Wake County

Wheeler: Judge describes Michelle Young as a 'woman who was punished'

I kept going back to that beautiful smile accentuated by those bright, brown eyes - and then picturing Michelle Young's perfect teeth knocked out of her mouth.

How much a man must hate a woman to fatally beat her so thoroughly that her teeth end up under her body, under a pillow, on the floor around her.

What level of emotion that must take. What rage.

What stranger would feel that?

For me, though, speculating on what jurors might decide in Jason Young's murder trial always left room for their acquitting him.

In November 2006, Michelle Young was pregnant with her second child when she was found beaten to death in her bedroom. Her 2-year-old daughter, conceived before the marriage, was unharmed, hiding under the covers of her parents' bed.

Blood was spattered on the walls and doors, but the vehicle that Jason Young would have driven after the beating had no traces of blood. Despite scratches on Michelle's throat that indicated a struggle, Jason had only one wound on a toe at the police station four days later.

A "not guilty" verdict wouldn't necessarily have meant jurors believed Young innocent, only that the case wasn't proved beyond a reasonable doubt. Thankfully, "reasonable doubt" does not mean "no doubt," and, like obscenity, each person interprets it differently.

In his charge to the eight women and four men who heard a month's worth of evidence in this case, Judge Donald Stephens said "proof beyond a reasonable doubt is proof that fully satisfies or entirely convinces you of the defendant's guilt." He also defined direct and circumstantial evidence and explained that they carry equal weight.

In a chilling synopsis of the case after the verdict Monday, Stephens said Michelle Young was a "woman who was punished." A woman who suffered a beating the likes of which we seldom see. A woman who was hit more than 25 times after she undoubtedly was unconscious. A woman whose assailant, in fact, beat her until his strength was gone.

Is there any doubt that only a philandering, immature, abusive husband who felt trapped in a marriage by pregnancy would do such a thing?

What especially ripped at my heart was Stephens' assertion that if Michelle Young had called police to say her husband had knocked out her teeth and broken her nose, no one who knew the couple would have been surprised.

"So why would anyone be surprised when Michelle Young was found beaten to death?" Stephens asked. "The pattern is the same."

Helpless feelings

Those of us who have had loved ones in marital crises know the helplessness that finally wins out when they just aren't as worried as you are. They are adults, you tell yourself. What more can you do?

"It's always hard in any situation to look at what could have been done differently," said Stephanie Francis of InterAct in Raleigh. "Our message is always to make the community aware of agencies like ours. The more we can get our message out that there is a place to call or turn to for safety and support, hopefully that allows people options."

It's easy to be skeptical of our criminal justice system. But the evidence in this case was convincing. Gazing at a picture of Michelle Young's engaging smile and remembering how an investigating officer "found her face to be horrific," it's also easy to believe we got our man.