Jason Young seeks new trial in wife's 2006 death
Posted June 15
Raleigh, N.C. — A Raleigh man convicted of killing his pregnant wife in 2006 was back in court Thursday in a bid for a new trial.
Jason Young was sentenced five years ago to life in prison after he was found guilty of first-degree murder in the death of Michelle Young, whose beaten body was found inside the couple's home as their young daughter wandered in and out of the room.
Young appealed his conviction, and the North Carolina Court of Appeals ruled in 2014 that he should get a new trial.
The court said Superior Court Judge Donald Stephens shouldn't have allowed testimony about a wrongful death judgment against Young in a civil lawsuit filed by Michelle Young's family and about a child custody dispute between Young and his in-laws.
Prosecutors appealed that ruling to the North Carolina Supreme Court, which said the Court of Appeals erred in ordering a new trial but said other issues from the trial needed further review. The appeals court then kicked the case back to Wake County Superior Court for another hearing.
Bryan Collins, who served as Young's public defender during the 2012 trial and is now a Superior Court judge, testified during a hearing Thursday that he unsuccessfully tried to keep the evidence of the custody and wrongful death cases out of the trial.
"I remember trying to keep it out because it was unfair, and it was obvious to me that it was coming in," Collins said. "The biggest concern that I had was that Judge Stephens had entered an order (in the wrongful death suit) declaring Jason Young to be the slayer."
Young never responded to the lawsuit, so Stephens entered a default judgment for the family, awarding them $15 million.
"The conversations at first were to try to keep it out, and at some point, we became aware or convinced that it was coming in, and the conversation shifted to how to mitigate that," said Caroline Elliot, who assisted in Young's defense in the 2012 trial.
Robert Trenkle, who is now representing Young, said Collins and the other attorneys in the 2012 trial "messed up" by not filing motions and registering objections to keep the evidence out of the case.
"We know it's prejudicial because we already had a test case," Trenkle said, citing Young's first trial in 2011, which ended in a hung jury.
"We had the first trial (where) eight people voted not guilty, four people voted guilty, and the only substantive evidence that changed in the second trial was the wrongful death slayer evidence and the child custody complaint," he said.
Wake County Assistant District Attorney Howard Cummings said, however, that there was enough evidence to convict Young in his wife's death beyond those two elements.
"This was a passionate, violent, domestic violence killing," Cummings said. "There were 30 over blows to her, and she was also strangled. That is overkill. That is a domestic violence. That is not a stranger. A stranger is not going to do all that."
Michelle Young's mother, Linda Fisher, and her sister, Meredith, who is raising her niece, Cassidy, were in the courtroom for the hearing.
Judge Paul Ridgeway didn't indicate when he would rule on a possible new trial in the case. If he does order a third trial, prosecutors could try to negotiate a plea deal with Young.