Jason Young retrial won't be a rerun

His testimony may give prosecutors more to use in Jason Young's second trial for his wife's murder.

Staff WriterJuly 21, 2011 

  • During his half day on the witness stand, Jason Young gave an emphatic "no" each time his attorneys asked him whether he murdered his wife, Michelle, or had anything to do with her death. Young said he was in Virginia on a business trip.

    Prosecutors contend Young checked into a Virginia hotel, about a three-hour drive from Raleigh, then shortly after midnight headed back home to Raleigh, killed his wife and returned to Virginia for a medical software sales pitch later that day.

    Defense lawyers pointed out that Young had no visible bruises or injuries when examined by investigators the day after his wife's body was found, though the bludgeoning death was violent enough to break her teeth and send blood splattering onto nearby walls.

    Prosecutors told jurors in their opening arguments that their case was largely circumstantial.

    Jurors told Judge Donald Stephens after a day and a half of deliberations that they were deadlocked six to six. After several more hours of deliberations, the jury returned with eight jurors supporting acquittal and four holding steadfast for conviction.

    A mistrial was declared.

— When Jason Young goes on trial again in October, accused of murdering his pregnant wife in their Wake County home, it's likely to be a little different from the first trial.

Almost three weeks after a Wake County Superior Court judge declared a mistrial in a case that left a jury hopelessly deadlocked, prosecutors on Wednesday announced plans to try Young again on the same accusation.

Young, 37, has been in jail since December 2009, when he was charged with murdering his wife, Michelle, 29.

On Wednesday, prosecutors and defense attorneys updated Donald Stephens, Wake County's chief resident Superior Court judge, on the status of pending homicide cases.

Stephens set Oct. 12 as the new trial date for Young. He also set bail for Young at $900,000. Late Wednesday, Young had not posted bond and remained in the Wake County Jail.

Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby said after the hearing that although the jury was deadlocked with eight jurors supporting acquittal and four standing for conviction, he decided to pursue a retrial.

Jurors have not spoken publicly about their deliberations, but Willoughby said prosecutors have talked with some of them about the month-long trial that culminated June 28.

During that trial, Young made the unusual move of taking the stand in his own defense. That could provide prosecutors with a wealth of details they did not have during the first presentation of their case.

On the advice of a lawyer, Young had refused to talk with law enforcement officers after his wife's body was found, face down in a bloody mess in the master bedroom of the couple's three-story home just south of Raleigh.

When his sister-in-law and mother-in-law challenged him in court for partial custody of his young daughter, Young turned over full custody to his wife's sister before having to sit down for a question-and-answer session under oath with their lawyers.

In a second trial, though, prosecutors will have Young's account of his whereabouts Nov. 2 and 3, 2006, in the hours before and after his wife's body was found.

'Like a dress rehearsal'

Though defense attorneys also will have an idea of the case that prosecutors plan to present, legal scholars contend that prosecutors often benefit more from a first trial.

"It's like a dress rehearsal," said Theresa E. Newman, a Duke University law professor who reviews many murder cases post-trial as co-director of the Wrongful Convictions Clinic, as associate director of the Duke Law School Center for Criminal Justice and Professional Responsibility and as faculty adviser to the student-led Innocence Project. "What happens is the prosecution knows much better what it needs to prove and disprove. It enables them to tighten up their evidence."

But it is more difficult for a defendant to change his defense, particularly as prosecutors hunt for any inconsistencies.

Cummings may help

Prosecutors and defense attorneys assigned to the Young case declined to discuss how their strategies in a retrial might be different from the first time the case went to a jury.

Willoughby said Howard Cummings, the county's chief assistant district attorney, might help with the trial. Cummings was in the courtroom for much of the first trial, but prosecutors Becky Holt and David Saacks presented the evidence.

Cummings had been involved in the murder trial of Brad Cooper, a case that lasted several months and ended in conviction.

It is too early to know whether Young might take the stand again in a second trial. Such decisions typically are not made until after defense attorneys have seen the prosecution's case.

anne.blythe@newsobserver.com or 919 836-4948

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