NC Supreme Court sends Jason Young case back to lower court

Jason Young listens as Meredith Fisher, sister of Michelle Young, describes Michelle’s relationship with him during his retrial on February 7, 2012.
Jason Young listens as Meredith Fisher, sister of Michelle Young, describes Michelle’s relationship with him during his retrial on February 7, 2012. NEWS & OBSERVER FILE PHOTO

Jason Young, the medical software salesman convicted of killing his pregnant wife, might not get a new trial after all.

The N.C. Supreme Court issued a ruling Friday that overturns an April 2014 decision by the N.C. Court of Appeals that vacated Young’s conviction in 2012. The justices remanded the case back to the N.C. Court of Appeals for further consideration.

Young, 41, is imprisoned in Alexander Correctional Institute as attorneys argue about whether he should get a third trial.

A jury found him guilty three years ago of the bludgeoning death of his wife, Michelle Fischer Young, in 2006. Michelle Young was 29 and pregnant when she was found lifeless in the bedroom of the couple’s Wake County home.

The verdict, in March 2012, came nine months after a first trial resulted in a hopelessly divided jury and a mistrial was declared.

At issue for the N.C. Supreme Court was whether a unanimous Court of Appeals panel erred when finding that prosecutors went too far when they introduced evidence about rulings in civil proceedings in which Young did not participate.

The justices ruled that Young and his attorneys failed to preserve the right to challenge the introduction of such evidence by not lodging an objection at the right time.

In May, Assistant Attorney General Dan O’Brien argued against a third trial in a hearing before the Supreme Court. Barbara S. Blackman, an appellate defender, argued for relief from a verdict that she contended was built on unfair evidence introduced at the second trial.

Michelle Young was found on Nov. 3, 2006, severely beaten to death. Cassidy, the couple’s toddler daughter, wriggled out from the covers of the bed close to her mother’s body when Meredith Fisher, the victim’s sister, discovered the bloody scene.

Prosecutors contended at the two trials that Young was a cold-hearted killer who brutally and relentlessly beat his wife, leaving his daughter, just 21/2 at the time, alone with her mother’s body.

Young has maintained that he did not kill his wife, that he was away on a business trip when she died.

In the weeks, months and years after Michelle Young’s death, Jason Young declined to speak with investigators.

He also did not respond to a wrongful death suit and custody battle brought by his in-laws, civil proceedings that resulted in default rulings.

In 2008, a Superior Court judge 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.

Blackman, the assistant appellate defender, argued that allowing such evidence into criminal cases not only would have an impact on how prosecutors get and present evidence but also would allow the civil justice system to be “used as a pawn.”

The N.C. Court of Appeals agreed in April 2014, in a unanimous three-judge ruling, that the Wake County prosecutors had prevented Young from getting a fair trial by introducing the evidence.

State prosecutors, dissatisfied with the ruling, asked the N.C. Supreme Court to review the case.

O’Brien, with the state attorney general’s office, argued that jurors were told not to consider testimony and evidence about the civil proceedings “toward the truth of the matter.” Instead, the jurors were instructed to consider why Young might not have responded to the proceedings.

Prosecutors, in closing arguments, contended the reason was that Young had killed his wife and did not want to respond to the extensive legal questioning he would have had to undergo for such proceedings to move forward.

Attorneys for Young said he did not respond because he planned to share custody of Cassidy with his in-laws anyway. Young, who testified in his defense during the first trial, testified that he did not have money then to pay lawyers to represent him.

Though the murder case was based largely on circumstantial evidence, O’Brien told the justices Tuesday that prosecutors had told jurors at the second trial about shoe prints found at the scene that matched the kind of shoes Young was seen wearing in a video that night. They were never recovered.

O’Brien also mentioned that Michelle Young’s wedding ring was not recovered from the crime scene and said prosecutors had shown through testimony from two former girlfriends that “he had this obsession with rings.”