Michelle Young

Attorneys argue their cases for, against Jason Young

Posted June 23, 2011 9:06 a.m. EDT
Updated June 23, 2011 6:07 p.m. EDT

— Did Jason Young kill his pregnant wife more than four years ago?

After 48 witnesses over a span of 11 days, a jury of seven men and five women were charged Thursday with the responsibility of deciding whether he will spend the rest of his life in prison for first-degree murder.

Michelle Young, 29, was five months’ pregnant when she was found facedown in a pool of blood in the bedroom of the couple's home south of Raleigh on Nov. 3, 2006. Their daughter, Cassidy, then 2, was found unharmed under the covers of her parents' bed.

Jason Young, 37, testified on his own behalf Wednesday, telling jurors that he loved his wife and unborn child, that he didn't kill her, and that he was sleeping in a hotel room in Virginia when she died. (Read more about Jason Young's testimony.)

"We will never know what happened at 5108 Birchleaf Drive that night," defense attorney Bryan Collins said during his closing argument. "This case is not solved. The evidence is not clear."

Collins and defense attorney Mike Klinkosum said there is no physical evidence – including blood, fibers, fingerprints or DNA – to link their client to the crime. Even the circumstantial evidence presented over the past three weeks, they said, shows the he did not beat his wife to death.

Wake County prosecutors spent nine days laying out their case that the Young marriage was riddled with arguments, and that Jason Young didn't want to be married with two children.

"He didn't want to be pinned down. He didn't want the responsibility," Assistant District Attorney Becky Holt said. "He wanted to go on with his life. He wanted to live as a single person, and you know that because of his actions."

Within months of Michelle Young's murder, witnesses testified that her husband had two affairs and sent an early-morning email to a former fiancée expressing his love for her.

"He has taken the stand and told you that he loved his wife and that he was working on his marriage," Holt continued. "Everything you have heard is contrary to that."

The state contends that the Jason Young, a salesman for a medical software company, traveled out of state on a business trip on the night of Nov. 2, 2006, checked into a Hampton Inn just across the state border in Hillsville, Va., and returned in the middle of the night with plans to strangle his wife.

Instead, Michelle Young fought back and suffered at least 30 distinct blows to the head.

"Michelle was hit with such force on the left side of her jaw … that it came through her skin and went back up during the assault to make it look like there was a stab wound on the bottom of her face," Assistant District Attorney David Saacks said.

Before or during the course of the attack, prosecutors said, Jason Young drugged his daughter with a combination of adult-strength Tylenol and a prescription drug causing drowsiness.

"The defendant had planned to leave Cassidy there," Holt said. "What robber, what intruder, would have taken the time to deal with a child?"

It was Cassidy, they said, who initially found her mother's body and placed a baby doll by her head. Her bloody footprints covered the crime scene and were smeared on the walls of her bathroom.

Yet when she was found hiding under the covers of her parents' bed, her feet were clean. Socks saturated with blood were found on the floor, evidence she had taken them off, leaving her with clean feet, Saacks said.

But defense attorneys argued that Jason Young didn't have time to kill his wife, clean their daughter and get back to his hotel 169 miles away without leaving a drop of blood or any evidence to prove he did it.

There were no scratch marks on Jason Young's body and nothing to indicate he had been in a fight, investigators testified. Prosecutors pointed out that DNA evidence from two cigarette butts, a hair and a jewelry box suggests that two people were in the Young home that night, since the DNA samples didn't match their client.

"(Prosecutors) haven't presented one piece of concrete evidence, either direct or circumstantial, that Jason Young killed Michelle," Klinkosum said.

Saacks argued that no single piece of evidence points to Jason Young as the culprit but that when it all is put together, the evidence shows otherwise.

"There's no one thing that we're going to tell you and show you and bring to you that's going to say the defendant is the killer," he said. "It's all of it. It's the totality of it. There's too much pointing to the defendant to think otherwise – that it couldn’t be the defendant."

An "absence of evidence is not evidence of absence," he said, asking jurors to interpret what they do know and see.

DNA from a jewelry box didn't match Michelle Young or her husband, Saacks said, but it was never compared to other people connected to the case who had submitted DNA samples.

Unknown DNA from two cigarette butts and a strand of hair didn't match either, he added, but those items were found after crime scene investigators finished their work at the home. Others had been in and out of the house cleaning and repairing the house before the evidence was collected.

There was DNA matching Jason Young from a palm print on the molding of the closet door, Saacks said.

The location, he said, suggested that the defendant leaned against the wall as his wife lay on the floor so that he had more leverage when attacking her.

"It just makes sense that that print would be there at that location," he said.

Two sets of bloody shoeprints didn't match any of Jason Young's shoes that investigators found, but it wasn't a coincidence that a pair of Hush Puppies Orbitals once owned by Jason Young had the same outsoles as one of the prints, Holt said.

"Those Hush Puppies shoes, I would submit to you (that) he knows exactly where they are, because he threw them away," she said.

He disposed of them, as well as dark shirt he was seen wearing in security video at the Hampton Inn, Holt added.

Jason Young's decision Wednesday to take the witness stand was a rare move in criminal cases, as defendants are protected under the Fifth Amendment from having to testify.

Until his testimony, Jason Young said, he never spoke about his alibi or his relationship with his wife to anyone but his attorneys.

That, Holt said, wasn't normal for someone innocent of a crime.

"He didn't speak until he was here on trial for first-degree murder. That's the first time he thought it was important to tell you where he was and what he was doing," she told jurors.

It was 1,693 days after Michelle Young's death, after reviewing investigators' reports and listening to all the witnesses, she continued, that he broke his silence.

"Tell Jason Young, by your verdict, that you're not buying what he's trying to sell," Holt said. "Tell Jason Young that his story and his tears on this witness stand were too little and too late.

"Tell Jason Young that that there will be justice for Michelle. Tell Jason Young that there will be justice for Cassidy, that there will be justice for Rylan. Tell Jason Young that he is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of the first-degree murder of Michelle Marie Fisher Young."