RALEIGH — A Raleigh man convicted of killing his pregnant wife may get a third trial after the state Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday that a judge shouldn’t have allowed evidence about a wrongful death lawsuit and a custody challenge for his daughter.
A three-judge panel of the court ordered the new trial Tuesday for Jason Young, 39, who’s serving a life sentence for the murder of his wife, Michelle. She was five months’ pregnant when her sister found her body Nov. 3, 2006, in pool of blood in the Youngs’ bedroom. Their then 2-year-old daughter, Cassidy, also was in the bedroom with her mother’s body.
Young, who has said he was on a business trip in Virginia and not involved in his wife’s death, was convicted in March 2012. At his first trial in 2011, the jury deadlocked and Wake Superior Court Judge Donald Stephens declared a mistrial
At a hearing before the Court of Appeals in December, Young’s attorney argued that state law prohibited the introduction of evidence about the wrongful death and custody civil proceedings to which Young never responded.
Stephens, who presided over the civil and criminal proceedings, had declared Young responsible for his wife’s death after he failed to respond to a civil claim in 2008 — a default judgment that does not declare innocence or guilt.
Prosecutors then introduced information about those cases at the criminal trial.
“If this type of evidence is admitted, for what will apparently be the first time in the country in a homicide prosecution, I think it’s simply going to open the door to the pursuit of civil litigation before indictment in order to manufacture evidence for a criminal trial,” Blackman argued in December at the appeals court hearing.
Blackman added: “It seems fundamentally unfair for the jury to be advised that a judgment has been entered declaring him the killer.”
In its 58-page opinion, the three-judge appellate panel wrote that testimony about the judgment along with testimony about a custody lawsuit involving Cassidy hurt Jason Young’s case.
“This evidence also severely impacted defendant’s ability to receive a fair trial,” the judges concluded.
Their decision was unanimous, which means there is no automatic appeal to the state Supreme Court. However, prosecutors can petition the higher court to review the case.