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Judge allows evidence from Hearn's death

LAWRENCEVILLE - Evidence in the Richmond County case against a prominent dentist in the death of the doctor's estranged girlfriend can be used in his Gwinnett trial on murder charges in the death of his wife, a judge ruled Thursday.

The decision was considered a pretrial triumph for prosecutors.

Gwinnett County District Attorney Danny Porter wants to tell jurors about similarities in the shooting deaths of Barton Corbin's former girlfriend 16 years ago and Corbin's wife in 2004.

The state believes the similarities in the cases, or "similar transactions," will help prove Corbin killed both women.

"I've always maintained that the case could stand by itself, but this will make a difference in terms of giving the jury the information that they need to make a decision in the case," Porter said.

Both women were dissolving a relationship with Corbin and beginning to develop a romance with someone else. Both women were found dead of a single gunshot wound to the head. Prosecutors say the slayings were staged to look like suicides.

Lawyers for Corbin insist the two women killed themselves. They contend statements from witnesses in the Dolly Hearn case are unreliable because they contradict what witnesses initially told police in 1990.

Corbin's attorneys, Bruce Harvey and David Wolfe, did not return calls seeking comment by press time.

In a pretrial hearing earlier this month, the attorneys said they would try to appeal a decision like the one issued Thursday to the Georgia Supreme Court. It was unclear if an appeal would delay the trial, expected to start April 17.

The order issued by Superior Court Judge Michael C. Clark said the following evidence offered up by the state can be presented at trial:

•In 1989, Corbin and Hearn were involved in a romantic relationship while attending dental school at the Medical College of Georgia in Augusta. When she tried to break off the romance, she experienced various difficulties with Corbin.

•In November 1989, Hearn's apartment was broken into, her pet cat and some personal property was taken and hairspray was found in her contact lens solution. At school, Hearn's dental patient charts were found in the trash and some school work necessary to obtain course credit went missing. Also that month, a witness saw Corbin near Hearn's car in the dental school parking lot. Later that afternoon, Hearn discovered two of her tires had been flattened.

•In December 1989, the fog lights on Hearn's vehicle were broken out, a tire flattened and the side of her car scratched. Also that month, an unknown pink substance was poured into her gas tank. Hearn told her father she was afraid of Corbin and he gave her a gun for protection. The same gun was later determined to be the weapon that caused her fatal gunshot wound.

•In January 1990, two patient schedules were discovered missing from Hearn's office cubicle at the dental school. A witness allegedly observed Corbin tampering with the lock on the door to her office cubicle.

•In February 1990, Hearn had a date with another man. Witnesses said Corbin showed up at the apartment and began banging on the door. Police were summoned, but Corbin left prior to their arrival. He returned again about 4 a.m. and again pounded on the door and shouted. Later that morning, a friend said Corbin called him and threatened to kill himself. The friend met with Corbin and took a gun away from him.

•On June 6, 1990, Hearn's neighbor reported seeing Corbin's car parked in front of her apartment and saw Corbin outside the apartment door. The apartment complex manager also noticed the car. When she spoke with Hearn, the apartment manager saw a man standing behind a door in the downstairs bathroom.

•The evening of June 6, 1990, Corbin called Hearn's apartment and left a message on her answering machine stating he could not take her to a party that night because another event had come up, that he would see her tomorrow and that he loved her. Prosecutors contend that Corbin made the call to establish an alibi. That same evening, Hearn was found dead of a single gunshot wound to the head, a revolver lay beside her on the couch.

In a trial scheduled for April 17, prosecutors hope to show Hearn's death was similar to the death of Corbin's wife, 34-year-old Jennifer Corbin. Both women were romantically linked to Barton Corbin, and allegations of domestic violence and theft from Jennifer Corbin mirror some of the problems Hearn experienced.

Prior to her death on Dec. 4, 2004, some of Jennifer Corbin's personal property was taken, including a personal journal, address book and computer. The couple were going through a divorce at the time of her death, and Barton Corbin had recently discovered his wife was having an online affair with a woman.

On the eve of Jennifer Corbin's death, a neighbor claimed he saw Barton Corbin's vehicle drive up to his house in Buford and leave a short time later. When questioned by police, Barton Corbin said he was at his brother's residence, but a cell phone call he made that night shows he was in the Buford area near his home, police said

Investigators initially believed Jennifer Corbin's death was a suicide, but subsequent investigation led investigators to reclassify it as a homicide.

The next pretrial hearing is April 7, when a judge is expected to rule if statements made by witnesses who spoke to Hearn or Jennifer Corbin before they died are admissible.