Local News

Civil judgment likely won't affect Young murder probe

Posted December 8, 2008 6:23 p.m. EST
Updated December 8, 2008 8:52 p.m. EST

— A judge's ruling in a wrongful death lawsuit that Jason Young was responsible for his wife's beating death more than two years ago has nothing to do with guilt or innocence in the criminal case, legal experts say.

They say that's because the consequences in a criminal case are much more serious.

Superior Court Judge Donald Stephens ruled Friday that because Young failed to respond to the civil complaint by his wife's mother, he conceded a civil judgment that holds him liable in Michelle Young's Nov. 3, 2006, death.

"Nothing that happened in this case, the civil judgment, declaring him the slayer, has any effect on any criminal proceeding at all," said local defense attorney Thomas Manning, who has nothing to do with the Young case.

Stephens' ruling has more to do with North Carolina's "slayer statute," which prohibits any person defined as a slayer from benefiting in deaths they allegedly caused. That means Jason Young will not be able to collect Michelle Young's life insurance benefits.

Responding to the suit, Manning said, would have opened Young to questioning.

"If I'm his criminal counsel," Manning explained, "I'm not going to let him say anything to any investigator or to any other person under oath in any proceeding until I know the outcome of what the investigation is going to be."

Dennis Lane, a private investigator not associated with the case, says the burden of proof is also higher in a criminal matter than in a civil case. He says that with no witnesses, the need for physical and circumstantial evidence is much greater and can take time.

"You may have times where the investigator thinks there's enough evidence to go forward, but the district attorney may look at that evidence and say, 'Well, I'd like to have a little bit more,'" Lane said.

Since 2006, investigators have made multiple searches of the Youngs' former home at 5108 Birchleaf Drive, where Michelle Young was found lying face down in her bedroom.

Search warrants for the house, computers, vehicles and DNA focus on Jason Young. In an affidavit revealed Friday, Wake County sheriff's investigator Richard Spivey said he believes Jason Young killed his wife.

Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby declined to comment on the investigation Monday. Sheriff Donnie Harrison was not available for comment.