"When I was there that last time in October, we were sitting watching tv and she was, she had her head on my lap and she was lying out and I was stroking her hair and she was empty. She was just ... there was almost like nothing to live for."
-Linda Fisher, Michelle's mother
It was the 3rd of November 2006. A Friday. Jason Young asked his sister in law, Meredith Fisher, to go to his house and pick up some eBay printouts so that his wife, twenty nine year old Michelle Young, wouldn't find them. Jason told Meredith that he had printed off some material in relation to Coach bags that were for sale as he wanted to buy one for Michelle for their anniversary but he forgot to put them away and he was worried she would find them. Jason was out of town on a business trip.
Meredith told Jason that she would call over to the house to collect them. He said that they were upstairs in the home office. Jason lived with Michelle and their two year old daughter Cassidy on Birchleaf Drive in Raleigh, North Carolina, United States. Michelle was five months pregnant with their second child, a baby boy.
Meredith arrived at the house at around 1pm. She entered via the garage door, which was broken, and then via the kitchen door. The kitchen door was unlocked. She noticed immediately that the house was cold. Michelle's car was in the garage and when Meredith entered the kitchen she saw her purse and keys on the kitchen counter so she called out her name. There was no answer. Meredith could hear Michelle's dog, Mr G, whimpering but she couldn't see him and didn't know where he was.
Jason and Michelle Young
Meredith went upstairs and saw what she thought was red hair dye at the top of the staircase. When she reached the top of the staircase, she saw her sister lying on the floor face down. The red substance that Meredith had observed wasn't hair dye, it was blood. Michelle was dead and it appeared she had been viciously beaten to death and was lying in a pool of blood when Meredith found her. As Meredith called 911, Cassidy emerged from under the covers on the bed where she had been hiding and clung on to Meredith. She was physically unharmed. Cassidy asked Meredith for band aids and said that her mother “has boo-boos everywhere.”
Meredith told the operator that she thought Cassidy said that there was somebody in the house. When asked if Michelle had any problems, Meredith told her that Michelle and her husband Jason fought but that the fighting was nothing too ridiculous. Meredith also told them that:
"There's like blood footprints all over the house, like her daughter's little footprints."
When paramedics arrived, they confirmed that Michelle was dead and had been dead for some time. They checked Cassidy. There was some dried blood on her toenails and on the bottom of her pajama pants and they confirmed that she had not been physically injured.
Meredith called her mother Linda Fisher to tell her about Michelle. Linda then called Jason's mother Pat Young to tell her the news. At that time, Jason was driving from Virginia to Pat's house in Brevard. When he got there, his stepfather told him about Michelle. Meredith called him and told him that Michelle's death had been a homicide.
Jason and some of his family immediately left for Raleigh in his car upon hearing the news. On his way to Raleigh, some of his friends called him and told him police asked them if Michelle was having any marital problems. Jason decided not to speak to anyone until he hired an Attorney. When he arrived in Raleigh and police questioned him, Jason did not answer their questions stating that it was on the advice of Counsel.
Police found blood on the doorknob leading from the kitchen to the garage. That was later confirmed to be Michelle's blood. There was no sign of forced entry. Even though the garage door was broken, it had been broken for some time. Two drawers had been removed from Michelle's jewelry box and some of Michelle's jewelry such as her wedding and engagement rings were missing. Nothing else had been taken and the house had not been ransacked.
When Michelle was found, she was dressed in sweatpants and a zip-up sweatshirt and her body was discolored, cold, and stiff. She was lying in a large amount of her own blood and her blood was on the walls inside the bedroom where her body was found and there was blood on the closet and inside the closet. She was lying outside a closet marked "his closet" in the bedroom and police found a little doll beside Michelle's head.
Michelle Young and her daughter Cassidy Young
Police wanted to speak to Jason in relation to his whereabouts the night of the 2nd of November and in the early hours of the 3rd of November. But Jason would not engage with them and would not cooperate. Despite that they discovered that on the 2nd of November, Jason left Raleigh to head towards Virginia as he had a sales call in Clintwood at 10am on the Friday morning, the 3rd of November. Michelle had made plans to spend the evening of 2nd of November 2006 with her friend Shelly Schaad.
When police spoke to Shelley, she told them she arrived at Michelle's house around 6.30pm. She said that Jason was still there when she got there and they asked him if he'd like to join them for food. According to Shelley, Jason said that he planned to eat at a Cracker Barrel while en route to Galax, Virginia so he declined their offer. He had booked a room in Galax for the night and planned to stay there before driving from Galax to Clintwood the next morning for the sales call.
Shelley told police that after Jason left, Michelle bathed Cassidy and dressed her in her pajamas before putting her to bed and Shelley and Michelle watched Grey's Anatomy. According to Shelley, Michelle told her that she and Jason had been fighting as of late over plans for the holidays. Michelle wanted her mother Linda to stay with them from Thanksgiving through Christmas but Jason wasn't keen on her staying for that length of time.
Police discovered that that night, Jason called Michelle seven times.
Shelley told police that she had an “eerie feeling” that the house was being watched that night. She couldn't explain why but she felt uneasy. So much so, that when she was leaving Michelle's house that night, she asked Michelle to walk her to her car. Shelley left at some point between 10pm and 10.30pm.
A woman, Terry Tiller, told police that she was delivering newspapers in the area where Michelle's house was on the 3rd of November between 3.30am and 4am. She observed a light colored SUV parked either in the yard at Michelle's house or on the street in front of the house. Another woman, Cynthia Beaver, noticed a light-colored “soccer-mom car” at around 5.20am at the edge of the driveway at the Young's house. She believed there was a white male seated in the driver's seat and another person, who was possibly female, was seated in the passenger seat. Another witness, Fay Hinsley, drove past the Youngs' house at around 6.15am and observed an empty SUV positioned at the edge of the driveway.
Police retraced Jason's movements. They discovered that after he left his house in Raleigh on the 2nd of November to head to Virginia, he stopped off at a gas station in Raleigh to buy gas at 7.30pm. Jason drove a white Ford Explorer. He called his mother Pat Young and told her that he would check with Michelle to see if he could stay over at Pat's house on the Friday night on the way home from his business trip. Pat lived in Brevard and he wanted to pick up some furniture that she wanted to give him.
After that call, Jason continued on his journey to Virginia and stopped off at a Cracker Barrel restaurant in Greensboro for food at 9.25pm and later checked into a Hampton Inn at 10.54pm. He entered his hotel room using a key card at 10.56 pm and never used that key card again. He took advantage of the express checkout available the next morning and as such, the hotel could not confirm exactly what time he left at. Police discovered that a call he made to his mother on the 3rd of November at 7.40am placed him in Virginia as it used a cell tower near Wytheville, Virginia. He arrived at the sales call in Clinton thirty minutes late.
Police obtained the surveillance footage from the hotel and saw Jason checking in at the front desk and walking down the hallway towards the bedrooms. From the footage and the key card, it appeared that Jason had not left his room at all after midnight that night. But police weren't convinced and further analysis of the surveillance footage led them to believe that he had tampered with it that night. They believed that at some stage after midnight, he drove back to Raleigh to kill Michelle and then returned to Virginia.
A search of the Youngs' computer revealed that, at some undetermined time, internet searches concerning the “anatomy of a knockout,” “head trauma blackout,” “head blow knockout,” and “head trauma” had been conducted.
Two years after Michelle's body was found, Jason was charged with first degree murder. He pleaded not guilty.
It was the Prosecution's case that Jason and Michelle were having marital and financial problems and that Jason no longer wanted to be married. The Court heard that he was having multiple affairs.
It was their case that after he checked into the Hampton Inn in Hillsville, Virginia, he left at some stage during the night and returned to Raleigh to kill Michelle. They alleged that he tampered with the surveillance camera at the hotel and stopped for gas at a gas station between Hillsville and Raleigh.
The Prosecution told the Jury that Michelle was strangled and beaten to death and her two year old daughter Cassidy was left alone in the house with her mother's body for hours. Her small bloody footprints were tracked throughout the home.
The Jury was shown surveillance footage from the Hampton Inn from 10.49pm on the 2nd of November. That same footage went black at 11.20pm and it was the Prosecution's case that Jason tampered with the camera so that he could prop the security door open and leave without the need to use his key card. An employee, Keith Hicks, at the hotel discovered that the first floor emergency door that led from the western stairwell to the exterior of the hotel was propped open with a small red rock. That door normally remained locked between 11pm and 6am. That same employee then observed that the camera in the stairwell, the closest one to the door that had been propped open, was not working. The other cameras were working. When Keith investigated further, he discovered that that camera had been plugged out. The last image shown on that camera was from 11:19:59 pm on the 2nd of November. The camera was then plugged back in at 5.50am on the 3rd of November by the staff but somebody pointed it toward the ceiling between 6.34am and 6.35am. The Prosecution told the Jury that they believed Jason unplugged the camera and propped the door open so that he would have an alibi while he drove home to beat his wife to death.
It was the Prosecution's case that Jason stopped at a gas station in North Carolina at 5am on his way back to Virginia. The gas attendant, Gracie Calhoun, testified that she believed that the person who stopped at the gas station that morning was Jason. She told the Court that she remembered him because:
"I don't forget nothing like that, when somebody is cussing and fussing at me."
According to Gracie, a man drove a white SUV to the farthest pump and tried a number of times to pump gas. Gracie told the Court that he walked into the store and cursed at her because the pump wasn't working and she informed him that, at that time of day, customers must provide money or identification before the gasoline pumps would be activated.
The man gave her twenty dollars, pumped fifteen dollars' worth of gasoline into his vehicle and drove off. He didn't return to the store for his change.
The Court heard about their marriage. Many who knew them believed they only married because Michelle got pregnant with her first child. The Court heard from Meredith Fisher. She told the Court that she told Michelle to leave him but Michelle made no effort to divorce her husband.
The Court heard that three weeks prior to Michelle's death, Jason told a friend that “he was done.”
The Court heard that Jason and Michelle argued a lot about Michelle's mother Linda. Linda would often visit her daughter and stay for a long period of time. She wanted to move to North Carolina so that she could spend more time with her daughter and granddaughter. She offered to renovate their house so that she could live there. Michelle was happy with that arrangement but Jason was not.
The Court heard from Linda who testified about the moment she found out her daughter was dead. She told the Court that her other daughter Meredith called her and said:
"Mom, Michelle is D-E-A-D."
Linda asked Meredith what she meant and asked her if Michelle had just passed out but Meredith confirmed that she was dead. Linda told the Court she called Jason but her call wasn't answered and he never called her back.
Linda testified that she witnessed a number of fights between Jason and Michelle. She told the Court that Jason belittled Michelle. Linda testified that she told Michelle to leave him but that Michelle wanted to make their marriage work. According to Linda, Michelle told her that Jason "didn't make love to her, rather he was perverted about it." Linda also told the Court that Jason would have female friends stay over at the house when Michelle was away on business trips.
Linda told the Jury:
"She had so much to offer. There was so much about Michelle that was just, she was an NC State cheerleader, I mean, she had that pep, that energy, that vivacious, you know, she loved life and he took it away from her, just took it away from her."
The Court heard that after Michelle's funeral, Jason moved into his parent's house with Cassidy. Linda hired a lawyer so that she could see Cassidy and after a lot of back and forth, Jason gave full custody to Meredith. Linda told the Court that she believed he wanted no questions asked.
One of Jason's female friends, Carol Anne Sowerby, testified. She told the Court that she knew Jason since they were teenagers and she visited him in the fall of 2006. Carol told the Court that during that trip, just ten days prior to Michelle's death, she and Jason had sex on the living room couch one night. Michelle was out of town at the time. Carol testified that Jason took her wedding ring and pretended to swallow it but he returned it the next day.
Michelle Young and her daughter Cassidy Young
The Court also heard from another female friend called Michelle Money. Michelle testified that she was one of Michelle Young's college sorority sisters and she believed that her own husband was being unfaithful to her. She told the Court that she met Jason at his wedding. At the end of September 2006, she was in touch with Jason on a regular basis. Jason visited Michelle in Orlando in October 2006 and the Court heard that they had sex. Jason told a friend that he was in love with Michelle Money. They were in constant contact in October and contacted each other 980 times in one month and the day before Michelle's murder, they were in contact 51 times in one day alone. Michelle Money was the last person Jason contacted on the 2nd of November. She was the first person he called on the morning of the 3rd of November.
Michelle told the Court:
"We would talk regularly about work and life and kids."
The Court heard about the injuries Michelle sustained. Dr Thomas Clark, who performed the Autopsy, testified and told the Court that Michelle died from blunt force trauma to her head and that she had sustained at least thirty blows:
"the most serious of which had likely been inflicted with a heavy blunt object featuring a rounded surface that caused crescent-shaped skull fractures."
Dr Clark testified that there were signs that Michelle had been strangled. She sustained a broken jaw, skull fracturing, brain hemorrhaging, lacerations, abrasions, and dislodged teeth.
The Court heard that Meredith found Cassidy in the house with Michelle's body. The Jury heard that her little bloody footprints were visible on the floor of the master bedroom, her bathroom, and the second floor landing and there was blood smears at the level of a child's height in her bathroom.
Agent Michael Smith of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Agent Andy Parker of the Raleigh/Wake City–County Bureau of Identification, and Special Agent Karen Morrow of the State Bureau of Investigation, found bloody footwear impressions made by two distinct shoe types on pillows found near Michelle. One of these two sets of footprints was consistent with the impressions that would be made by size twelve Hush Puppy Orbital, Sealy, and Belleville shoes and the other set of impressions was made by a shoe type consistent with a size ten Air Fit or Franklin athletic shoe.
The Court heard that there was no evidence that Jason had physically assaulted Michelle in the past but the Prosecution told the Jury that even if that was true, that did not mean that he did not physically assault her that night. It was their case that he was capable of physical violence and they called his former fiancée, Genevieve Cargol, to testify. Genevieve testified that she was the victim of domestic violence at the hands of Jason. The Court heard about one incident in particular which involved Jason forcibly removing Genevieve's engagement ring. They were at a wedding in Texas and Jason was intoxicated. They argued about how drunk he was and he became angry and demanded the engagement ring back. Genevieve testified that she couldn't get the ring off her finger as it was too small for her and tight and that made him worse. He removed it himself. She told the Court:
"I had never seen him like that before. His eyes were completely empty and deserted and glazed over like he wasn't seeing me."
Genevieve said that that was not a once off incident and another incident involved him breaking the windshield of her car by punching it with his bare hand. He damaged a wall in their apartment when he punched it.
She had no contact with him for a number of years until she received an email from him on the 12th of September 2006. In the email, he told her that he loved her.
The Court heard testimony from day care worker, Ashley Palmatier, who told the Court that she saw Cassidy with dolls after the murder:
"While she was hitting the doll she said mommy's getting a spanking for biting and when she laid the doll down she said mommy has boo boos all over, red stuff all over."
It was the Defense's case that Jason was far from an ideal husband but that did not make him a killer. They argued that the Prosecution presented no credible evidence against their client. They argued that his DNA and fingerprints were present in the bedroom, which would be expected, yet none of his fingerprints were blood-stained. No blood was found in his car, on his clothes or in the hotel room he stayed in in Virginia.
The Court heard that when examined by police, Jason had no cuts, bruises, or other injuries to his hands or body aside from a bruised and broken toenail.
Jason testified. He told the Court that he wasn't the perfect husband but he was working on his marriage. He testified that he did not kill Michelle.
The Court heard that there were problems in the marriage but that Jason loved Michelle and wanted to make the marriage work. He was excited and looking forward to the birth of his baby boy. The Court heard that they e-mailed each other on the 24th of October 2006 and those emails showed Jason's willingness to attend counseling sessions.
Jason told the Court that he did not believe they argued more than other couples.
The Defense argued that Jason would not have enough time to return to Raleigh, murder his wife and drive back to Virginia. The hotel was located about 160 miles from their house in Raleigh. The Court heard that Jason had just started a new job selling electronic health records software and he was in Virginia as his employer set up a sales call in Clintwood early the morning of the 3rd of November so he didn’t want to drive there from Raleigh the morning of the call and that was why he stayed overnight. He told the Court he was nervous about the call and after he checked in to the hotel, he decided to review the demonstration software that he intended to use during that meeting.
Jason told the Court that he left his room to go to his car to get his laptop charger. Jason testified that he realized he left the key card in his room so he propped the exit door open. When he went back to his room, he left again to smoke a cigar and he went to the front desk to get a copy of USA Today. He propped the exit door open again so that he could go outside to smoke the cigar.
When asked why he was thirty minutes late to his sales call in Clintwood, Jason testified that he got lost.
Jason was asked about the internet searches that were found on his computer and he said that they were conducted at a different time and related to an accident that he had witnessed.
The Jury deliberated but could not reach a unanimous verdict and it resulted in a hung Jury. It was 8-4 for acquittal. Jason faced a second Trial. At the second Trial, he did not testify but a video of his testimony from the first Trial was played for the Jury. The Jury deliberated for only six hours before finding him guilty of first degree murder. At his sentencing hearing, Judge Donald Stephens said that Michelle:
"wasn't just murdered, she suffered a beating the likes of which we seldom see."
The Judge said that Jason only stopped beating her when he became exhausted and that:
"The evidence suggests that the assailant was overcome completely by anger and rage. And even then, he had the energy to strip her of her engagement and weddings rings because, in his mind, she was unworthy of wearing them."
The Appeals Court agreed. A unanimous panel of the Court of Appeals vacated his conviction and ordered a new Trial. That would have been his third Trial. But before a third Trial took place, a State Court of Appeals panel reversed the Court of Appeals' decision. That meant that Jason would not face a third Trial and his conviction for the first degree murder charge remained.
Judge Robert N. Hunter said that his complaints weren't serious enough to merit a re-trial:
"Even if the jury knew Judge Stephens wrote the default judgment (in the civil suit) and made the findings, we doubt our Supreme Court would have altered its decision in this case, given the weight of the evidence against defendant."
Michelle's family were awarded $15.5 million in damages in the civil wrongful death suit against Jason. At that hearing, Wake County Sheriff's Department investigator R.C. Spivey said the murder was:
"the most severe physical beating I've ever seen someone encounter. This was pretty extreme, a pretty vicious attack that she underwent."
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"The criminal justice system will take a hard look at what happened to Matthew Eappen. It is up to the rest of us to take an even harder look at who is minding our children."
- Eileen McNamara, the Boston Globe
"The effects of abuse are devastating and far reaching. Domestic violence speaks many languages, has many colors and lives in many different communities."
- Sandra Pupatello
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