A Wake County judge has denied convicted killer Jason Young’s quest for a new trial in the 2006 death of his pregnant wife, Michelle Young.
Young, who is currently serving life in prison without parole, argued that he should be granted a new trial because his defense team was ineffective.
But Wake Superior Court Judge Paul C. Ridgeway, in a 51-page ruling released Tuesday, cited “strong circumstantial evidence” that established Young’s guilt, along with “the impeachment of his alibi” and evidence of Young’s conduct following the bludgeoning death of his wife.
The ruling came almost two months after Young, a former medical software salesman, was in a Wake courtroom with a different legal team trying to discredit the work of the two attorneys who represented him at an earlier trial.
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The first trial ended in 2011, when a judge declared a mistrial after the jury announced that it could not reach a unanimous verdict.
Nearly one year later, in March 2012, Young was convicted of first-degree murder.
Michelle Fisher Young was found lifeless in the couple’s Wake home in 2006. She had been strangled and struck in the head more than 30 times, Ridgeway stated in the court affidavit.
Ridgeway in June told the court that he wanted to wait until he had a full transcript from the hearing before he considered the legal questions about whether the two lawyers who represented Young at the 2012 trial had made such egregious mistakes that a third trial should be granted.
The June hearing put Bryan Collins, Young’s former public defender, in an unusual seat in the courtroom. Since the Young trial, Collins became a Wake Superior Court judge in 2013. Mike Klinkosum, a Raleigh lawyer who has been recognized by his peers as a skilled defense attorney, was also involved in deciding how to handle the proceedings at the criminal trial.
Ridgeway countered Young’s assertion that he was represented by ineffective counsel.
“Mr. Collins, at the time of defendant’s second trial, was one of the State’s most highly-qualified criminal defense trial lawyers,” Ridgeway stated in his conclusion. “During his years in practice, he handled between 20 to 30 first degree homicide cases, picked seven juries in capital cases, and tried to verdict approximately five or six non-capital homicides. He was certified as a criminal defense specialist by the N.C. State Bar since 2006. Mr. Collins served on the faculty of the N.C. Public Defender Trial School, where he taught trial skills to young lawyers.”
“Co-counsel Mike Klinkosum, at the time of the second trial, was equally well-qualified,” Ridgeway stated. “For nearly 15 years prior to this trial, Mr. Klinkosum practiced exclusively as a criminal defense trial lawyer. ... He is author of Klinkosum on Criminal Defense Motions, published by Lexis and has taught Criminal Procedure Litigation Skills as an adjunct professor at UNC School of Law.”
After Michelle Young’s death, Jason Young insisted that he was out of town on a business trip when it happened. That alibi created two competing narratives about a 169-mile path between Raleigh and the hotel in southwestern Virginia that Young checked into the night his wife died.
Prosecutors contended that Young, a philanderer looking to get out of his marriage, left the couple’s home on Nov. 2, 2006, and drove to Hillsville, Va., checking into a Hampton Inn there at 10:54 p.m. The prosecutors argued that Young left the hotel shortly after his arrival, took time to disable security cameras in a side entrance stairwell, returned to his home, killed his wife and left their daughter, a toddler at the time, alone with her lifeless mother.
The defense team argued at both trials that prosecutors presented convoluted fiction in their drive to convict after homing in early on Young as their chief suspect. They argued that Young would not have had time to kill his wife so violently, clean up and then, without tracking any blood or other evidence from the crime scene into his Ford Explorer, make it to Wytheville, Va., by 7:40 a.m., when his first cellphone activity of the day was recorded.
Judge Don Stephens, who presided over the criminal proceedings earlier this decade, also presided over civil lawsuits brought against Young before he was charged with murder. Those civil proceedings – a wrongful death suit and a custody battle brought by his in-laws – were the underpinnings of the N.C. Appeals Court ruling vacating the 2012 jury’s guilty verdict.
But Young did not get out of prison because the state Supreme Court blocked release while further court proceedings continued. The state Court of Appeals sent the case back to Wake County Superior Court for further hearings on whether Young had been deprived of effective counsel during his trials.
That’s what Ridgeway heard earlier this year.
Young never responded to the civil proceedings. He would have had to sit for depositions by attorneys for his former mother-in-law and sister-in-law, who suspected he was involved in his wife’s death.
In 2008, Stephens ruled in the civil proceeding that Young was responsible for his wife’s death after he failed to respond to the claim – a default judgment that does not declare innocence or guilt.
Young had declined to speak to investigators and only explained his actions at the time of Michelle Young’s 2006 death when he testified at his first trial in 2011. He said that he did not respond to the wrongful death and custody civil proceedings because he could not afford a lawyer at the time.
Ridgeway was not swayed by Young’s arguments. He described the convicted killer’s comparison of the two trials as “overly simplistic.”
“This comparison,” Ridgeway stated, “neglects one critical difference – namely the testimony of defendant given in the first trial, after the State rested, which became a centerpiece of the State’s case in the second trial.
“Because defendant testified at the first trial (and not at the second), the State was able to develop compelling evidence that defendant’s first public statement, made 1,693 days after the murder ... was one of a guilty man who murdered his wife rather than a man who loved his wife.”
Thomasi McDonald: 919-829-4533, @thomcdonald