Evan J Dudley's Grave

A Mother’s Worst Nightmare : Airman’s Toddler Murdered While Deployed

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 I’ve thought about writing this story so many times – always falling short of the justice Evan J. Dudley and Nikki Dudley deserve. Forgive me if I am unable to fully articulate the injustice done. I share this story with you so that you may help Nikki pursue maximum sentencing for Justin Corbett. Thank you, Nikki, for allowing me to share Evan’s story. Love you <3 This is for you, Evan J. Dudley.

The Beginning

trigger warning abuse/murder of toddler

I want to tell you a story about a woman – her name is Nikki (although I’ve always called her Nicole).

When I first moved to Iowa, she quickly befriended me. She was funny, outgoing, and weird like me. She was very generous – quick to share her heart and her home with anyone who’d give her a smile. Nikki was the kind of girl you wanted to be friends with – her laugh was infectious, and she was nice to everyone. She loved the color baby blue, and her obsession with Justin Timberlake was that of any teenager.

Nikki Dudley, Kathy Haan, and Melissa Adams in High School
From left to right: Nikki, Kathy (me), and Melissa

We quickly became best friends.

Here we are at graduation:

Me, left; Nikki, right

I stayed in Iowa after graduation, and Nikki moved away to Dover, DE. On 11 Oct 2005, Nikki began serving her country as an Airman in the United States Air Force. There she earned her Bachelor’s in Criminal Justice and was on the Dean’s List, and later became a Supply Technician. She’s a career Airman – she does her job, no questions asked. Sometimes though, her duties conflict with her personal convictions. This was never more apparent when on 25 January 2011, Nikki gave birth to a beautiful little boy she named Evan J Dudley.

Evan J. Dudley's birth

Evan J. Dudley-Nikki Dudley-May-2012Evan J. Dudley and Nikki

Lives Changed, Forever

As a single mom who signed up to serve her country, she had no choice but to deploy when the Air Force called her to serve in Qatar in 2012 May. She served with a supply unit in the 436th Logistics Readiness Squadron.

Airman-Nikki_Dudley-EvanNikki and Evan J Dudley saying goodbye

Her family care plan for Evan stated that his godmother, Nicole Payne, was to care for him while she was away. Occasionally, Evan would also be cared for by Aubrey Corbett, the wife of a fellow Airman (Justin).

Nikki would Skype with Evan as often as one can while serving in the Middle East. She kept a countdown calendar – marking the days that she would be reunited with her son. She had just ten days left of her six-month deployment when things back home changed her life forever.

According to Justin Corbett (Aubrey’s husband), who was alone with Evan and his own 18-month-old child, Evan had fallen down eight carpeted steps and was unresponsive. Evan was taken to Kent General Hospital, then airlifted to Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children in critical condition with head injuries and multiple bruises on his body.

Just days before she was due to return home, Nikki gets a call from the Red Cross that there had been an accident – her son had “fallen down a flight of stairs.” They flew her home, where she lay in his bed for less than two days before he passed away. The chaplain was able to baptize Evan in the hospital:

Not an Accident

After arriving to her son’s side, doctors pulled Nikki aside and told her that this was no accident – the trauma was so significant there was no way he got these wounds by falling down a few carpeted stairs. Following a lengthy investigation, the case was sent to a child abuse expert and pediatric pathologist for review because of “undisclosed unique injuries” noted during the Evan’s autopsy. The state medical examiner ruled Evan’s death homicide by blunt force trauma, and stated that the reasoning for his death was that he was assaulted. Some of his injuries included a detached retina, excessive swelling and bleeding in his brain and numerous bruises on his head.

Evan J Dudley's Coroner Report

A state police investigation ensued, including an Attorney General’s Office review. The case was then sent to a child abuse expert and pediatric pathologist for review because of the injuries were noted during the Evan’s autopsy.

Both experts agreed Evan was a homicide victim, authorities said.

Several people described Evan to investigators as being ‘healthy and normal’ up until the day he went to visit the Corbett family that day, according to court documents.

Troopers and agents from the US Air Force Office of Special Investigations arrested Corbett at home…thirteen months after Evan died. 

‘We knew it was going to take some time to properly charge him, only because of the complexity of the investigation,‘ Sgt. Paul Shavack of the Delaware State Police told Delaware Online.


It took three and a half years to come to trial, which finished a couple weeks ago. During trial, Mrs. Corbett took the stand. She described their parenting style, and how they disciplined Evan and Jax. Mrs. Corbett described forms of discipline such as using a wooden spoon, flip flop, and flyswatter to “pop” their children. Mostly, though, “hurting their feelings was enough,” when it came to discouraging the children from bad behavior, Mrs. Corbett testified.

Despite overwhelming evidence and expert opinions that this was homicide, Justin was charged with criminally negligent homicide, falling far short of the first-degree murder he was tried on. The jury also had the option to convict on first- or second-degree murder by abuse or manslaughter. First-degree murder by abuse, a Class A felony on which Corbett was tried, could have brought 15 years to life in prison.

Corbett is facing zero to eight years in prison when sentenced in Kent County Superior Court on Sept. 15. Let’s think about that for a minute. Zero to eight years

Nikki wanted to share her feelings with you all:

Justice wasn’t served, medical experts testified to medical certainty that the injuries were not possible by a stair fall. Corbett changed his story four times; he didn’t see it,  [his son] Jax pushed him, he fell from the landing down, fell down backwards… He didn’t perform CPR, claiming he didn’t know how. [It is required as a member of the United States Military that you complete CPR training and certification every two years.]

His wife lied on the stand about baby gates. Call records proved they spoke even though she stated they didn’t. He posted a Facebook post the day this occurred stating “I can’t wait for the work week as the weekends hold nothing but stress for me”. This Facebook post was not allowed to be used because the judge was not familiar with social media.

The injuries include faint bruising on occipital scalp, seven (7) contusions under the scalp, secondary hypoxic ischemia, small bruise mid right forehead, anterior left ear bruise, scratch on nasal bridge, small bruise on right thigh, small bruise on right buttock, bruise right shoulder and elbow, soft tissue swelling right supra orbital region, left lung pulmonary congestion, respiratory failure, extra fluid around liver and pancreas consistent with duodenal injury, liver and pancreas enzymes elevated, retinal hemorrhages to left and right eye, left eye retinal detachment, and multiple system organ failure.

There is no way this occurred from falling down carpeted steps. Corbett showed no emotion during any of the pictures and was also seen laughing and joking throughout the entire trial.

The charging laws need to change and the jury’s need to be selected in a more professional manner. My son will never get to experience life because of the hands of this man and is only looking at zero to 8 years jail time.

What I’ve been able to describe hasn’t even begun to address the injustice done to Nikki and Evan Dudley.

Evan J Dudley's Grave MarkerEvan J Dudley's GraveNikki Dudley at Evan J Dudley's Memorial ServiceMemorial-Ceremony-Evan-DudleyMemorial Service for Evan J Dudley

How can you help?

Please write an impact statement for the sentencing judge by no later than August 26, 2016 by sending a letter to:

Judge Young
c/o Presentence Office
Superior Court
Kent County Courthouse
38 The Green
Dover, DE 19904
(State vs. Justin Corbett)

Additionally, please sign and share this petition for maximum sentencing.

You can follow Nikki’s pursuit of justice for Evan on Facebook.


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