by John W. Taylor
On November 3, 2006, in an upscale neighborhood in Raleigh, North Carolina, Meredith Fisher discovered her 28 year-old sister, Michelle Young, beaten to death. Michelle had married Jason Young a few years prior, and at the time of her death their relationship was already in a perilous state. The Young’s openly fought in public and in front of family and friends. Jason engaged in several extra-marital affairs, and at least one of them was ongoing at the time of his wife’s murder. To complicate matters, the couple had a two year-old daughter, Cassidy, and Michelle was also five months pregnant with their second child.
Around 6:30 p.m. the previous evening, Michelle’s friend, Shelly Schadd, arrived at the Young’s residence. About an hour later, Jason left on a business trip. During the evening, Shelly experienced an “eerie feeling” as if they were being watched. When she left around 10:30 p.m., she had Michelle escort her to her car.
After leaving home, Jason purchased gas and then drove an hour to Greensboro, North Carolina, where he had dinner, finishing at 9:25 p.m. From there, he drove another 90 minutes to his hotel in southern Virginia. He checked into his hotel at 10:54 p.m., and accessed his room two minutes later via his key card. Jason did not use his key card to enter his hotel room again for the remainder of his stay. However, he was seen on a hotel surveillance camera about an hour later getting a newspaper from the front desk. According to Jason, when he left his room he propped the door open; therefore, he re-entered without using his key card. Upon leaving the hotel the following morning, Jason did not talk to anyone or use the front desk to check out, but the police found his hotel receipt during a later search of his vehicle. Since a hotel employee slid the receipt under his door during the night, if Jason did leave his hotel during the night, he returned at some point to collect the receipt.
Based on cell tower records, at 7:40 a.m. the following morning Jason called his mother from the Wytheville, Virginia area, which was about 30 minutes from his hotel and on the way to his business meeting. He arrived at his business meeting in Clintwood, Virginia at 10:30 a.m., 30 minutes late. According to Jason, he got lost during the drive.
After his appointment, Jason purchased gas in Duffield, Virginia at 12:06 p.m., and then left Michelle’s sister, Meredith, a voicemail, asking her to visit his residence. He called her a second time and then had his mother call her with a similar message. Jason inadvertently left papers on the home printer, which would have provided his wife details on his belated anniversary gift for her. Jason wanted Meredith to retrieve the papers before Michelle saw them.
After receiving the voicemails from Jason and his mother, Meredith headed to the Young’s residence shortly after 1:00 p.m. Upon entering the home, Meredith saw what appeared to be red hair dye at the top of the staircase. Turning a corner, she found her sister bloodied and beaten, lying face-down in the master bedroom. She immediately called 9-1-1. As she initiated the call, she saw her two year-old niece, Cassidy, peak out from the covers on the bed.
Meredith described Cassidy as “shockingly clean.” Other than some dried blood on her toenails and on the bottom of her pajama pants, the two year-old was pristine. She was not wet, nor had she soiled her bed. The police saw this as an indication the killer was someone who cared about Cassidy, since she was left unharmed. However, many killers would not harm or kill a child. Even one of the most dangerous men in modern times, Charles Manson, decided against invading a home because children were present.
According to the autopsy report, Michelle Young died as a result of “blunt force trauma to the head and body.” The medical examiner testified that Michelle was struck at least 30 times resulting in a broken jaw, dislodged teeth, a fractured skull, and numerous abrasions and lacerations. The repeated blows also caused Michelle’s pregnancy to terminate. According to the medical examiner, the assailant initially tried to strangle her prior to beating her to death. Investigators estimated the time of death between midnight and 6 a.m. on November 3, 2006.
The police gathered little useful evidence through their investigation. There was no sign of forced entry. The police failed to recover a murder weapon. Whoever killed Michelle, left Cassidy and the family dog unharmed. As a result, the policed focused on the husband. Though their relationship was far from idyllic, there was no evidence directly linking Jason to the murder. The police speculated that Jason planned to obtain Michelle’s four million dollar life insurance policy and pursue a single life-style. However, other than motive, the police lacked evidence. The police did not find blood in Jason’s vehicle, on his clothes, or in his hotel room. Crime scene technicians were unable to find any fibers from Jason’s hotel room in the Young residence. Regardless of the limited evidence against Jason, he lost custody of his daughter to Michelle’s sister, Meredith. He also lost a wrongful death civil lawsuit to Michelle’s family, as Jason never responded to the claim or tried to defend himself.
Over three years after Michelle Young’s murder, on December 14, 2009, a Wake County Grand Jury indicted Jason Young of first degree murder. He went to trial in May of 2011 with the same judge who ruled against him in the wrongful death civil case. After an almost month-long trial, the judge declared a mistrial after the jury deadlocked at eight to acquit, four to convict. Early the following year, the State tried him again, but this time, the jury came to a unanimous decision in just eight hours. Jason Young was convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without parole.
During the second trial, the State entered evidence that Jason lost, via a default judgment, a civil wrongful death action regarding Michelle’s death. On appeal, the State argued it entered the civil suit as evidence in order to cast doubt on Jason’s testimony from his first trial, which the State chose to introduce (Jason testified during his first trial, but not his second). However, the State’s argument resulted in it impeaching its own evidence. The State also disclosed to the jury that it was the current presiding judge, the Honorable Donald Stephens, who ruled against Jason Young in the civil suit. The Court of Appeals found that the prejudicial impact of admitting this evidence outweighed the probative value. As a result, the North Carolina Court of Appeals unanimously vacated the judgment, thus delivering Jason to his third trial.
In a rare occurrence, the state’s Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeal’s unanimous decision, finding that the defendant did not properly preserve his challenge to the admission of evidence. [To preserve an issue for appellate review, a party must present the trial court a request, objection, or motion for the specific grounds.] Thus, it turned out that Jason Young would not obtain a new trial.
Though a jury of his peers convicted Jason, the evidence proving his guilt was somewhat nebulous based on hotel surveillance video and cell tower records, Jason had unaccounted time from approximately midnight until 7:00 a.m. on the morning of November 3, 2006. During this time, the State contended that he drove 160 miles from his hotel to his home, killed his wife, and then drove another 160 miles back to his hotel in southern Virginia. Based on an estimated two hours and 25 minute drive time between the two points, Jason still had two hours to conduct nefarious activities. It was possible.
According to Jason, while staying at the hotel, he left twice without his key card. Both times, he propped open the outer door with a stick to prevent it from locking upon his return. The first time he retrieved a computer charging cable from his car. The second time, after obtaining a newspaper from the hotel’s front desk around midnight, he went outside to smoke a cigar and read a newspaper. Jason then allegedly returned to his room and went to sleep.
In the early morning of November 3, 2006, a hotel employee noticed that an emergency door was propped open with a small rock. Yet, according to Jason’s recollection of events, he returned to his room through this door after smoking his cigar. As a result, the rock should have fallen out of the door-jam when he entered. If not, someone else independently propped open the door after him.
After returning to the front desk, the hotel employee reviewed the surveillance camera near the emergency exit door. It was malfunctioning. A maintenance employee later determined that the camera was unplugged, and the camera’s last image was from 11:19 p.m. the previous evening. He plugged the camera back in at 5:50 a.m. Forty-five minutes later another employee found the same camera pointing toward the ceiling. According to hotel staff, the camera had never been previously unplugged and had only been tampered with one other time.
Around 5:30 a.m., a man in a white sports utility vehicle pulled up to the outer gas pumps at Four Brothers BP in King, North Carolina. The man entered the store to prepay for the gas. According to the store attendant, the man cursed at her because the pumps were not on, and he threw twenty dollars at her. He pumped fifteen dollars’ worth of gas and drove off without collecting his change. She identified Jason Young’s white Ford Explorer as the vehicle in question and Jason Young as the man who yelled at her. Somewhat countering her positive identification, during a deposition, she described the man as “a little taller than her,” though she is five feet tall and Jason is six-foot-one. Further, the witness acknowledged a childhood brain injury that affected her memory.
The King, North Carolina gas station was located approximately 50 minutes from Jason’s hotel and on the direct route between his home and hotel. If he was at the gas station at that time, he would have likely arrived back at his hotel about 10 minutes prior to when the hotel camera was tampered with the second time. However, Jason’s fingerprints were not on the security camera.
The police discovered two distinct sets of bloody footprints near Michelle’s body. One print was made by a size 12 shoe, which matched Jason. Investigators determined that the imprint was made by one of three shoe types; Hush Puppy Orbitals were one of the possibilities. Jason owned a pair of Hush Puppy Orbitals at one time. However, the State never produced Jason’s shoes for comparison. Crime scene investigators also identified a size 10 Air Fit or Franklin athletic shoe imprint. This imprint did not match any of Jason’s shoes nor did it match other shoes tested.
A jewelry box from the master bedroom had two missing drawers and Michelle’s wedding and engagement rings were never recovered, pointing to theft as a potential motive. Partial DNA found on her jewelry box did not match Michelle or Jason. Police found several unidentified fingerprints in the house, though nothing definitively linked them to the murder.
A newspaper delivery person testified that she saw a light-colored sports utility vehicle parked on the street in front of the Young’s residence between 3:30 a.m. and 4:00 a.m. on November 3, 2006. Another woman claimed that she saw a light-colored “soccer mom car” with a white male in the driver’s seat and another person in the passenger seat parked at the edge of the Young’s driveway around 5:30 a.m. on the same date. A third woman, a neighbor, claimed that she saw an empty sports utility vehicle at the edge of the driveway sometime between 6:00 a.m. and 6:30 a.m. There was no indication as to whether these women saw the same vehicle, separate vehicles, or one or more was mistaken in her recollection.
Meredith discovered Michelle wearing sweatpants and a zip-up sweatshirt. According to both Meredith and Jason, Michelle would not have worn an outfit with a zipper to bed, due to the associated discomfort. Investigators placed the time of death at between midnight and 6:00 a.m. If Michelle was not asleep during the attack, it likely occurred either at the beginning or end of the estimated time frame. Yet, with Jason’s established alibi, if he killed his wife then she had to have died in the middle of the estimated time of death. Too early and the hotel’s camera surveillance excluded him. Too late in the morning and he was excluded based on the cell tower data locating him in Virginia.
Jason drove a 2004 Ford Explorer at the time of Michelle’s murder. It had a 22.5 gallon tank and was rated at 16 miles per gallon in the city and 21 miles per gallon on the highway. Upon leaving his home on the evening of November 2, 2006, Jason purchased gas at a location in Raleigh. According to Jason, he then drove from Raleigh to his hotel (stopping for dinner) and from his hotel to his business meeting in Clintwood, Virginia the following day. After leaving his appointment, he purchased gas in Duffield, Virginia. The police found receipts verifying both of these purchases. Driving from Raleigh to Duffield is approximately 350 miles, plus Jason claimed he got lost prior to his business meeting. Based on the Ford Explorer’s gas tank capacity and average miles per gallon, Jason’s travels would have consumed almost all of his gas from the fill-up the previous evening.
The State presented an eyewitness who claimed she saw Jason Young put gas into his vehicle around 5:30 a.m. on the third of November; however, based on the average gas price at that time of $2.23/gallon, fifteen dollars equated to less than seven gallons of gas. With the only other verified gas purchase having been in Raleigh the previous evening, Jason would not have made it to Duffield without requiring an additional stop for gas. For Jason to have driven from his hotel to Raleigh and back in the middle of the night, he would have covered an additional 320 miles. Therefore, if he made this trip, he must have stopped for gas at some point, unbeknown to the police. There were no witnesses or documentation to support this purchase. Without an additional stop for gas, Jason could not have been the killer.
If Jason is innocent, he certainly encountered a lot of unfortunate coincidences. Someone tampered with the camera covering the exit closest to his hotel room not once, but twice. Someone also propped open the emergency exit door next his room. Another man who looked like Jason and drove a similar vehicle, stopped for gas at a location and time consistent with a scenario of Jason having driven to Raleigh to kill his wife.
When police began investigating Michelle’s murder, several of Jason’s friends recommended that he retain a lawyer prior to speaking with the police. He took their advice. After retaining legal counsel, he still refused to speak with police. Unless Jason was legally required to provide something, such as fingerprints or DNA, he flatly refused to cooperate with the police investigating his wife’s murder.
On the advice of legal counsel, Jason also chose not to speak to friends or family about Michelle’s murder. He never spoke to anyone about her murder. With numerous publicized accounts highlighting issues with police interrogation tactics, many would agree with Jason’s cautious stance. Detectives could have coerced or manipulated his statements. The police could have misinterpreted his answers. Further, any information Jason provided the police could have been used against him.
Notwithstanding the risks, Jason could have taken many actions to help the investigators find his wife’s killer(s). He could have agreed to be interviewed by police in the presence of his attorney. When JonBenét Ramsey was killed in Boulder, Colorado, the police almost immediately suspected her parents of involvement. Regardless, John and Patsy Ramsey allowed investigators to interview them. Though they knew the associated risks in agreeing to interviews, they chose to assist the police in finding their daughter’s killer.
Jason Young possessed the most information about his wife’s activities, behaviors, routines, and acquaintances. He could have provided the police with a written statement, reviewed by his attorney, but instead he opted to remain silent. Whatever information he had, he chose to withhold it from the police. He never even called the police to check on the investigation or even asked his family or friends to contact them on his behalf.
The prosecutor stated regarding Jason Young’s failure to cooperate with the police: “He answered questions (while testifying at his first trial) 1,693 days after his wife’s murder. When he answered questions, he said that he did not kill his wife and that when he went outside the hotel, it was for the purpose of smoking a cigar. How in any way would that have been incriminating?” Only when he faced life in prison did Jason feel compelled to speak regarding the brutal and vicious murders of his wife and unborn child. He spoke, not in an effort to help find the killer(s), but with the sole intent of protecting himself. Based on the limited evidence and off-setting exculpatory evidence, Jason Young may be not guilty. However, based on his selfish actions, he certainly is not innocent.
Average Jane, “Meredith’s 911 Call,” Friction Powered, http://frictionpowered.blogspot.com/2007/02/merediths-911-call.html, February 15, 2007.
Fisher, Jim, “The Jason Young Murder Trials,” Jim Fisher True Crime, http://jimfishertruecrime.blogspot.com/2013/08/the-jason-young-murder-case-going-to.html, December 1, 2015.
Gardner, Kelly, “Jason Young’s Daughter Spoke of Him During 911 Call,” WRAL.com, http://www.wral.com/specialreports/michelleyoung/story/10702549, February 8, 2012.
Gardner, Kelly, “Michelle Young’s Life Was Insured for $4M,” WRAL.com, http://www.wral.com/specialreports/michelleyoung/story/10771883/, February 23, 2012.
Justice for Jason Young, Analysis of the investigation and trial, https://justiceforjasonyoung.wordpress.com/2012/09/09/summary-and-key-facts-of-the-case/, accessed April-May, 2016.
Michelle Young Murder, http://youngtragedy.blogspot.com/2007/02/autopsy.html, accessed April-May, 2016.
North Carolina Court of Appeals No. COA13-586, State of North Carolina v. Wake County No. 09 CRS 19207, Jason Lynn Young, Filed: 1 April 2014.
Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, Chapel Hill, NC 27599, Report of Autopsy Examination. Autopsy Number: B06-3327, Decedent: Michelle Marie Fisher Young, Date of Examination: November 4, 2006, Dr. Kevin Green, http://www.wral.com/asset/news/local/2007/01/22/1175523/1307321296-scan0001.pdf.
The Supreme Court of North Carolina No. 124PA14, State of North Carolina v. Jason Lynn Young, Filed 21 August, 2015.
WRAL.com, Jason Young Murder Trial Video, June 2011, http://www.wral.com/specialreports/michelleyoung/asset_gallery/10684977/, accessed April – May, 2016.
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John W. Taylor writes in the true crime genre at www.truecrimewriting.com. He has written short pieces and articles on the death of Marilyn Monroe, JFK, and Martin Luther King, Jr., among others. John wrote and published Umbrella of Suspicion: Investigating the Death of JonBénet Ramsey and Isolated Incident: Investigating the Death of Nancy Cooper in 2012 and 2014, respectively.
John’s interest in the darker side of human nature has compelled him to conduct numerous research and writing projects on various unsolved crimes. He currently resides in Raleigh, North Carolina.