State, defense give conflicting views of Michelle Young's death
Posted March 1, 2012
Raleigh, N.C. — After 64 witnesses and 18 days of testimony, it's now up to a jury to decide if Jason Young is guilty of brutally beating his wife, Michelle Young, to death inside their Wake County home more than five years ago.
Pregnant with the couple's second child, the 29-year-old was found in a pool of blood in her bedroom on Nov. 3, 2006. Her cause of death was blunt force trauma to the head. She had been hit at least 30 times – her teeth knocked out – and there were signs of strangulation.
Jason Young, 37, first went on trial for the crime last summer, but the jury deadlocked, forcing Superior Court Judge Donald Stephens to declare a mistrial.
He testified in his first trial, but chose not to do so the second time.
The case will go again to a jury Friday morning, and if convicted, he could spend the rest of his life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Prosecutors tried to convince jurors Thursday afternoon that Jason Young killed his wife because he no longer wanted to be married.
Witnesses testified over the course of the retrial that Jason Young wasn't a good husband and cheated on his wife and that they argued often and publicly.
Michelle Young wanted the ideal family life but found herself in the fall of 2006 married to a man who didn't want to grow up, Assistant District Attorney Becky Holt said. He didn't want what she wanted, and he verbally abused her to the point that she sought out a therapist to help her straighten out her life.
"It is a pressure cooker. Jason Young is in a marriage that he didn't want to be in. He's in a marriage that resulted from the fact that Michelle became pregnant with (their daughter) Cassidy," she said. "It is not the life that is acceptable. It is not the life that Jason Young is willing to accept any longer."
The state contends that Jason Young traveled to Virginia for a business trip on the night of Nov. 2, 2006, checked into a Hampton Inn just across the state line, 169 miles from Raleigh, and then returned in the middle of the night to kill his wife.
But, defense attorney Mike Klinkosum repeatedly told jurors that "the state's case makes no sense."
Jason Young was asleep in the hotel room until about 6:30 a.m. on the day of the crime, and there's no physical evidence linking him to it, Klinkosum said.
There was, however, evidence suggesting another culprit. DNA evidence on Michelle Young's jewelry box couldn't be identified, and fingerprints found in the house were compared with prints from more than 160 people. None of them matched.
Even the circumstantial evidence in the case points to someone else, the defense said, but detectives "focused like a laser" on Jason Young from the onset of the investigation.
"If you decide what happened before you go investigate, instead of finding the truth, your investigation will merely accept the evidence that confirms your suspicions and reject what's in conflict with it," defense attorney Bryan Collins said. "This case is full of that."
For example, investigators chose to believe Gracie Calhoun, a convenience store clerk in King, N.C. – about 45 minutes from Hillsville. She insisted that Jason Young cursed at her while buying gas at 5:27 a.m.
But they dismissed neighbor Cindy Beaver's statement that she saw a car carrying two people pulling out of the Youngs' driveway around 5:30 a.m. the same morning.
Calhoun, who has memory issues from a severe brain injury, was never challenged on her statements to police, Collins said. Beaver, however, was questioned to the point that she began doubting herself.
"Her testimony cripples the state's case," Collins said. "What they have done to her is wrong, just like what they've done to Jason Young is wrong."
Assistant District Attorney Howard Cummings, however, likened the case to a puzzle. Even with some pieces missing, he said, it isn't difficult to see the final picture. Michelle Young's death, he said, wasn't a "stranger crime" but an act of domestic violence.
"If you're a stranger, why do you feel the need to overkill somebody?" he said. "It's overkill, because he goes on a mission to kill somebody, to being so mad because that person has put you in that place in your life where you did not want to be."
There was no forced entry into the Youngs' home. Even though some jewelry was stolen, robbery didn't appear to be a motive," he said. There was no evidence of sexual assault. There was a $4 million life insurance policy.
There were "strange" camera events at the Hampton Inn – a camera pointing toward an emergency exit had been unplugged and later pointed toward the ceiling. That door had also been found propped open with a rock.
The clothes Jason Young was last seen wearing the night before his wife's death have never been found.