Third trial ordered for N.C. man in wife's 2006 killing

Jason Young listens during his retrial on March 5, 2012, as Judge Donald Stephens reads the verdict after a jury unanimously found him guilty of killing his wife Michelle Young.
Shawn Rocco, The News & Observer via CBS affiliate WRAL

RALEIGH, N.C. - The North Carolina Court of Appeals on Tuesday ordered a third trial for a man convicted of murdering his pregnant wife in their Raleigh home seven years ago, saying a judge should not have allowed evidence about a wrongful death lawsuit, reports CBS affiliate WRAL.

Jason Young, 39, is serving life in prison for first-degree murder in the Nov. 3, 2006 beating death of his wife, Michelle Young, who was five months pregnant when her sister found her body in a pool of blood in the Youngs' bedroom.

He originally went to trial in 2011, but Superior Court Judge Donald Stephens declared a mistrial after a jury deadlocked on a verdict. Prosecutors won a conviction on March 5, 2012, during a seven-week retrial.

Jason Young's appeal focused on several decisions Stephens made during the second trial, including allowing testimony about the judgment in a wrongful death case brought by Michelle Young's mother, reports WRAL.

In the civil case, Stephens ruled that because Jason Young failed to respond to the complaint by his late wife's mother, he conceded a civil judgment that held him liable in Michelle Young's death.

Civil judgments generally have no impact on criminal proceedings, according to the station.

In its 58-page opinion, the three-judge appellate panel wrote that testimony about the judgment - as well as similar testimony regarding a custody lawsuit involving the Youngs' daughter Cassidy - "severely impacted" Jason Young's ability to receive a fair trial.

"Defendant's presumption of innocence was irreparably diminished by the admission of these civil actions," the appeals opinion stated, according to the station. "This is similar to the prejudice that a jury has when it learns a defendant is previously convicted of charged offenses."

The opinion also notes that Stephens' instructions to jurors "did not explicitly prohibit" them from using the civil cases "as proof of Defendant's guilt in the criminal case."

The Appeals Court's order for a new trial was unanimous, which means the state has the right to petition the North Carolina Supreme Court to review the case, according to the station.

Jason Young, who is incarcerated at Alexander Correctional Institution in Alexander County, has maintained he was away on a business trip in Virginia when his wife was killed and that he had no involvement in her death.

Wake County prosecutors, however, argued that the couple's marriage was troubled and that Jason Young wanted out of the relationship.

The night before his wife's death, prosecutors said, he checked into a hotel just over the Virginia border and then drove back to his home and committed the crime before returning to the hotel to continue on with his trip.