Raleigh, N.C. — After nearly 10 hours of deliberation, a Wake County jury on Monday found Jason Young guilty of first-degree murder in the 2006 death of his wife, Michelle Marie Fisher Young.
The 29-year-old was five months' pregnant with her second child when she was found Nov. 3, 2006, beaten to death and lying facedown in a pool of blood in the bedroom of the couple's Raleigh home. An autopsy found she had suffered at least 30 distinct blows to her body.
Jason Lynn Young, 37, was arrested in December 2009 and originally went to trial last summer, but that jury deadlocked, prompting the judge to declare a mistrial.
A first-degree murder conviction means an automatic sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole. Shortly after sentencing, Jason Young was taken to Central Prison in Raleigh, where he will stay until he's placed into the state prison system.
Jason Young, who did not address the court, showed no emotion and sat expressionless as Superior Court Judge Stephens read the verdict to a packed courtroom.
Michelle Young's family, meanwhile, cried and hugged one another. They declined to comment on the verdict, saying only that they were "happy that justice has been served."
"They've been seeking justice for Michelle for almost six years, and now they feel like they have that," Wake County Assistant District Attorney Howard Cummings said following the verdict. "They feel like the jury has spoken the truth, and they are relieved."
"This has been a long hard path for the family of Michelle Young," prosecutor Becky Holt added. "What sometimes gets lost in the coverage is that this is a real life that was lost."
Neither Jason Young's family nor attorneys had any comment.
Stephens said during sentencing that the evidence suggested that Jason Young had significant mental health and anger management issues, as well as issues involving women – "an unmistakable pattern of domestic violence."
"If, on Nov. 2, 2006, Michelle Young had called the police and had reported that her husband had beaten her – and if police had responded and found her with missing teeth and a broken nose and black eyes – no one that this couple knew, including their closest friends, would have been surprised," Stephens said. "So why would anyone be surprised when Michelle Young was found beaten to death? The pattern is the same."
Monday's verdict by the jury of eight women and four men came after 18 days of testimony in which prosecutors sought to prove that Michelle Young’s death was the result of a volatile relationship. Jason Young wanted out of his marriage, the state said, and when the opportunity presented itself, he acted on the chance to kill his wife.
"This woman wasn't just murdered, she suffered a beating the likes of which we seldom see. This woman was punished," Stephens said. "The assailant struck her over 30 times with a weapon of some sort, and she was undoubtedly unconscious after the second or third blow.
"But it would appear that the evidence suggests the assailant continued to beat her until he was exhausted. Only then did he stop beating her, because he didn't have the strength to strike her anymore."
On the night before Michelle Young’s death, Jason Young traveled to Virginia and checked into a Hampton Inn 169 miles from Raleigh. The state contended that, about an hour later, he unplugged a security camera in a stairwell and propped open an emergency exit so that he could get back inside without being detected and without using his electronic key card.
Jason Young testified in his first trial that he had nothing to do with the crime and was asleep in his hotel room when Michelle Young was murdered and their 2-year-old daughter was left alone in the home.
He did not take the stand in his retrial.
Defense attorneys argued that there was no physical evidence linking him to the crime and that unidentified fingerprints and DNA were found in the couple's bedroom.
Detectives, the defense said, focused on Jason Young early in the investigation and ignored evidence that did not fit their theory that he was the culprit.
But Cummings said that, even though evidence was lacking, it was clear Jason Young was responsible for Michelle Young's death.
“The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence,” Cummings said.
He likened the case to a puzzle with some missing pieces. Despite the holes, the picture is still clear beyond a reasonable doubt.
Prosecutors, however, were unable to prove their case last summer when a deadlocked jury voted 8-4 in favor of acquittal after more than 12 hours of deliberation.
"We tried to give this jury more information so that they could make the decision, and they did," Holt said.
The state called more witnesses to testify, including a therapist who said she thought Michelle Young had been verbally abused, and a day care worker who testified that she saw the Youngs' daughter re-enacting her mother's death with dolls.
The state contended that the child witnessed the crime and that there must have been a special relationship between her and the killer for her to remain unharmed.
They showed the jury videotapes of Jason Young's testimony in his first trial and worked methodically to poke holes in his alibi.
"We worked hard. What we tried to do was to dig through everybody that had ever been interviewed to try to give the jury more information so they could decide," Cummings said. "Obviously, we wanted them to find him guilty, but we wanted (jurors) to have all the information so they wouldn't be back (in the jury room) and be in a position of not knowing."
Wake County Sheriff Donnie Harrison said investigators worked tirelessly on the case and that he always believed there was enough circumstantial evidence to prove that Jason Young was involved in his wife's death.
"We tried to uncover everything we could, but trying to convince a jury, sometimes, is a hard time when you don't have that smoking gun," he said.
The guilty verdict culminated five years of investigation and work by Harrison's office, the Wake County District Attorney's Office, City-County Bureau of Identification, State Bureau of Investigation, FBI and other agencies and organizations.
"I wouldn't be able to tell you how many hours we spent on this case," Harrison said. "To make that arrest, that's what it took to get there. We were proud when we got to that point, and now, we're proud that we've brought some closure to this family. I mean it was a brutal killing."
Harrison, who has kept a photo of Michelle Young on his desk since the first day of the investigation, said his office worked on the case daily.
"It's something we're glad is behind us. We think justice has been served, and we need to move on," he said. "In my mind, there's no one else could have done it but him. I'm relieved it's over."