RALEIGH — Jason Young, a medical software salesman convicted last year in Wake County of bludgeoning his pregnant wife, is serving a life sentence for murder in Alexander Correctional Institution in the western part of the state.
But since his conviction on March 5, 2012, Young’s lawyers have been mapping out an appeal that was filed this week at the state Court of Appeals.
Young was tried twice on charges that he murdered his wife, Michelle, on Nov. 3, 2006. The first trial ended in June 2011 with the jury deadlocked 8-4 in favor of acquittal. Young took the stand in his defense during that trial but did not in the second trial that began nearly seven months later.
He maintained that he was away on business when his wife was bludgeoned to death in the master bedroom of their Wake home. The couple’s daughter, a toddler at the time, wriggled out from under the covers of the bed in the master bedroom while her mother lay lifeless on the floor.
In trying to get the 2012 conviction overturned, Young’s attorneys offer a multipoint argument:
• That testimony about the behavior of the Youngs’ 2-year-old daughter, Cassidy, in the days after her mother’s death should not have been allowed at trial.
The daughter banged two small dolls against each other several days after her mother’s death, saying “Mommy’s getting a spanking for biting” and “Mommy has boo-boos all over,” the girl’s former day care teacher testified.
Barbara S. Blackman and Staples S. Hughes, the attorneys representing Young on appeal, said prosecutors were required to show that the child “must have had an opportunity to observe and must have actually observed the facts.”
Prosecutors argued that no one else except Jason Young, a doting father by many accounts, would have left the child unharmed.
• That Don Stephens, Wake County’s chief resident Superior Court judge, erred when he allowed prosecutors to introduce evidence from a wrongful death lawsuit filed in civil court by Michelle Young’s family against Jason Young. Jason Young never responded to the suit, which was filed in October 2008 – almost 13 months before the Wake County grand jury indictment accusing Young of murder.
According to the appeal, Lorrin Freeman, the Wake County clerk of court, explained at the trial “that a wrongful death action is a claim for monetary relief filed against a defendant alleged to have directly caused the decedent’s death.”
The sixth paragraph of the wrongful death complaint accused Jason Young of “brutally” murdering his wife.
Freeman told the jury that failing to answer the allegations “has the legal implication or the legal result of the defendant having admitted the allegations as set forth in the complaint.”
Blackman and Hughes said in their brief that they cannot find any other similar case admitted in a homicide prosecution.
• That the court erred when allowing prosecutors to introduce a complaint filed by Michelle Young’s mother and sister for custody of Cassidy. Young, again, did not respond to the civil complaint.
• That the judge erred in instructing jurors they could consider Jason Young’s “failure to talk to friends and family as substantive evidence of guilt.”
Prosecutors argued at trial that their case was largely circumstantial but offered some forensic evidence to bolster their claims.
They said Jason Young was a feckless, cold-hearted, philandering husband who killed his wife after a harried, post-midnight, 170-mile drive from a business trip in southern Virginia to Wake County. They argued that he cleaned himself up, cleaned up his daughter, drugged her and then headed back again to the foothills of Virginia to continue with business calls.
Defense attorneys contended that the theory did not make sense and was far-fetched.
Investigators found no scratches or bruises on Young within days of the death. They found no electronic trace of him for almost eight hours between midnight and 7:40 a.m. They found no blood or other forensic evidence in Young’s 2004 white Ford Explorer. DNA evidence and prints found inside the Youngs’ master bedroom and home could not be linked to Young or any of the 160 people investigators tested.
Howard Cummings, Wake County’s chief assistant district attorney, described Young’s behavior after his wife’s death as odd during both trials.
Cummings pointed out that Young waited 1,693 days – when he took the stand in his own defense at the first murder trial – to give an account of his movements after Michelle Young’s death to anybody other than lawyers.
“Instructing the jury that it could infer guilt from Mr. Young’s silence was error so fundamental that the jury probably would have returned a different verdict had it not been permitted” to infer that guilt, Blackman and Hughes said in the appeal.
Prosecutors will now have an opportunity to respond to the appeal with a brief. Then it will be up to the state Court of Appeals to decide whether to hear arguments in the case.