Raleigh, N.C. — Jason and Michelle Young each had $4 million in life insurance coverage at the time of her beating death five years ago, a witness testified Thursday in his first-degree murder trial.
Mark Thomas, with the international insurance brokerage firm Aon, said that the Youngs had a policy for $2 million in basic coverage and $2 million in accidental death coverage.
Jason Young was his wife's beneficiary, Thomas said, but he never filed a claim for the death benefit. It was eventually paid out to Michelle Young's estate, which benefitted the couple's daughter, Cassidy.
Michelle Young, 29 and five months' pregnant, was found facedown in the master bedroom of the couple's Raleigh home on Nov. 3, 2006. An autopsy found she died from blunt force injury to the head and suffered at least 30 distinct blows to her body.
Her husband was arrested in her death in December 2009 and originally went to trial last year, but it ended in a mistrial when the jury couldn't reach a unanimous verdict.
Thursday marked the 14th day of testimony in the retrial, and prosecutors indicated that they are nearing the end of their case. Assistant District Attorney Howard Cummings said they plan to call one more witness and give jurors a chance to review all the evidence presented over the past three weeks.
Fiona Childs, an estate planner and a college sorority sister of Michelle Young, also testified Thursday. She said that she often gave financial advice to her friend.
Michelle Young told her on several occasions in the year prior to her death that Jason Young wanted at least a $1 million policy for each of them.
"She was concerned that a $1 million was just excessive," Childs said.
On cross-examination, she added that Jason Young, whose father died when he was young, wanted the expensive policies because he grew up without certain amenities and that he didn't want their daughter to go without.
At the time, she said, the conversations never raised any red flags for her.
Prosecutors also offered as evidence a $15 million wrongful death lawsuit that Michelle Young's family won after Jason Young failed to respond to a civil filing.
Before jurors heard the information, however, Superior Court Judge Donald Stephens instructed them that the ruling in civil court does not mean that Jason Young committed the crime.
Childs also testified that she worried about Michelle Young's plans to cut back on her work hours at Progress Energy after the birth of her second child.
"It was very apparent to me that her marriage was not good and it was not working out, and from what I could see, was headed into the direction of separation or divorce," Childs said.
Going from full-time to part-time, she said, would mean less income.
"I didn't want her to be relying on somebody who wasn't responsible in my view," Childs said. "If she wanted to leave the marriage or needed to leave the marriage, it would be that much more difficult to do so if she wasn't financially independent."
The Youngs had different personalities, Childs explained. While Michelle Young took care of "her adult responsibilities," Jason Young was more carefree.
"Jason appeared to be the kind of person where the world was a playground to him, and fun came before responsibilities," she said.
Prosecutors say that Jason Young, despite being married for several years and having a child, "was stuck in single life," had affairs and would rather spend time with his friends than with his wife.
He had felt pressured to marry in 2003 when Michelle Young found out she was pregnant with Cassidy, they have said.
Jason Young's long-time friend, Josh Dalton, testified that the Youngs' engagement was a surprise to him and other friends who had talked about the couple possibly separating.
"All of a sudden, they're getting married," Dalton said. "They just didn't appear to be the happiest couple at the time."
The couple's relationship was "volatile" at times, he said, and he and other friends assumed they would not have gotten married had Michelle Young not have been pregnant.
"They were not scared to have heated arguments in public," he said. "It ran the gamut. It could have been about anything."
As the marriage grew troubled, Dalton said, he and Jason Young had talked about divorce.
"We had a discussion one time," Dalton said. "He made the statement that he was afraid that if Michelle divorced him, she would take Cassidy and move back to (her home state of New York)."
Defense attorneys concede that he wasn't a good husband and could be childish and obnoxious, but say that does not mean he is guilty of murder. They say there is no physical evidence linking him to the crime.
A medical software salesman in 2006, Jason Young testified in his first trial that he was in Hillsville, Va. – about 169 miles from Raleigh – on business when his wife was killed.
He said he checked in shortly before 11 p.m. on the night of Nov. 2, 2006, and was going to use his laptop to prepare for a sales meeting the next day.
Michael Smith, an agent with the State Bureau of Investigation's computer crimes unit, testified Thursday that the computer was used for about 10 minutes that night to access several websites but none of them were related to Young’s job.
The last activity was at 11:53 p.m., less than 10 minutes before Jason Young was filmed on security video at the front desk of the hotel.
He said he went outside to smoke a cigar, but witnesses have testified that he hated cigarette smoke. Dalton said he never saw his friend smoke a cigar, and Thomas said Jason Young indicated on his life insurance application that he had not smoked anything in the year prior.
Instead of smoking a cigar, the state contends, Jason Young left to return to Raleigh to kill his wife.