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Exceeding Malice Aforethought

On Monday, December 14, 2009, following more than three years of investigation by the Wake County Sheriff’s Office and the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation, Jason Young was arrested for the beating death of his wife, Michelle Marie Fisher Young.  The Wake County District Attorney’s office presented the case to a grand jury on Monday morning.  By 1:30 pm, a true bill of indictment had been returned charging Jason Young with one count of first degree murder.  Michelle was 20 weeks pregnant with a son to be named Rylan at the time of her death, but North Carolina law does not provide for a second murder charge for the death of the unborn child. 

The Law

At common law, for a person to be convicted of murder it had to be proven not only that the defendant committed the act of taking another person’s life, but also that the defendant did so with malice aforethought.  In other words, the defendant committed the act that resulted in the death of the victim and did so with the intent of killing the victim.  These are known as the actus reus and mens rea elements of the crime.  North Carolina statute requires these same elements to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt in order to secure a murder conviction.  In addition, a first degree murder charge has special requirements beyond act and intent.

N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-17

A murder which shall be perpetrated by means of a nuclear, biological, or chemical weapon of mass destruction as defined in G.S. 14‑288.21, poison, lying in wait, imprisonment, starving, torture, or by any other kind of willful, deliberate, and premeditated killing, or which shall be committed in the perpetration or attempted perpetration of any arson, rape or a sex offense, robbery, kidnapping, burglary, or other felony committed or attempted with the use of a deadly weapon shall be deemed to be murder in the first degree, a Class A felony, and any person who commits such murder shall be punished with death or imprisonment in the State’s prison for life without parole as the court shall determine pursuant to G.S. 15A‑2000…

I’m not a lawyer, but I believe the phrase “willful, deliberate, and premeditated” is the key phrase in this statute as applied to Michelle Young’s murder.*  People often confuse the term premeditation with planning.  However, premeditation is simply intent that is formulated prior to the act being committed.  There is no time constraint which dictates or limits how much time must elapse between the formulation of intent and the act itself.  Nevertheless, I believe that the facts of this case will show that Jason Young planned with cool deliberation — for days, weeks, possibly even months — to murder Michelle.  You may wonder why I say that.  If so, keep reading, and I will try to explain.

Basic Facts of the Case

  1. Jason departed 5108 Birchleaf Drive in the Enchanted Oaks subdivision of Raleigh, North Carolina, between 7:00 pm and 7:30 pm on November 2, 2006 for a business trip in Clintwood, Virginia.
  2. At 7:32 pm, Jason purchased gas at the Handee Hugo #89 before leaving Raleigh.
  3. At 10:49 pm, Jason checked in at the Hampton Inn in Hillsville, Virginia, taking a room on the 4th floor.
  4. Between the hours of midnight and 6:00 am on November 3, Michelle Young was brutally murdered in the master bedroom of the couple’s home.
  5. Between the hours of midnight and 7:40 am, Jason’s whereabouts are unaccounted for.

Theories and Opinions

If you read the Internet forums that are dedicated to the discussion of this case, you will probably see that opinions as to how this crime went down run the full range.  There are those who believe that Jason Young is innocent.  I won’t use this opportunity to debate that point.  The reader will have to assume for the sake of argument that Jason returned home during the night and killed Michelle.  Others believe the murder to have been a crime of passion.  Then there are those who believe that the murder was planned, but opinions vary as to how far in advance the planning began.  I’ll address each of these in turn.

Theory #1:  A Crime of Passion

The rationale behind the “crime of passion” theory is that Jason returned to Raleigh that night only with the intent of settling an argument or talking Michelle out of divorcing him.  Unfortunately, the situation escalated and Jason became enraged, reacting with the lethal force that left Michelle bludgeoned to death on the bedroom floor.  The problem with this theory is that the evidence from the Hampton Inn contradicts it.

A still from security video taken at the front desk of the Hampton Inn shows Jason checking in at 10:49-10:51 pm.  It can be seen that he is wearing a long-sleeved, light-colored, pullover type shirt with a button placket.  At 10:55 pm, Jason’s cardkey is used to open the door to his room on the fourth floor.  The next time Jason is seen on the hotel’s security camera system is approximately 1 hour later when he approaches the front desk at 11:59 pm.  At this time, it can be seen that he is wearing a shirt different from the one he was wearing on arrival at the hotel.  The second shirt is described as a dark-colored pullover with a lighter colored horizontal stripe bisecting the chest and a zipper at the neck.  A few seconds after his appearance at the front desk, Jason is seen walking down the corridor toward a side exit located at the west end of the building.  A member of the hotel staff found a rock in the door jamb of this exit that prevented the latch from engaging; the effect of this would be to allow reentry through the door without using a hotel cardkey.  Also of interest is the fact that the security camera located in the stairwell adjacent to this exit was unplugged at 11:20 pm.  Other guests of the hotel were interviewed by investigators and stated that they had no knowledge of or involvement in the camera being disconnected. 

If you assume that Jason was responsible for unplugging the stairwell camera and propping the side-exit door, it is only logical to  conclude that his reason for doing so was to prevent his movements and activities from being electronically tracked and preserved by the hotel’s security system.  There would be no reason to worry about such things if he was going home only to talk to Michelle.  Jason’s hotel receipt was found in his Ford Explorer when he returned to the Raleigh area the next evening. Hotel staff would have slid it under the door in the middle of the night while he was far away from the hotel.  The only way for him to have retrieved that receipt would be to return to the hotel the following morning and enter his room.  The fact that his cardkey was not used the next morning (or anytime after he was seen in the lobby and corridor at midnight) indicates that he also tampered with the door to his room to prevent it from latching.  All of these things, coupled with the change of clothes, indicate that Jason’s intentions were nefarious prior to his leaving the Hampton Inn at midnight. 

Malice was formed prior to 11:20 pm on November 2, 2006.

Theory #2:  Planned After Arriving at the Hotel

This theory suggests that although things were very bad within the marriage, the intent to kill was not formed until Jason spoke to Michelle from the Hampton Inn at 11:04 pm.  Perhaps whatever occurred during the seventeen calls to Michelle between 9:56 and 11:04 pm built up a rage or a cold desire in Jason to rid himself of Michelle once and for all.  In my opinion, the seventeen phone calls are the only evidence to support this theory.  And really, it’s nothing more than speculation that can be refuted by other evidence. 

Jason chose to stop at the Hillsville Hampton Inn because it suited his purpose.  Located halfway between home and his destination, it was just far enough from home to give him a reasonable alibi but also close enough to allow him to return home in the middle of the night to commit the murder and return to the hotel before daybreak.  Testimony from the hearing for the wrongful death judgment revealed that Jason called a couple of his friends during his drive and gave each of them different stories as to why he was stopping  at Hillsville.  He told one friend that he was tired from driving the curvy roads; the other he told that he was stopping so he could watch a big football game on television.  Why lie about his reasons for stopping in Hillsville except to cover up the true reason behind his choice of lodging? 

Coincidences happen, but I don’t believe that it was any coincidence that the hotel he chose just happened to have security cameras in the stairwells that could be so easily disconnected.  Even if you tried to make an argument that it was a coincidence, you would also have to assume that Jason decided to return home to murder Michelle, after which he just happened look at the stairwell camera, noticed that it was possible to unplug it, and decided it was necessary to do so — all of this occurring within half an hour of check-in.  The odds are most definitely against it.

The side trip to Brevard was arranged while en route to Hillsville.  No matter how many times I hear the excuse that he was swinging by to pick up furniture for Cassidy’s new bedroom, it makes no sense.  It was Homecoming weekend at NCSU.  Jason and Michelle were expecting houseguests (more his friends than hers) who were to arrive that Friday afternoon.  Even if you accept that the business meeting in Clintwood, Virginia, was legitimate, the side trip to Brevard doesn’t fit.  Traveling straight home from his meeting would have allowed him to get home well before his friends arrived.  Swinging through Brevard delayed his return at least until late evening, and into midday on Saturday if he planned to spend the night at his mom’s. 

Malice was formed prior to 10:49 pm on November 2, 2006.

Theory #3:  Planned During the Drive from Raleigh to Hillsville

There’s little difference between theory #2 and theory #3.  The reasoning behind this theory is based upon the unbearable state of the marriage and Michelle’s counseling sessions with Kimball Jane Sargent.  It holds that Michelle had informed Jason prior to his departure that she wanted a divorce and he shouldn’t come back home after his business trip.  The thought of losing Cassidy and being saddled with child support was more than Jason could bear so he formulated the plan to kill Michelle as he drove and brooded.

The problem with this theory is that it ignores the Coach purse printout and Jason’s odd behavior toward Shelly Schaad.  Jason hung around until after 7:00, purposely delaying his departure until Shelly arrived so that he could tell her about his trip in great detail and show her the Coach purse eBay printout.  If he had taken off earlier in the day, he could have driven all the way to Clintwood rather than spending the night in a hotel just across the state line.  Instead, he hung around to sow the seeds of his alibi before he ever left home.

Malice was formed prior to 7:32 pm on November 2, 2006.

Theory #4:  Planned Before Leaving Home

This is the theory that the evidence supports.  The only question that remains is how long before leaving home did the planning begin?  Hours, days, weeks, months?  It would help to know when Jason scheduled the November 3 meeting with the Dickenson Communtiy Hospital representative.  Perhaps more enlightening would be to discover how and when he came to pick that particular hospital when it wasn’t even in his territory.  Did he do some Googling for hospitals in western Virginia for the specific purpose of enabling him to “swing through Brevard since he would be in the area”?

 Theory #5:  The Weekend Before

This may seem a new theory, but it’s something I’ve been mulling over for a while.  It’s necessary first that I provide a few pieces of information that you may not have heard before now.  The following items come from confidential sources, and I believe them to be true.

  1. Michelle’s dad, Alan Fisher, was supposed to come for a visit the week that Michelle was murdered.  His travel plans were cancelled rather suddenly because of an appointment that was made with an oncologist on short notice.
  2. As has been deduced from the eBay auction expiration date, the Coach purse auction, assuming that it was a standard 7-day auction, would have begun on October 26.  I’m told that Jason consulted at least one friend about the Coach purse at some point during the week of October 22-28.
  3. Jason had planned to travel to Brevard the weekend of October 27-29.  His plans changed abruptly.  It appears that he did leave home that weekend and returned on the evening of October 31, but he didn’t travel to Brevard.  I’m told he traveled to a state that begins with a “T”.  As you know, there are only two — Texas and Tennessee.  I vote for the latter being his destination.

On October 28, 2006, Jason and Michelle Money had the following email conversation:

Michelle Money – “I hope your doing okay!  IMY and I am sorry that you are having a bad day.

I wish that I could make everyday a great day for you and you do the same for me.  I would change thins if we could but we can’t.  I want to enjoy what I can and make the best of it.  I love that we are open and caring and loving and sharing with each other.  It is so important.  I feel so lucky that I have all that from you and have you in my life.


Jason Young – “missing you so much…got a nice beer buzz…after hour hours of “counseling” with meredith and debating/arguing with michelle.  thank God for meredith is all i can say…that girl is so level headed and cool…once again, a “bigger” girl with a cool personality”

“i feel lucky just to know you, much less love you, but i do.

i don’t know how all this happened, but I know how it will end up…two broken hearts…but, I don’t care.  i know there is pain in my future, but you are so worth it, even if it’s only for a “blink” in time.”

Michelle Money – “Missing you so much!!!  I won’t even get in to my husbands lack of rama, affection, attention, etc…”

“I am glad Meredith was there to support you and I am sad for you and Michelle that it is not a good mix.  I wish things were different for all of us.”

“Miss you tons!”

 It’s apparent from the exchange that Jason and Michelle were fighting.  A log of calls that Jason made to his home during the same period of time indicates that Jason was away on a trip:

  • Saturday, 10/28/06:  5 calls
  • Sunday, 10/29/06:  2 calls
  • Monday, 10/30/06:  1 call

There were no calls between the Youngs for more than two weeks prior to October 28 and no calls after October 30 until the day Jason left on his business trip to Virginia on November 2.  The fact that there were five calls on Saturday fit with the scenario that Jason and Michelle were fighting.  In fact, if you look at the October timeline and compare Jason’s calling patterns (particularly, calls to Pat Young and to Meredith Fisher) you will notice that the numbers of calls to those two individuals increase in relationship to turmoil within the Youngs’ marriage.  As you may recall, the ring-swallowing incident, which was very upsetting to Michelle, also occurred that last week in October.  It appears to have been a very tumultuous week. 

Putting all of these pieces together, I’m inclined to believe that Plan A was as follows:

  1. Consult friends about the Coach purse during the week of October 22-27
  2. Travel to Brevard for the weekend of October 27-29 with plans to continue on to Tennessee for work-related purposes on the 29th or 30th and return home on Halloween.
  3. Sneak away in the middle of the night on Friday or Saturday night to kill Michelle and return to the mountains of North Carolina before daybreak.
  4. Arrange to have Michelle’s body discovered by Meredith or someone else.
  5. Sob in the bosom of his family when the murder is discovered.

It’s even conceivable that he planned to take Cassidy with him to the mountains that weekend so that she would not be abandoned with her mother’s corpse as was done in Plan B. 

If Plan A had worked, the eBay auction for the Coach purse would have been in full swing and not due to expire until several days after Michelle’s death.  Jason wouldn’t have had to use a fifteen minute meeting at a small community hospital that wasn’t even in his sales territory as his alibi.  He wouldn’t have had to use the excuse of swinging through (hours out of his way) to pick up furniture for Cassidy to explain his presence in Brevard.  His trip to Brevard wouldn’t have conflicted with the arrival of houseguests for NCSU Homecoming, thereby throwing more suspicion on his journey.

So why did Plan A get scrapped?   In my opinion, it was because there was too much fighting going on between Jason and Michelle at that time that was well known to friends and family.  The turmoil would have thrown suspicion on Jason in the eyes of Meredith and the friends who were witness to or heard about the fighting.  Even Michelle Money may have doubted.  So he waited.  When Alan Fisher’s visit to Raleigh was abruptly cancelled, Jason saw the opportunity and seized it.  Clintwood, Virginia was chosen for his business meeting because it was out of state but geographically located to allow him to be in Brevard when he learned of the murder, just like the trip to Tennessee with a stopover in Brevard would have accomplished.  The difference is that the Plan A would have been more believable than Plan B.  If Plan A is true then…

Malice was formed prior to October 28, 2006.

* The phrase “lying in wait” could also apply, but that’s a topic for another article.