Michelle Young

Second high-profile Wake murder case nears trial

Posted May 31, 2011 6:36 a.m. EDT
Updated May 31, 2011 7:20 p.m. EDT

— Jury selection began Tuesday in another high-profile first-degree murder trial involving a Wake County man accused of killing his wife.

Michelle Young, 29, was five months' pregnant when she was found dead inside her home on Nov. 3, 2006. Her then-2-year-old daughter, Cassidy, was found unharmed in the same room.

Details of the case – investigators found bloody footprints inside the home and a 911 call captured the sounds of a young daughter referring to her mother's wounds as "boo-boos" – prompted local and national media attention as investigators worked to capture a killer.

Through search warrants and a wrongful death lawsuit, the investigation unfolded with authorities focusing on Michelle Young's husband, Jason Young, as the prime suspect.

He was indicted and arrested in December 2009. Prosecutors are not seeking the death penalty.

How the case unfolded in the public eye is similar to the murder case of Nancy Cooper, a Cary woman whose husband, Brad Cooper, was convicted of her death on May 5.

Part of the challenge in such high-profile cases is to find jurors who have not already formed an opinion about the case, despite pre-trial media coverage.

In the Cooper trial, which lasted more than eight weeks, attorneys spent eight days picking a jury of 16 men and women and exhausting the pool of potential jurors.

Attorneys expect jury selection in Jason Young's trial to last about a week. Approximately 200 people reported for jury duty this week.

What might help attorneys in this trial is that Michelle Young's death happened nearly five years ago.

In addition to identifying jurors unswayed in their opinions by pre-trial publicity, another challenge is finding people willing and able to serve on such a long case. Jury duty typically lasts about a week.

Like the Cooper trial, Jason Young's case is expected to be lengthy. Prosecutors have indicated they expect their case to last several weeks.

And like the Brad Cooper trial, the Young case is largely expected to focus on circumstantial evidence, including marital problems, infidelity and financial issues.

Jason Young has told investigators that he was out of town on business in Hillsville, Va., when Michelle Young died.

But the state plans to discredit that alibi at trial with testimony that he purchased gasoline in King, N.C. on the morning his wife was killed.

King is approximately 120 miles from Raleigh and 45 miles from Hillsville.

Investigators haven't offered a motive in the crime, but search warrants indicate that the couple had a "volatile" relationship and that they frequently had violent arguments over infidelity on Jason Young's part.

Search warrants state that Jason Young was having an affair with his wife's sorority sister.

Warrants also state that investigators found Internet searches for "head trauma knockout" and "anatomy of a knockout" on one of Jason Young's computers and that adult-strength cough medicine was found next to Cassidy Young's bed after the murder, suggesting that the killer might have drugged her.

An autopsy report found that Michelle Young died from blunt force trauma to the head, after being struck more than 10 times. It also indicated that the killer tried to strangle her.

In 2009, a judge awarded Michelle Young's family $15.5 million in damages in a wrongful death suit against Jason Young after he failed to respond to the suit.

Michelle Young's sister, Meredith Fisher, has primary custody of Cassidy Young.