Jason Young’s MAR hearing for ineffective assistance of counsel

Jason Young appeared in court on Thursday for a hearing to discuss a motion for appropriate relief. The claim is that his trial attorneys — Brian Collins and Mike Klinkosum failed to do necessary legal research to counter prejudicial testimony the state planned to present at the second trial in March, 2012.

Timeline

November 3, 2006 — Michelle Young found murdered in her home

December 15, 2009 — Jason Young arrested for murder of Michelle Young

June 2011 — Trial — Mistrial declared — Jurors voted 8: not guilty, 4: guilty

March 2012 — Trial 2 — State introduced inadmissible evidence per NC statute 1-149 — Conviction

April 1, 2014 — NC Court of Appeals grants Young a new trial due to the inadmissible evidence creating an unfair trial

August 21, 2015 — NC Supreme Court reverses CoA decision citing that his attorneys needed to properly object to the evidence citing the statute. They did not.

June 15, 2017 — MAR hearing for ineffective assistance of counsel

After the state was unable to secure a conviction in the first trial, they made a decision to solicit testimony about civil lawsuits filed against Jason by Michelle’s family. Statute 1-149 prohibits the inclusion of civil proceedings, specifically

No pleading can be used in a criminal prosecution against the party as proof of a fact admitted or alleged in it.

Young’s trial attorneys knew the state was planning to introduce the evidence. A simple legal search would have shown that the evidence was inadmissible per the above statute, but they failed to conduct research, and simply objected based on rule 403, which was not good enough according to the Supreme Court. They were required to object based on the specific 1-149 statute, according to the decision.

Why was the evidence damaging?

Before Jason’s arrest, his attorney advised him not to respond to the wrongful death and child custody suits because he would have had to submit to a deposition and psychological evaluation — essentially removing his 5th amendment right to remain silent. Please refer to this article for more details about that. His failure to respond to the wrongful death suit allowed a judge to issue a default judgement — basically declaring a win for the plaintiffs. In this particular instance, the signing judge (Judge Stephens) was the same judge who presided over the murder trial. The default judgment declared Jason a Slayer as part of a Slayer statute and the plaintiffs were later awarded $15 million dollars by Judge Smith. The judges stated in the filings that based on the material included in the suit, they believed it was more likely than not that Jason was the killer.

One may think . . . Well, that sounds pretty convincing. Yes, but understand that Jason did not have the opportunity to defend himself against the claims because he didn’t respond. Even if he had, it’s unlikely he could have won, which was described in the article linked above. This is precisely why civil outcomes are not admissible in criminal cases. The burden of proof is much lower, and it would prejudice the jurors to hear that the accused was “found guilty” in a civil case. So, in the second trial, Judge Stephens allowed the state to introduce the civil testimony, but ruled

“that the fact that a wrongful death and declaratory judgement action had been filed and that defendant, the primary beneficiary under Ms. Young’s policy of life insurance, elected to be defaulted and in response to the wrongful death action and permitted by law for the Court to enter a judgement disqualifying him from benefiting from the death of Michelle Young may be a factor, that is, might be relevant to any number of matters that the jury has already heard and will hear and are considering, and so I do believe it’s relevant and I do believe that the probative value outweighs any prejudicial effect.”

The jury heard this testimony from the clerk of court, Lorrin Freeman (now District Attorney). They heard that the same judge who was seated at the bench declared Jason the Slayer, and they also heard that the plaintiff’s attorney and Detective Spivey believed Jason was guilty of the murder through testimony about the civil filings. How could one possibly expect the jury to find him innocent after hearing this?! Young’s attorneys failed to object based on 1-149.

At the recent MAR hearing, Jason’s attorney, Robert Trenkle made the argument that they not only should have objected based on 1-149, but there is another statute that applies — NC 15A-1222 — which “prohibits the trial judge from expressing any opinion in the presence of the jury on any question or fact to be decided by the jury.” Certainly the testimony about the declaration of Slayer by the trial judge should have been barred!

Note that 1-149 can permit inclusion of evidence from the civil matters as long as it’s not used as proof of a fact. During oral arguments before the NC Court of Appeal, the state suggested that they brought in the civil testimony to impeach Young’s alibi. They attempted to make the case that since Young refused to respond to the civil summons and disqualified himself from collecting the $4 million life insurance pay-out, that he must have had a strong need to avoid discussion of his alibi . . . that he wanted to wait until he learned the state’s evidence so that he could fully explain his alibi to the jury at his criminal trial. According to them, his failure to respond was the issue. If that’s their assertion, then only evidence describing his failure to respond should have been included in the second trial. That was not the case. Note that the state never stated at trial that they were introducing the civil matters for impeachment purposes, and how could they, since Young did not testify at the second trial? Nonetheless, they got away with it.

At the MAR hearing, Trenkle pointed out that even if civil suit testimony was used as the state asserted — for impeachment purposes, the testimony should have been limited to his failure to respond to the suits, and NOT about him being declared the Slayer and opinions through affidavits that he murdered his wife. This point is so strong, that I can’t imagine how Judge Ridgeway could possibly disagree. Plus it was clear that the civil testimony resulted in a conviction because without it, the jury voted 8 to 4 to acquit Jason.

The judge will need some time to review the materials before making a ruling. To me, the most disturbing part of this is the fact that the prosecution violated long established statutes to win a conviction in a case with very weak circumstantial evidence, at best. Did they not know about 1-149 either? Isn’t it common sense that that type of testimony would be forbidden? If they knew that and intentionally proceeded regardless, that is extremely unethical. This case has been going on for a long time now. Jason Young is in prison because those who should be trusted to conduct themselves ethically and professionally screwed up. It seems to be just a game to them. “Let’s see if we can get away with bringing in the civil matters!” Yep, good strategy. Well, it was in fact a good strategy because it worked, and Jason suffers the consequences, and the case remains unsolved.

For more details about the case that have never been shared with the public, please read Absence of Evidence.

This video provides highlights of the MAR testimony.

 

 

 

Jason Young Case: The Jewelry Box

On November 3, 2006 Meredith Fisher dialed 911 to report that she had just found her sister lying on the floor and that she believed she was dead. Paramedics arrived and confirmed the death. Her husband, Jason  who was out of town on a business trip would be convicted of the murder in 2012 with no evidence linking him to the murder.

Investigators observed that two of the three drawers were missing from a jewelry box.  Why would the killer(s) take the drawers? Why not simply take the valuables? Michelle’s diamond wedding ring set was removed from her finger. Also, Young’s family noticed that expensive jewelry was missing, while the costume jewelry was left behind.

While researching this case in an effort to find new evidence that could prove Jason’s innocence, I came across an evidence sheet in which Detective Spivey obtained the jewelry box from Meredith Fisher following the first trial. I was surprised because I assumed the item would have been stored as evidence. However, I learned from Jason’s family that police swabbed the box for DNA and placed it back in the home. It was there when the house was released following the two week investigation.

Jason never entered the home again after leaving for his business trip the evening of November 2. He knew it would be too painful to ever go back there. He put it up for sale and he and Cassidy moved in with family. When the house finally sold, Jason’s family packed everything up and put most of  the belongings into  a rented storage facility nearby. The box would have been stored there, though the Youngs didn’t give it much thought. They were all coping with a lot, as there were online vigilante attackers harassing them, and it seemed like investigators were focused solely on Jason — despite the fact that he was verified checking into a hotel one-hundred and seventy miles away the night/morning that Michelle was murdered and no evidence pointed toward Jason.

Meredith likely took possession of the box in the spring of 2009 — shortly after Judge Stephens issued a default judgment against Jason in a civil wrongful death lawsuit launched by Michelle’s mother, Linda Fisher. Jason’s storage shed was accessed by Linda and Meredith around that time. According to Jason’s family, they informed the storage manager that they were entitled to access Jason’s belongings as a result of the civil judgement. Whether it was legal or not, they did take things. The jewelry box must have been taken at that time. If not then, it’s very puzzling how she could have ended up with it.

The jewelry box had been  a special gift for Michelle. Jason’s mother, Pat Young had it hand-made for her. Why would Meredith  have wanted a jewelry box with missing drawers that should have held no sentimental value to her?  And why weren’t investigators puzzled about it? How did they find out that Meredith had the box? That is unclear.

In 2011, a DNA swab from the box was sent to LabCorp for more sensitive testing than the SBI’s capabilities. Analyst, Shawn Weiss identified x-chromosome (female) DNA from the swab. Since investigators only provided LabCorp with Michelle’s and Jason’s DNA profiles to compare to the various swabs, it seems no one has ever attempted to identify the origin of that female DNA on the box. They did of course eliminate Jason and Michelle as contributors.

Banana Republic Bag

On November 16 2006, investigators collected a Banana Republic bag while conducting the initial crime scene investigation. It is unclear if it is a store shopping bag or a purse/hand-bag/travel bag. The bag contained a slew of items, to include the following (from court bates stamp 002084): assorted receipts, travel documents, gift cards, photos, calendar, address book, scraps of paper with notes, names, and phone numbers, luggage tags, knife and sheath, answering machine, plug and power supply cord, financial records, and other miscellaneous documents. The investigator noted that it was collected for “trace evidence to reconstruct events.” The bag was sealed in a box where it likely remains as stored evidence. There is no indication that police ever attempted to test the bag or the items inside for DNA and finger-prints. The items are consistent with what one may expect to find in a large jewelry box like Michelle’s. In fact, at trial the defense asked Meredith what sort of items Michelle kept in the box. It’s been a while since I watched the trial, but I recall her saying that Michelle kept jewelry in there and also gift cards. That makes it even more likely that the bag may contain the contents of the jewelry box. Perhaps the killer(s) forgot to take it with them, or simply forgot it in the rush to clean up after the crime. Perhaps the bag is the key to determining who killed Michelle.

Fuel Receipts Strong Evidence of Innocence – Jason Young Case

For a background of this case, please read this.

During closing arguments in Young’s first trial, the defense presented the jury with specific details of Young’s fuel purchases during his business trip beginning the evening of November 2, 2006 and into the next day. The evidence is compelling proof of innocence.  The receipts line up perfectly with Young’s version of events. There is no logical explanation to refute this.  Young would have had to somehow purchase fuel with cash along the way . . . but how would he have been able to ensure that his credit card fuel purchases would be consistent with him not driving back to Raleigh that night as alleged by the state? It seems practically impossible.

The alleged stop at 4 Brothers in King, North Carolina doesn’t account for it either. He would have run out of fuel before even arriving at that location. Further, he would have needed additional fuel before arriving at his customer location that morning. If the state would have been able to provide proof that he left the hotel that night, they would have had a strong case. They failed to do so.

Please watch this video to see what the jurors were shown. It’s unfortunate that the defense didn’t repeat this for the second trial. Maybe he wouldn’t have been convicted.

Disciplinary Outcome of Former Wake County Prosecutor Highlights Severe Flaws in our Justice System

This week, former Wake County prosecutor, Colleen Janssen learned the outcome of the disciplinary hearing to review the level of her misconduct in a criminal case. Though she deliberately withheld critical evidence from the defense and manipulated others to go along with her scheme to hide exculpatory evidence, she did not even lose her law license for a day. Instead, Judge Donald Stephens ruled that she could not practice law with a government agency for a period of two years. This means she can be begin working as a prosecutor again in two years and do private practice until that time. What a punishment for maliciously prosecuting two men — who landed in prison for over two years until her actions were discovered!

I will describe Janssen’s egregious actions in detail, but she was not the only one who participated in the willful act to hide exculpatory information from the defense. She actually had a lot of help from other public officials — which should place all Wake County cases under scrutiny. How often does this type of thing happen? Why is no one held accountable? Why are these people above the law?

2016

Colleen Janssen was asked to resign from her position with the Wake County District Attorney’s office in June, 2016 following the revelation that she withheld critical information in an armed robbery case against Bashiri Sandy and Henry Supris in the fall of 2014. It was an obvious and deliberate Brady violation that prevented the accused from receiving a fair trial. The North Carolina Court of Appeal agreed and reversed the convictions of Sandy and Supris. District Attorney, Lorrin Freeman later dropped the charges against them.

The withheld evidence — the fact that Janssen’s star witness, Marcus Smith was a drug dealer — was the foundation of the entire defense case. This fact supported the story of the accused to such a degree that there could have been no trial without it.

Background

Sandy and Supris told police that they confronted Smith to collect money or drugs because Smith had been shorting them on marijuana purchases. Smith gave them money and jewelry, and then gunshots were exchanged. Smith shot Sandy in the leg. Smith sustained a gunshot wound to the arm. It is unclear who fired that shot, but it is not relevant to this article.

Smith told police that he was a victim of an armed robbery. The State accepted his story, ignoring the statements by Sandy and Supris — that it was a confrontation about a drug deal.

Sandy told Raleigh Police that Smith was a big-time drug dealer. That resulted in police requesting permission from a judge to place a GPS device on Smith’s car.

Smith’s Impending Charges

Janssen continued building her case against Sandy and Supris despite knowledge that Raleigh police were pursuing her “victim” (star witness) in the “armed robbery” case. In the summer of 2013, Janssen contacted detective Battle via a private email address and asked to meet with him. She asked him to hold off on arresting Smith until after her trial because she allegedly didn’t want to “spook” her witness. Never mind that the impending arrest of the witness/drug dealer should have negated the whole need for any trial since it supported the defendants’ stories, not the state’s case.

Raleigh Police complicit in misconduct

Officer Battle agreed to delay Smith’s arrest. Since police had been watching Smith, they learned the location of his stash house. Upon discovery of this information, Battle gave Janssen a “heads-up” about the probable cause and search warrant of Smith’s drug house. He clearly informed her that Smith would not be named in the search warrant and he would wait until he left the premise to search the property, thus avoiding the need to arrest Smith at that time, since it could jeopardize Janssen’s case! Never mind that taxpayers trust that police will make the appropriate arrests at the time of the known crimes! In fact, over five-hundred pounds of marijuana were found in the stash house. Battle’s cooperation gave Janssen the ability to conceal the fact that her star witness was a drug king-pin at trial!

Impending Federal Charges

Due to the amount of drugs found, this became a federal case. Laurence Cameron with the U.S. Attorney’s office would be handling the case. He became aware of the fact that Raleigh police held off on making the arrest per Janssen’s request. As a former assistant D.A with Wake County himself, he knew Janssen and contacted her to discuss the status of Smith’s impending charges. According to Cameron, Janssen did not want to hear anything about it. Deliberate denial would prevent her from violating discovery rules, and she was fine with that. Prior to that particular call, she had in fact asked Cameron not to arrest Smith until after her trial.

Cameron was concerned enough that he got his supervisor, the U.S. Attorney involved. John Bruce contacted Howard Cummings — Wake County’s First Assistant District Attorney and Janssen’s supervisor. He informed Cummings that he had received information that Raleigh Police were holding off on making an arrest at Janssen’s request. Cummings told Bruce he would “take care of it.”

ADA Cummings testified at the disciplinary hearing that he had a discussion with Janssen and that she informed him that the search of the stash house yielded nothing that could be traced back to Smith, and that his name was not on a single search warrant. That was the end of it. Cummings testified that nothing was discoverable. It’s likely Cummings and Janssen believed the truth would never be revealed . . . and it wouldn’t have been if not for the federal case. It’s extremely bothersome that Cummings was willing to look the other way, despite being contacted by the US Attorney and informed that a fellow ADA deliberately told police to hold off on an arrest. Why did he allow the trial to proceed? Why didn’t he intervene? It is the “win at all cost” mentality of so many prosecutors. Truth doesn’t matter.

Trial of Sandy and Supris

Judicial Misconduct

Just weeks before the trial was scheduled to begin, Detective Battle sent Judge Ridgeway an application for a GPS monitor on Marcus Smith in connection to his drug trafficking, and he signed it. It was also sealed. Since Ridgeway was the trial judge, he became aware of information that impeached the state’s star witness — the mere fact that the witness was being investigated for drug trafficking. This placed the judge in a difficult predicament and also further lessened the defendants’ right to a fair trial.

From the appeal document (pg. 29-30):

On October 21, 2014, one week before trial, Judge Ridgeway considered Raleigh Police Department narcotics detective J.A. Battle’s application to surreptitiously place and monitor a G.P.S. tracking device on a car used by Marcus Smith and belonging to his live-in girlfriend. The application stated that a confidential informant alleged Smith “sells large quantities of marijuana,” and that “the most recent report was made in April 2013 when robbery suspect Barshiri Sandy told the police Marcus Smith was a known drug dealer with over 1 million dollars in product in a stash house. On this basis, Detective Battle stated, “It is believed that a GPS unit attached to Marcus Smith’s vehicle will provide relevant information regarding where Mr. Smith stores illegal drugs.”

In fact, the GPS tracking authorization had already enabled Detective Battle to locate and seize 150 pounds of marijuana from Smith’s “stash house” in August of 2014. Marcus Smith himself had been seen at the stash house before the seizure. On the basis of Detective Battle’s affidavit, Judge Ridgeway signed the authorization, finding there was “probable cause to believe that . . . the placement, monitoring of and records obtained from the electronic tracking device are relevant to an ongoing crimonal investigation. Judge Ridgeway also ordered the application and order to be placed under seal.

None of the information was provided to the defense. The judge should have either unsealed the record OR recused himself from the case. He did neither and presided over the trial.

Prosecutorial Misconduct

The star witness perjured himself as he testified that he hadn’t sold drugs since 2005. The prosecutor knew it. The defense suspected he was lying but had no proof, even though it existed. The judge also knew the witness was lying.

Colleen Janssen was brazen enough to discredit the defense’s attempts to show that Smith was a drug dealer. This was her statement during closing arguments:

There has been absolutely no evidence from the witness stand outside of the defendants’ testimony that this has anything to do with drugs. Nothing that the police found, nothing that Marcus said. The defendants are the only people who’ve been talking about drugs, outside of that small amount of marijuana that Detective Grimaldi found in the garage and that was photographed and you saw. That small baggie of marijuana. From that, the defense wants to make you believe that Marcus Smith is apparently this drug kingpin. If that is the case, that apparently may . . . apparently that’s their position, but please think about whether or not you’ve heard any evidence from the witness stand that would support that contention or whether you just heard it from the lawyers.

The jury found them guilty.  The prosecutor’s unethical behavior is absolutely appalling.

Appeal

The appellate attorney representing Sandy and Supris became aware of Smith’s federal case and also received a copy of a letter that described how Raleigh Police delayed the arrest of Smith at the request of Colleen Janssen. When attorney Paul Green contacted Janssen to try to determine the source of the information, she delayed getting back to him for several weeks. At that point Green contacted Howard Cummings who refused to speak to him about the matter, even though he needed to confirm or deny the allegation about Janssen for his client. Janssen finally informed Green that she had no notes or emails from any such meeting with Detective Battle.

Green did his own research. He reached out to Smith’s attorney and was given the content of the private emails between Janssen and Detective Battle. Days later, Janssen “found” her private emails, likely knowing that Green would end up getting them eventually. She emailed them to Green and he filed a MAR  (motion for appropriate relief) citing prosecutorial misconduct and Brady violations. The Court of Appeals ended up overturning the convictions of Sandy and Supris and the Wake County district attorney had no choice but to address the matter. Janssen was placed on paid leave and eventually asked to resign. The disciplinary investigation followed.

Disciplinary Hearing

Jansen blamed her negligent behavior on the fact that her father had been kidnapped six months prior by an imprisoned gang member she had prosecuted. You can read about that here. Luckily her father was rescued by the FBI and he is fine; however, it is rather pathetic that she used her father’s ordeal as an excuse for her behavior in this case. Evidently it worked, thus the almost non-existent punishment. At a minimum she should have lost her law license and since her deliberate malicious prosecution led to two (very likely) innocent men being sent to prison, she should have faced prison time, but that is never the case. Prosecutors are routinely able to get away with destroying lives with little (or no) consequence.

Jansen testified that she made mistakes, and that she never made the connection that the drug arrest was significant to her case, even though she knew it was certainly crucial to the defense case. I don’t believe her. It was no mistake.

She talked about how she would have never willfully done harm to “the office.” Who cares about the reputation of the office when people are paying a huge price for her actions — prison time.

As well, so many Wake County officials testified on her behalf about how she was so honest, hard-working, etc. Namely, former District Attorney, Colin Willoughby (who fought against Greg Taylor’s innocence claims, Judge Becky Holt (who did a poor job with the Jason Young case, Judge Gessner (you can learn more about his unethical tactics in the Brad Cooper case). They all came to her defense, even knowing how deceitful she was. That’s the reality of our “justice” system.

How many more cases like this exist? How much information has been withheld from defendants? Why is there a mentality to WIN, rather than seeking the truth? Why are public officials (who are paid with our tax dollars) never held accountable for their misconduct? My hope is that the public will become more aware of cases like this.

You can watch the disciplinary hearing here.

When the Government Abuses Its Power to Win Convictions

Exonerations are at an all time high as more wrongful conviction cases continue to surface. While some are due to mistakes, an overwhelming number of them involve abuses of power —  fraud and corruption — coerced witnesses, jailhouse snitches, junk science, fabricated evidence, perjury, prosecutorial misconduct and unfair judges.

In two Wake County, North Carolina murder cases — Michelle Young and Nancy Cooper — civil lawsuits were used to influence the outcome of the criminal cases. Brad Cooper and Jason Young were convicted for the murders with no real evidence of guilt. In both cases, civil lawsuits set things in motion that ultimately contributed to their (wrongful) convictions.

It is perfectly legal for a party to file a civil suit against a person during a criminal investigation — for custody or wrongful death or whatever. However, these cases are unique because police and the district attorney’s office assisted the plaintiffs by sharing the case files and filing affidavits in support of their claims. The district attorney was Colin Willoughby who stepped down in 2014 to go into private practice.

Legal Extortion / 5th Amendment Rights Violated

 

Cooper Case:

1028081001_m_2It’s common sense to avoid talking to police if you’re under investigation . . . police have been known to twist things. It’s advised to have an attorney present if you do wish to answer questions, but it’s also okay to completely refuse to speak to them. Well, when a civil suit is filed against a person, things become complicated because remaining silent is no longer an option, unless the suit is ignored. There are major consequences either way.

First consider the Cooper case. Brad was under investigation for the murder of his wife, Nancy in 2008. You can read more about the case here. Nancy’s parents filed for custody of the Cooper children immediately after Nancy was found dead. Naturally the spouse is always investigated in a murder case, but the person is presumed innocent barring proof of their involvement.

Two days after Nancy was found dead, Judge Sasser granted emergency temporary custody of Brad’s daughters (via an ex-parte meeting with Nancy’s family, their attorney, and the police) to Nancy’s parents, Gary and Donna Rentz. Police took the girls (ages 2 and 4) from Brad in a traumatic scene as the children were crying. In order to regain custody, Brad would have to submit to a deposition (and later go to court to fight to maintain custody of his own children).

A deposition is a very detailed interview. The person is under oath and must answer all questions. During the Cooper investigation, the law firm representing the Rentzes (Tharrington-Smith) was working directly with the Cary police department who were investigating the murder. Many witnesses wrote affidavits in support of the Rentz family winning custody. Police told the witnesses that they could assist the investigation by speaking with the Rentzes’ attorney.

Brad agreed to the terms set by the Rentzes’ attorney and submitted to both a psychological examination and deposition as he desperately fought to keep his children. The deposition was essentially a seven hour interrogation. Police supplied the firm with questions to ask Brad Cooper, so the attorney (Alice Stubbs) essentially became an arm of law enforcement. The deposition was then aired by a local news station and of course police scrutinized it, trying to find anything they could use against Brad Cooper. They really didn’t come up with anything (but they altered their notes to make it appear that they had). I won’t get into the details about that here.

The main focus of this article is the unethical active participation of public officials in this process. Lead detective George Daniels filed an affidavit in support of the plaintiffs stating that he believed Brad killed Nancy, though he didn’t specify a single piece of evidence to support his belief. In doing so, it made it extremely unlikely for any court to rule in Brad’s favor. Losing the custody case would bolster the state’s case against Cooper. Motions were filed by Cooper’s attorneys to have the affidavit thrown out, but the judge denied them.

This alliance between the civil attorneys and those conducting the criminal investigation seems highly unethical and should not be permitted. In my opinion, the detective overstepped his bounds by involving himself in the civil matter. Police even supplied the plaintiff with the official 911 recording, while the defense only had the version shared with the media. The detective also gave a witness a copy of her cell phone records so she could prepare for her deposition with Brad’s custody attorney. This was unethical and an interference. The incentive for police to become involved in the civil matter was obvious — They would force their suspect to talk and the public airing of the deposition — in which Cooper was forced to describe intimate details about sexual encounters was prejudicial enough to influence the case in their favor — trial by media.

It didn’t stop there. Since police were involved in the matter, Brad’s attorneys should have been given access to discovery. The prosecution refused, citing that it was still an ongoing investigation. Brad’s attorneys filed motions for discovery, they were denied.

Before moving on to the Young case, I want to point out that this isn’t about innocence versus guilt in the murders, it’s about officials removing ones constitutional rights to make their jobs easier. “Weak criminal case? We can always push a civil case through to clear a path.” This is wrong.

Brad was indicted for murder on October 27, 2008 — approximately two weeks after the custody trial and before Judge Sasser had ruled on the case. Naturally he lost custody of his children as he was denied bail since he wasn’t a U.S. citizen. The criminal trial — which didn’t take place until the spring of 2011 would end up being a repeat of the custody trial, though none of the testimony revealed any indication that he had any involvement in the murder. It was all about character assassination. Brad was convicted but went on to win his appeal. The court of appeal found overwhelming evidence that the judge had abused his discretion. Brad later accepted a plea deal rather than face the same judge in a new trial. He will be released in 2020.

Young Case:

arrestAround the same time as Brad’s arrest, on October 29, 2008 a civil lawsuit was filed against Jason Young. Young was also under investigation for the murder of his wife, Michelle (also in Wake County). You can read more about the case here. This time the victim’s family filed a wrongful death suit against Young. It is very rare for a wrongful death suit to precede a criminal trial. Similarly, the police detective — Detective Richard Spivey of the Wake County Sheriff’s Office filed an affidavit citing his opinion that Young was responsible for his wife’s death.

This case differs from the Cooper case in that Young did not respond to the civil action. He was advised by his attorney to maintain his silence since he was under investigation. And again, the affidavit did not specify any evidence of his involvement in the murder. It was simply the detective’s opinion. Police in both cases should have stayed out of it. The investigation was still underway. If they had enough evidence, they should have charged them, rather than waiting for the civil cases to play out.

The case also differs from the Cooper case in a very interesting way. Remember that the prosecutor refused to share discovery with Brad’s attorneys since the investigation was ongoing. Well, the investigation into Michelle Young’s death was also ongoing; however the same prosecutor shared the discovery files with the plaintiff’s attorneys — further strengthening the civil case against Young — essentially making it unwinnable. When it suited them, they were more than happy to share the files. This is unacceptable and another reason why there needs to be a law forbidding the government from becoming involved in civil cases when there is an ongoing criminal investigation and they have much to gain from a civil judgement against their main suspect.

Since Jason didn’t respond, the plaintiffs pushed for a default judgment. Judge Donald Stephens did in fact declare Jason Young the slayer as part of a Slayer Statute, even though he could have deferred judgment pending the outcome of the criminal case.

Two weeks later Michelle’s family filed for custody of Young’s four year old daughter. Again, the police affidavit was part of the filing, as well as the discovery files from the prosecution. Young didn’t respond at the advice of his attorney. Again, he chose to maintain his silence. He did so with the understanding that once the investigation was over, custody could always be revisited.

In March, 2009 Michelle Young’s mother, Linda Fisher was awarded $15.5 million in damages in the wrongful death suit. Jason Young would be responsible for this. The lawyers received a million dollars of the life insurance as their fee. Notice how costly Jason’s silence had become. Was it fair that he was put into that situation? “Talk or you will be declared a slayer . . . talk or you will lose your daughter.”  Don’t talk and you will lose anyhow because the government has aligned with the plaintiff.

The Young case gets much worse. Jason Young was charged with the murder in the winter of 2009. Consider how damaging the media attention over the civil suits must have been. He was tried in the spring of 2011, which resulted in a mistrial as the jury was deadlocked at 8-4 in favor of innocence. The state decided to try him again and this time they used his silence to win a conviction. The jury heard that the same judge presiding over the criminal trial declared him a slayer in the civil lawsuit. Prosecutors got away with it even though there is a long standing statute that forbids it. Jason’s attorneys didn’t properly object to the civil suit testimony. Jason was slammed repeatedly by prosecutors throughout the trial for not fighting for his daughter and for not responding to the wrongful death suit . . . even though they knew he would have had NO chance of winning because they themselves were participating in it.

The case is still ongoing. The Court of Appeals ruled that the judge abused his discretion by allowing the testimony. They reversed the conviction, however, the NC Supreme Court reversed the CoA decision, removing Jason’s chance to have a fair trial. The Supreme Court ruled that the defense was at fault for not properly objecting to the admission of the civil suit testimony. There are other issues of the appeal still pending.

Update: In June, 2017 there was a hearing to discuss Young’s ineffective assistance of counsel claim. At this time, we are awaiting Judge Ridgeway’s decision. He is deciding if Young deserves a new trial because his attorneys failed to properly object to the civil case testimony.

Collusion?

Is it possible there was collusion between the district attorney’s office and the families and their attorneys who launched the civil lawsuits? (We would never know.) Is it not a coincidence that both occurred around the same time and in the same county? And in both cases police were willing to write affidavits. The same attorneys were involved as well. The firm that filed the suit against Brad Cooper represented Jason Young with his custody case.

A lose/lose scenario

These cases reveal that both Young and Cooper were pushed into a corner — submit to an interrogation (deposition) or give up your children. With the government’s involvement, there was no way for either of them to survive. It was impossible to win and this was an abuse of power.

Young and Cooper each took a different path and it didn’t work out for either of them. There wasn’t any evidence connecting either of them to the murders, so the civil suits helped the government gain a foothold. Public opinion is a powerful tool and these civil cases certainly influenced public opinion about both men who ultimately were convicted of the murders.

The government should not be permitted to either align with civil attorneys or actively assist them in winning cases against those they are investigating for a crime. I am going to send this article to the NC General Assembly to request that they pass legislation prohibiting governmental involvement in civil matters when a criminal investigation is ongoing so that rights of the accused can be maintained.

What if the government hadn’t been involved in the civil actions?

No court would have ruled for the removal of the children from their fathers. There simply wasn’t cause. Both were good fathers. There was no testimony in either case that disputed that.

I published books about each case and go into much more detail about exactly what occurred with the civil actions and how unfair it was. It is unacceptable, and if nothing changes the government will repeat this same maneuver over and over.

 

 

9-13-16-framed-cover-for-kindle-larger-text

Can the government withhold evidence that could prove your innocence? In this shocking case, the state of North Carolina cited national security reasons for doing just that. It crippled any possible defense case for Brad Cooper who was charged with the murder of his wife, Nancy in 2008.

Nancy left home to go jogging and never returned. She was later found murdered. A shoddy and corrupt investigation followed, as evidence was destroyed and mishandled; witnesses were coached and evidence of innocence was ignored.

Learn the facts about this tragic case that will leave you appalled at the state of our justice system.

**Note that this book was previously published as Framed With Google Maps**

(Click on the image to read a sample)

 

 

 

front-cover-8

Michelle Young was living the American dream. The former NC State cheerleader was married to Jason. They had a beautiful two year old daughter and a son on the way. The couple enjoyed a comfortable life in the quiet Enchanted Oaks community of Raleigh, North Carolina.

It was autumn—a time for football games and holiday plans, but on November 3, 2006 Michelle was found beaten to death in her home. It shook the community and quickly attracted national attention.

Police immediately began investigating Jason . . . but he was out of town at the time of the murder. Would they discover enough evidence to solve the crime? Discover the facts about this fascinating and controversial case.

(Click on the image to read a sample)

%d bloggers like this: