Michelle Young: Why no arrest?

Part I

On November 3, 2006, Meredith Fisher discovered the lifeless body of her sister, Michelle Marie Fisher Young, lying in a pool of blood on her own bedroom floor.  Michelle’s 2 1/2 year old daughter Cassidy was found unharmed in the home along with the family’s dog, Mr. Garrison.  Michelle’s death was quickly ruled a homicide, and the North Carolina  State Medical Examiner’s report declared that Michelle’s death was effected by blunt force injuries to the head.  A homicide investigation conducted by the Wake County Sheriff’s Office has yet to result in an indictment or arrest.  Although no suspect has been officially named, the WCSO has publicly acknowledged that they cannot rule out the victim’s husband, Jason Young, as a suspect in his pregnant wife’s brutal murder.  In fact, the release of various warrants and court documents have made it clear that Jason Young is the primary focus of the investigation.  Since the August release of the February 2008 warrants to search Jason Young’s places of residence and vehicles, people have increasingly asked me: “What’s the holdup?  Why hasn’t he been arrested?”  Invariably, my answer has been something like this:

I don’t know.  I don’t know what evidence they are lacking or what more they could hope to gather at this late date.  Surely all the forensics are back by now.  A witness coming forward now to state that he saw Jason Young at or near the Birchleaf residence would probably be of questionable credibility simply because of the length of time that has passed since the murder.  It’s highly unlikely that the murder weapon or any bloody clothing could be located at this late date.  If Jason isn’t talking to investigators nor to friends and family, the chances of getting any useful statements from him are not good.  I don’t understand what they hope to gain by waiting.

On November 6, 2008, a new search warrant was issued, the probable cause affidavit of which has the potential to clear up the mystery.  So let’s examine the evidence as put forth in court documents in an attempt to understand why Jason Young has not been indicted by a grand jury and placed under arrest for the murder of Michelle Young.

February 14, 2008 Warrant

[Click here for WTVD’s .pdf of the warrants]
During the drive from Brevard to Raleigh, Jason Young was contacted via cell phone by detectives from the Wake County Sheriff’s Office (WCSO) who wished to enlist his help in the investigation.  He informed them that “he would not be willing to speak with the investigators until he had secured legal counsel” and ended the phone call by “hanging up on the investigator who [was] speaking with him.”  According to the warrant, Jason has refused to cooperate with the investigation since that time with the exception of complying with a court ordered Nontestimonial Identification Order (NTIO). 

Commentary:

Jason Young’s refusal to cooperate with the investigation into his pregnant wife’s murder from the outset is outside the norm and reason to suspect his involvement.  A concerned and loving husband would be outraged by the murder of his wife and unborn child and demand that the crime be solved and the killer brought to justice. The jury is not allowed to consider Jason’s assertion of his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination when determining guilt.  However, when the prosecution presents their case, will it go unnoticed that he at no time provided any cooperation to law enforcement officers?  Jurors are only human.

In the course of the investigation, two bloody shoe prints were found on a pillow at the crime scene.  One of the prints was later identified as having been made by a Hushpuppies shoe with the sole identical to a pair owned by Jason Young.  These shoes are no longer in Jason Young’s possession.  The second print was identified as having been made by a Franklin athletic shoe.  The number 10 was clearly visible in the impression.  Deck boards taken during a November 2007 search of the Birchleaf residence held impressions in the deck stain “similar in design” to the Franklin shoeprint.

Commentary:

 The Hushpuppies shoeprint in Michelle’s blood on the pillow has the potential to place Jason Young at the house at the time of Michelle’s murder.  The jury could infer that Jason’s Hushpuppies shoes were worn by the killer because they are missing whereas two other pairs of shoes he purchased at the same time are still in his possession.  The problem exists in proving that Jason Young is the person who actually wore the shoes and made the print.  Proof that Jason had the Hushpuppies shoes with him at any time during his business trip to Clintwood, VA would significantly strengthen this piece of evidence.

The search warrant’s language, “similar in design”, in comparing the Franklin shoeprint left in blood on the pillow to the impressions in the deck stain is ambiguous.  The warrant states that further analysis is being done, but those findings have yet to be made public.  Matching both sets of impressions to a shoe of the same brand, make, and size would significantly strengthen this evidence and make it almost impossible for the jury to conclude that someone other than Jason Young made the bloody shoeprints.

According to the affidavit, DNA recovered from the crime scene matches that of Jason Young.

One DNA swab was collected from an area sixteen inches from the floor and seven inches from the frame of the door to Jason Young’s closet.  The area which is in close proximity to the victim and surrounded by what appeared to be blood splatter, was described as a possible print.  Due to it’s location and the reasonable belief that it was in a place where the assailant may have come in contact with the wall, it was sent to the State Bureau of Investigation.  The results of the testing were described as follows:  “The DNA profile obtained from swabbing from the sheet rock MATCHED the DNA profile obtained from the bloodstain of Jason Young.

In addition to the sample taken from the area around the closet door, a DNA swab was collected from a jewelry box located in the crime scene.  The jewelry box located in the crime scene.  The jewelry box was processed because several drawers appeared to have been removed and taken from the scene.  The result of the testing was described as follows:  “A partial DNA profile was obtained from the swabbing from the jewelry box…”  “The DNA profile obtained from the bloodstain of Jason Young CANNOT BE EXCLUDED as a donor to the partial profile.” 

Commentary:

The evidentiary value of these two samples of DNA recovered from the crime scene can be determined by answering a few questions. 

  1. Can it be determined when and how Jason’s DNA came to be on the wall in that location.  Was the “possible print” in actuality a print?  Was Jason’s DNA the only DNA found in that print?  If it was indeed a print and Jason is innocent, someone else’s DNA should have been in the print.  Is the nature of the blood spatter such that  it proves that the print was made at the time of the murder?  In other words, did the spatter surrounding the print form a silhouette where the spatter was absent due to the obstruction of the body part that made the print or due to the smearing of blood spatter by the body part that left the print?  Either scenario has the potential to tie Jason Young to the murder.  On the other hand, the defense can claim that Jason Young’s DNA on the wall by his closet should be expected to be found on the wall by his closet for the simple fact that it is his house.  So the nature of the “possible print” is a very important factor in evaluating this evidence.
  2. Was there any foreign DNA found at the crime scene on the jewelry box or in any other location on or near Michelle Young’s body.

The Youngs’ bedroom was the scene of an extremely brutal and lengthy attack. The perpetrator exerted a great deal of physical force and had extensive contact with the victim. His DNA should have been left behind at the crime scene, possibly in the form of skin cells, sweat, saliva, blood, hair, etc. The absence of such DNA is evidence that tends to implicate Jason Young.

Security video from the Hillsville Hampton Inn shows that Jason arrived wearing a long-sleeved, light-colored shirt with a button placket.  Approximately an hour after checking in and entering his room, Jason is again seen in two locations wearing different clothing, namely a dark-colored, long-sleeved pullover with a zipper at the neck and a lighter-colored horizontal chest stripe.  First Jason is seen back at the front desk wearing the dark shirt and holding what appears to be a water bottle and a book or papers.  The video shows that thirty-three seconds later, Jason is walking down the first-floor corridor toward a side exit carrying the same objects.  A rock was later found in the door jamb of that exit which prevented the door from properly closing and locking.  Re-entry would otherwise have required keycard use.  Electronic records indicate that Jason’s keycard was used only once minutes after he checked in. 

Commentary:

Clearly, Jason Young left his hotel room and never used his keycard for reentry.  The change in clothing is suspicious in and of itself.  The fact that the dark shirt disappeared and is to-date unaccounted for may lead the jury to conclude that it was discarded because it was covered with Michelle’s blood.  If they draw that conclusion, they should also conclude that Jason changed clothes before leaving the Hampton Inn in preparation for the murder which establishes planning in advance.

The defense may try a variety of arguments to refute that any of the evidence from the hotel implicates Jason in Michelle’s murder.

  • Counsel may argue that there is no proof that Jason is the person who put the rock in the door jamb.
  • It may be explained that Jason donned the dark pullover and blocked open his room door and the side exit just to run out to his car, but there’s no proof that he returned to Raleigh or even left the hotel grounds.
  • Perhaps, they’ll claim that Jason carelessly forgot the dark pullover in his hotel room or lost it somewhere along his journey.
  • They may assert that, while the video shows Jason walking toward the side exit, it does not show him actually exiting through the door.  He was simply using the nearby stairs rather than the elevator to return to his room.

What kind of evidence could strengthen the publicly known evidence from the hotel?

  • If the rock from the side exit door jamb was retrieved by investigators, DNA and/or fingerprint evidence could prove that Jason tampered with the door.  RPD’s trip to the hotel revealed that the rocks outside that door are lava rocks.   Thus, it’s likely that DNA could have been recovered from the rock, but fingerprints could not.
  • Residue or tool marks on his room door’s locking mechanism would suggest something more sinister than flipping the security bar to prevent it from closing all the way while he briefly left his room.
  • If the brand and style of dark pullover could be determined, investigators might be able to get fibers from another shirt of the same brand and style for comparison to any fibers found on Michelle’s body.
  • Video footage that actually shows him leaving through the side exit and not reentering that night would be significant and compelling to the jury.
  • Video footage that fails to show Jason returning to his room immediately after being seen in the first floor corridor would reduce the likelihood that he returned to his room and tend to indicate that he did leave.
  • Video footage that shows him entering the hotel on the morning of November 3, wearing clothing different from the clothing he wore to check in, different from the dark pullover, and different from the attire he wore to his business meeting would strongly reinforce the theory that he left and was out during the time it would have taken him to return to Raleigh, murder Michelle, and drive back again to Hillsville.
  • Investigators thoroughly searched Jason’s vehicle and questioned his mother about Jason’s clothing and whether or not he unpacked or changed clothes.  Did they also question hotel housekeeping staff about any items Jason might have left behind in his room? 
  • In the corridor photo, Jason appears to be wearing brown or black finished leather shoes with no laces which fit the description of the Hushpuppies Orbitals he’s known to have owned prior to the murder.  Could the video be enhanced to conclusively identify his shoes as the Hushpuppies?  Were there any shoeprints in the hotel room or the floorboards of Jason’s SUV that could be matched to the Hushpuppies?  Any such evidence would negate the possibility that an unknown killer stole Jason’s shoes from the closet after killing Michelle.

Between the hours of 4 am and 5 am, a New York Times delivery person noticed unusual activity at the Youngs’ Bircheaf residence.  This witness noted the presence of a light-colored SUV parked in “a manner that it appeared to have been unloading or loading something.”  It was also noted that “all of the lights, inside and outside the home, were on.”

Commentary:

The prosecution can point to the fact that the vehicle seen by the delivery person is similar to the Ford Explorer driven by Jason Young.  However, the defense can argue that there are thousands of light-colored SUV’s on the streets of Raleigh and the delivery person cannot positively identify the SUV seen in the driveway as Jason Young’s Ford Explorer.  Unless, that is, the wording used in the warrant is an understatement of what the witness saw.  What is the significance of noting the manner in which the vehicle was parked?  Was something large removed from the house at the time of the murder?  Is this an allusion to Jason removing bloody items such as clothing, a murder weapon, or other items that he feared might hold evidence that would lead to him?  Are there any other sightings of Jason or his vehicle away from the Hillsville Hampton Inn during the hours in question?

In early May 2007, Pat Young reported to investigators that several items of jewelry (including a pearl necklace) and $500 cash in a new wallet were missing from the crime scene.  As of the date of the warrant, none of the jewelry or the wallet had been accounted for.  However, the February 2008 search of Jason’s rented storage unit turned up three pearl necklaces.

Commentary:

Has it been determined if the missing pearl necklace is one of the three found in Jason’s storage unit? 

The theory regarding the $500 cash seems to be that it was not stolen but was used by Jason Young, in part to make a cash purchase of fuel for the extra mileage he would have had to drive in order to make the roundtrip return to Raleigh to commit the murder.  All other gas purchases were made with credit card and fit with the route Jason would have traveled to Clintwood, VA, on to Brevard, NC, and finally returning to Raleigh.  One has to wonder why Pat Young informed investigators of the missing jewelry and cash when she did  — six months after the murder.  Nevertheless, the cash purchase of gas is nothing more than a theory without more solid evidence to back it up.  Most gas stations have security cameras at the pump to thwart theft.  Might the WCSO have additional video evidence that has yet to be made public?

As you can see, no single piece of the evidence disclosed in the February 2008 warrant, when evaluated alone, is rock-solid proof that Jason Young is the person who brutally beat Michelle Young to death in the early morning hours of November 3, 2006.  When combined, the entire package is quite compelling, but is it enough to convince a jury of twelve of Jason’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt?  In a case based entirely on circumstantial evidence, the more evidence the better. 

Coming up:  Analysis of the November 6, 2008 warrant for data recovered from Jason Young’s Novo Nordisk computer and Conclusion to answering the question, “Why no arrest?”

Continue to Part II

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2 comments so far

  1. jezme on

    You have done such a great job covering this case for the past few years; it leaves me awestruck.
    Thank You!
    I’m now off to read parts two and three … and need to know where I can donate some $ for all you have done to bring this man to justice.

    He is still taking vacations (perhaps his last YAHOO) with Mom and even using his daughter to lure in other innocent VICTIMS to his web.

    YOU are truly a hero and have defintely played a role in stopping this type of thing from ever happening again.

    Please point me to the “donation button”. You and RPD deserve something for all of your hard work.
    I’d like to see the Rafter and GOJO go right down the tubes as well!

  2. Simon Solian on

    we have different jewelry boxes at home and most of them comes from my mother who like to collect jewelry boxes ~,:


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