porter: I’m not sure she could have. She would have had to hold the gun here about this angle ‘cause you take the bullet, the gunshot wound, later confirmed through autopsy, was within an inch of the skin.  Then you add four inches for the barrel, you had another three inches for the grip, and my arms aren’t long enough to get to where the gun has to be.

Stafford:  Are her fingerprints on the gun?

Porter: No. There are no fingerprints on the gun.

Stafford: How do you explain that?

Porter: Barton Corbin either wiped it down or has access to latex gloves. I mean, he’s a dentist, he washes his hand and puts on latex gloves 30 times a day.

Stafford: Was there any gun powder residue on Jennifer’s hands?

Porter: No.

Stafford:  Would it be possible for Jennifer to kill herself and not have gunpowder on her hands?

Porter: With that particular gun, it would be very difficult. 

According to authorities, the medical examiner found even more evidence that Jennifer could not have killed herself.

Charles Ross, assistant district attorney: Probably the most key fact the medical examiner found was that the nature of the wound immediately cut off any electrical or muscular activity in the body. The hand would have immediately dropped from the position had she committed suicide. It is absolutely unlikely, or actually impossible that her hands could have come back to a resting point tucked under the sheets with a weapon, as she was found. 

And there was one more thing that didn’t look good for Barton Corbin.

Porter: We determined that Barton Corbin was involved in a long-term sexual relationship that started before his marriage and continued throughout his marriage, and in fact continued on after Jennifer’s death.

As Gwinnett County authorities investigated Jennifer’s death, prosecutors down in Augusta indicted Bart Corbin in the murder of Dolly Hearn. Police arrested him in a very dramatic and public fashion. Dolly’s brother heard about it from his wife.

Gil Hearn: She said, “Bart Corbin is on the ground on TV and he’s being arrested, and I’m watching it live.” That was one of the best moments of our lives since the day Dolly died.

Two weeks after his arrest in Dolly’s case, he was also charged with murdering his wife, Jennifer.

Barton Corbin had been indicted for murdering his girlfriend back in 1990 and his wife in 2004. To mount his defense, he hired top legal talent, who argued both deaths were, in fact, suicide and that Bart’s connection was pure coincidence.

David Wolfe, defense lawyer: We’ve contacted some of the finest forensic people in the country and all of them say that the evidence is consistent with suicide.

High-profile attorneys David Wolfe and Bruce Harvey had successfully defended NFL star Ray Lewis who faced two murder charges and they were confident they could do the same for Dr. Corbin.

Wolfe: We’re going into the courtroom in an attempt to demonstrate that nothing that the state can offer can overcome the presumption that Dr. Corbin didn’t commit either of these offenses, and as a result, he should be found ‘not guilty.’

The defense team planned to tell the jury that in Dolly Hearn’s case, the families own independent expert didn’t think she was murdered.

Wolfe: The family hired one of the premier medical examiners - forensic pathologists in the country and said that there is nothing inconsistent with suicide. He said, “If you showed this information to a 100 pathologists, they’d tell you the same thing.”

In fact, the defense pointed out that if it were not for Jennifer’s case, there would never have been an indictment in Dolly’s.

Wolfe: They couldn’t prove a homicide.

Still, the obvious connection between the two women — Bart Corbin — could not be ignored.

Rob Stafford, Dateline correspondent: What are the chances of two women having volatile relationships with the same man and then taking their own lives in the exact same way?

Wolfe: We were talking about coincidences and the circumstances surrounding the two cases aren’t as similar as they’re making them out to be. There has been much made about the fact that Bart and Dolly were having difficulties at the time of her death and that’s not true.

According to Bart’s attorney, the harassment Dolly blamed on Bart occurred months before she died and they had actually reconciled their relationship.

Wolfe: After that, they had in fact gotten back together. Dolly Hearn had asked several people not to let her family know that she was dating him again.

But what about Bart’s relationship with his wife Jennifer? The defense says it was never violent and the alleged punch during an argument on Thanksgiving Day was really just an unintentional slap.

Wolfe: And she was trying to push his hand away and her hand slipped off and it hit her in the face.

And Bart’s lawyer also had an explanation for the fact Jennifer’s fingerprints weren’t found on the gun.

Wolfe: Whenever I try a criminal case and we ask the officers on the stand, "Did you fingerprint the gun?" The inevitable response is how difficult it is to raise fingerprints from a firearm.

Stafford: Why no gunpowder on Jennifer’s hands?

Wolfe: With regard to gunshot residue, it is incredibly unreliable. Particularly where there is a thick tuft of hair.

As for the bullet angle the prosecution argued would be nearly impossible in a suicide, the defense says it was possible — and, in fact, found another case involving a self-inflicted wound that was nearly identical. And while the prosecution said cell phone records showed Bart was near his home around 2 a.m. when Jennifer died, the defense says those records don’t prove anything because no one really knows the exact time of death.

Wolfe: They don’t know when Jennifer Corbin died. And that was an interesting aspect of our case.

In fact, the defense says the temperature of Jennifer’s body when the medical examiner arrived indicated she may have died later than 2 a.m.—perhaps as late as 6 or 7 in the morning, when both sides agree Bart clearly was not near his home.

Wolfe: And as a result of that, it couldn’t have been him. 

And the defense argued the strongest indicator of suicide was the turmoil in Jennifer’s life at the time she died.

Wolfe: You ask anybody, what does a divorce do to people emotionally? It’s heart-wrenching. It’s gut-wrenching. It’s one of the things that drives people to take their lives or attempt to take their lives.

Under the defense theory: Jennifer feared losing her boys in a custody battle and with good reason —her divorce proceedings would have exposed a secret online relationship revealed by a trail of hundreds of e-mails, some of them explicit.

Wolfe: The relationship turned graphic — and romantically graphic. 

And there was something else.

Wolfe: She learned that the gentleman she thought she was communicating with was, in fact, a woman. And upon learning that information elected to continue the relationship. Suffice it to say that it seemed pretty likely that Dr. Corbin would win custody of the boys. 

The defense said a call Jennifer made herself backed their theory. Jennifer expressed her concern when she told the 911 operator Bart had stolen her cell phone and personal journal.

Wolfe:  A second call was made right back to the 911 person where Ms. Corbin emphasized the importance of finding him and getting her stuff back because she was concerned and specifically said, “He’s going to use it against me.”

911 Operator: 911.

Jennifer Corbin: Yeah hi, I’m sorry.  I—this is Jennifer Corbin.  I called there a few minutes ago about my husband taking off with some of my possessions. He’s probably gonna take them and use them as evidence against me.  We’re in the process of going through a divorce.

What’s more, the prosecutor had not directly tied Bart Corbin to the gun used in his wife’s death, a major weakness in the case against him. All of this, the defense contended, added up to reasonable doubt for a jury.

As the trial approached, Jennifer’s family braced for the possibility her reputation would be tarnished in the courtroom, but they said they weren’t concerned about the emails.

Heather Tierney, sister:  She was exceptionally lonely. She just wanted—

Rajel Caldwell, sister: A friend.

Tierney:  —somebody. And she had had a marriage that was void for years. He was having an affair. She just was dying for some companionship and she found someone that listened to her and somehow it gave her comfort.

Nearly two years after Jennifer’s death, her husband Dr. Barton Corbin was finally going to trial, his high-profile attorneys at his side.

David Wolfe, defense attorney: We’re very confident that there can be a reasonable doubt.

His defense team had a reputation for finding inconsistencies and attacking weak evidence.

Danny Porter, Gwinnett County District Attorney: They are meticulous. They are always well-prepared. They are lawyers who will fight you at every turn. These are two of the best lawyers I know.

Gwinnett County District Attorney Danny Porter had the complete confidence of Jennifer’s family, but he knew he had at least one weakness in his case. He hadn’t tied the gun to Bart Corbin.

Porter:  I knew that the gun was gonna be a critical piece of evidence.

Remember the gun had been traced to a gun dealer in Alabama. The prosecution knew Bart had a friend in Troy, Alabama named Richard Wilson and suspected Wilson gave Bart the gun but Wilson wouldn’t talk.

Porter: So kept going back and we kept poking at him. And then re-reviewed the cell phone records and were able to determine that Barton Corbin was in Troy, Alabama on November 30th of 2004 and had spoken to Richard Wilson.

November 30 was just one day after Bart filed for divorce and five days before Jennifer was shot. It was strong circumstantial evidence but not enough to put the gun in Bart’s hand. So a few weeks before trial, investigators ran an advanced computer search of the gun’s serial number and finally they got a break.

Porter: The search showed that in 2002, the gun was run by the Troy, Alabama police department.

Troy, Alabama: the town where Wilson lived and Bart had visited. The prosecution was close but still no smoking gun in Bart Corbin’s hand. And by now it was Sept. 11th, the day jury selection began. Then on day two as the prosecutor questioned potential jurors, he noticed his investigator was trying to grab his attention.

Porter:  My chief investigator comes up and hands me a note that says, “You have to come out of the courtroom right now” underlined with an exclamation point. And I looked at him and he went, “It’s the gun.” He mouthed, “It’s the gun.” And I stood up and said, “Judge, there’s been a development in the court. Can I be excused.” And I walked out.

His investigator told him the police chief in Troy, Alabama had just questioned Richard Wilson about the gun.

Porter: He says, “You’re gonna have to tell the truth. You’re gonna have to go to Georgia and do the right thing.” And Richard Wilson hung his head and he said, “I gave him the gun.”

Richard Wilson statement to police: He said that he thought his wife was foolin’ around on him. He thought he needed a gun to protect himself.  And asked me if had one. And I had gotten one awhile back — traded it for a used lawnmower. So he could have it. So he came down here and got it.

Stafford: You’ve now tied that gun to Bart Corbin?

Porter: We put it directly in his hands on November the 30th, 2004.

Stafford: How big is that?

Porter: It’s a bombshell in the case. And I went up and told the defense attorneys, and at that point, I don’t think I could have told them anything worse. I think stunned amazement was the reaction that I got.

Wolfe: It was pretty devastating coming as late as it did. It sort of dispels all of the scientific “consistent with suicide and homicide” stuff.

Jennifer’s mother was in the courtroom and could tell something happened but prosecutor Danny Porter wouldn’t say a word.

Narda Barber, Jennifer Corbin's mother:  Danny’s standing in the hall and I said, “What’s going on?” And he said, “I can’t talk about it. I can’t tell you anything.” I said, “Is it good news?” And he said, “Yes.”

The D.A. thought his case was now a slam dunk, a conviction all but certain, so he approached Barton Corbin’s attorneys.

Porter: I said at that point, “Now is the time. The best deal you’re gonna get is a plea to murder and life in prison. You either take it today or we start moving towards it today or we’re gonna continue with the trial.”

Then the D.A. conferred with the Hearn family and the prosecutor in Dolly’s case. If convicted, Bart Corbin faced the possibility of receiving the death penalty in her case. If he pleaded guilty to both murders then and there, he would get life but not death. 

Porter:  If we’re gonna have a package deal, we’re gonna wrap both cases up and you’re gonna stand up in court and admit that you killed Dolly Hearn.

Dr. Barton Corbin had a decision to make, and his next move would catch a courtroom by surprise.

Barton Corbin (in court): I’m Barton Thomas Corbin, 12-22-63 is my date of birth

Danny Porter, prosecutor: How old are you?

Barton Corbin: I’m 42 years old.

On Friday, September 15, Dr. Barton Corbin faced a judge and two families. Jennifer Corbin’s relatives had waited almost two years for this moment; Dolly Hearn’s had waited 16. Prosecutors had just linked the gun in Jennifer’s death directly to Dr. Corbin—and now he had to choose between pleading guilty to two murders or taking his chances with a jury and possibly facing the death penalty.

Max Barber, Jennifer Corbin's father: I kept saying to myself, “What an SOB. He knows that he is guilty. He knows that we have the proof.” And my first thoughts were, “You know, he’s not going to admit it. He’s gonna drag this through and through the entire trial.”

And then the moment arrived.

Porter: Do you fully understand all of the charges against you in the case?

Barton Corbin: Yes.

Porter: Has anyone used any force or threats against you to plead guilty against your will?

Barton Corbin: No.

Porter: Did you in fact commit the offense of malice murder to which you are now pleading guilty as it is outlined in the indictment?

Barton Corbin: Yes.

Stafford:  Who’s decision was it to plead guilty?

David Wolfe, defense attorney: Dr. Corbin’s...

Stafford: The right decision?

Wolfe: He made the decision for many reasons. The most important one being not to have to have his children relive all of these things. 

And with that admission of guilt in both murders, the cases were closed. For Dolly’s brother, gil, it was words he thought he’d though he would never hear.

Gil Hearn, Dolly Hearn's brother: To hear him say it - just brought an amazing sense of relief and closure for me.  I’m sure for the rest of my family and my parents, especially.

For Jennifer’s family, who had taken Bart into their family as a beloved member, that guilty plea meant much more than a guilty verdict would have.

Max Barber:  I didn’t want to hear a jury telling he’s guilty. I wanted to hear him say that he killed Jenny.

Narda Barber, Jennifer Corbin's mother: The plea afforded us that.

Stafford: Why is that so important?

Max Barber: I didn’t want somebody else telling me that Barton Corbin killed my daughter. It had to come from him, and it did. When he said, “Yes, that I did kill Jenny Corbin,” I actually breathed a sigh of relief.

Then Jennifer’s father delivered a message to his son-in-law. He stood up and made a statement in court.

Max Barber (in court): The broken hearts of the Barber family, the Hearn family and the Corbin family can’t be measured. The hearts are going to mend.  I can’t speak about your heart... what’s going to happen to you. God might forgive you. I never will.  I speak for my family, when I say, I just virtually hope you burn in hell. 

Max Barber: I wanted to make sure he understood that I hated him. I wanted to make sure that he understood that I would never forgive him for that.

Dolly’s brother Carlton Jr. also spoke.

Carlton Hearn Jr.: Bart Corbin has disgraced his profession and he has stolen from mankind.  He deserves no place in society. 16 years of silence, 16 years of pain.  (emotional)

Stafford:  Did you see any remorse?

Porter:  If there’s any remorse in Bart Corbin right now, it’s that we pinned him to the wall and made him admit what he did.  He’s probably more sorry that he got caught than for what he did.

Charles Ross, assistant district attorney:  Not only were their lives snuffed out, but they were humiliated for a lack of better term. They were labeled as suicides, and that’s just not the way a person should be remembered. 

Gil Hearn, Dolly Hearn's brother: I want Dolly to be remembered as a fun-loving, compassionate, encouraging person. Her smile would make you forget about your troubles.

As for Jennifer’s family they say her children are daily reminders of who she was and what she left behind.  Two little boys, their mother gone, their father in prison, growing up, surrounded by love, and helping their grandparents heal.

Narda Barber: I mend by looking into Dalton and Dillon’s eyes and I see their faces. And I see Jen. And I see their little hearts beating in their chests and I know that Jen is with me. I feel that Jen is with me everyday.

Since their mother's death, Dalton and Dillon Corbin have lived with Jennifer Corbin's sister Heather Tierney and her husband, Doug.

© 2013 NBCNews.com  Reprints

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments

More on TODAY.com

  1. Frank Ryland

    Watch this paralyzed groom walk down the aisle at his wedding

    10/21/2014 11:00:13 PM +00:00 2014-10-21T23:00:13
  1. Courtesy of Beau Coffron

    This dad's spooky Halloween lunches will wow you

    10/21/2014 7:31:19 PM +00:00 2014-10-21T19:31:19
  1. Jason Merritt / Getty Images

    Jennifer Garner: No one asks Ben about work-family balance

    10/21/2014 8:58:13 PM +00:00 2014-10-21T20:58:13
  1. Tim Rooke/rex / AP

    Kate's back! Duchess Kate appears for first time since pregnancy news

    10/21/2014 11:57:43 AM +00:00 2014-10-21T11:57:43
  1. Ebola outbreak: West Africans must arrive at 5 US airports

    All travelers from Ebola-stricken countries in West Africa must pass through one of five major U.S. airports with heightened entry screening before entering the country, the Department of Homeland Security said Tuesday.

    10/21/2014 4:22:36 PM +00:00 2014-10-21T16:22:36