Bart Corbin: Double Deception

A dentist's wife is dead. It looks like suicide. But the case turns out to be far more sinister.

By Ann Rule from Too Late to Say Goodbye (Pocket Books)
Also in Reader's Digest Magazine June 2007

Still he refused to talk. He continued going to his dental clinic and had lunch most days with the married woman rumored to be romantically involved with him. Deputies and investigators were tracking him.

In Augusta, Scott Peebles and DA Danny Craig were especially interested in the 1990 statements of Dr. Eric Rader, who had been Bart’s office mate in dental school. Rader said that during the late winter or early spring of 1990, Bart Corbin confessed to him that he had come close to killing Dolly Hearn. “He said he waited in the parking lot of Dolly’s apartment,” Rader recalled in a statement. “He had a gun. He told me he was planning to shoot her.”

Now, in 2004, Peebles located Rader in his clinic near Atlanta. Did he remember making that statement back in 1990? “Yes,” Rader replied. “I remember distinctly that [Bart Corbin] told me that.”

A grand jury heard the evidence, including how Corbin had confided to a friend that he’d staged the perfect murder. By December 22, an arrest warrant charging Bart Corbin with murder was issued by Richmond County.

Notified there might be an indictment, Gwinnett County police officers hoped to arrest Corbin at his office, a relatively private venue. No one knew how this man, given to violent rages, would react. On that Wednesday morning, while Bart saw patients, a four-man surveillance team waited outside. When the indictment came through, they were told to stand by.

About ten minutes to noon, Bart and the woman he was seeing left the dental clinic together and walked toward a white Chevy Suburban. Bart slipped into the passenger seat, and the woman began driving. As she stopped in traffic, officers moved in. They surrounded the vehicle, opened the passenger door and shouted to Bart to raise his hands. He put up no struggle as he was removed from the car and handcuffed.

Bart was surprised when he learned he was under arrest on a warrant — not out of Gwinnett County, but from Richmond County. The grand jury there had handed down a sealed warrant charging him with felony and malice murder in the death of Dolly Hearn.

And then, on January 5, 2005, a grand jury indictment came down in Gwinnett County. After all the physical and circumstantial evidence had been reviewed — including a trail of cell phone tower hits that showed Corbin had been in his own neighborhood around 2 a.m., about the time his wife was determined to have died — Bart Corbin was charged with one count of malice murder, one count of felony murder, and one count of possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony.

If found guilty of both Jenn’s and Dolly’s murders, Bart Corbin could be sentenced to death.

The two young Corbin boys hadn’t seen or heard anything. They had been upstairs sleeping at the time of their mother’s death.

Investigators knew where the gun used to kill Dolly Hearn had come from: Her father had given it to her for her own protection. Bart Corbin had been in Dolly’s apartment when she died, according to the evidence, and that gun had killed her. But where had the murder weapon in Jenn’s case come from? As the dates for the two trials approached, Danny Porter’s chief investigator, Jack Burnette, and his men, Mike Pearson and Russ Halcome, used the latest in forensic technology to link the .38 revolver that killed Jenn to an old friend of Bart’s in Alabama.

Richard Wilson sat nervously in the interview room, facing the prosecutors’ teams from Georgia. He lived in Troy, Alabama. Yes, he said, he had given Bart the .38 revolver. Bart had called him and said that Jenn “was fooling around on him” and that he was frightened he might be in danger. “He needed a gun to protect himself,” Wilson said. “He asked me if I had one, and I did, so he came here to get it.”

When the gun — the one taken from Jenn’s bedroom — was handed to Richard Wilson, he studied it and said, “That certainly looks like it.”

On September 15, 2006, nearly two years after Jenn died, Heather and Doug Tierney drove to the Gwinnett County justice center in Lawrenceville. The gallery was packed with the two women’s families, along with investigators from Gwinnett and Richmond counties, the district attorneys and their staffs. The families had agreed that they could accept a plea bargain — as long as Corbin publicly admitted guilt.

Bart Corbin walked in between his attorneys, dressed in a suit. His dark eyes burned holes in his pale face. He rose to face Danny Porter and stared at him. Porter stared back. Danny Porter described the morning of December 4, 2004, and how a seven-year-old boy awoke to find his mother dead from a gunshot to the head.

“Did you, in fact, commit the offense of malice murder?” Porter asked.

Corbin’s forehead tightened. “Yes,” he answered.

It didn’t seem fair that he wasn’t required to say anything more.

Only Danny Porter and Judge Michael Clark had a front view of Corbin’s face as he stood there. “There was no reaction,” Porter recalled later. “It was like looking into the eyes of a shark.”

Then Danny Craig, the district attorney from Richmond County, rose to face Corbin. “Do you further admit that you committed the murder of Dolly Hearn on June 6, 1990?”

“Yes,” said Corbin.

He was sentenced to two terms of life in prison. According to the plea bargain, the sentences are running concurrently, with credit given for the 19 1/2 months Corbin spent in jail awaiting trial. He will be eligible for parole consideration in 14 years, but it’s hardly likely he’ll get out so soon.

Danny Porter said, “I don’t think Bart Corbin will ever see the [outside] world again. He won’t have a realistic chance of parole for 28 years.” If he should be paroled at that time, he’ll be in his 70s.

Dalton and Dillon Corbin, now ten and eight, live with their aunt and uncle, Heather and Doug Tierney, in a house filled with cousins, sunshine, paintings, music, and dogs and cats. They often call Heather Aunt Mommy. Heather breaks into tears whenever she speaks of Jenn. She probably always will.

Dalton is extremely bright and still carries within him a fear of his father. Dillon is a far less intense child; he was younger when his mother was shot. Neither of the boys has asked to visit their father in prison.

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