MURDER ON
BIRCHLEAF DRIVE

The True Story of the Michelle Young Murder Case

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To the outside world, Jason and Michelle Young lived a storybook life—an attractive couple with great jobs, a beautiful home, a precocious two-year-old daughter, and a baby boy on the way.

Soon after the 29-year-old pregnant mother’s brutally beaten body was discovered on their bedroom floor, a very different picture emerged. Of a marriage crumbling at its foundation. Of a meddlesome New York mother-in-law whose running critique left Jason frustrated and angry. Of a 32-year-old man who behaved like a frat boy rebelling against adult responsibilities.

MURDER ON BIRCHLEAF DRIVE documents the gripping tale of a family’s marathon quest for justice, confounding crime scene evidence, persistence of law enforcement officers, and riveting courtroom combat.

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People

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Investigation

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Courtroom

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Why I wrote this book

Like Michelle Young, I grew up on Long Island, graduating from Oceanside High School in 1983.  Like her, I migrated South to attend college--at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  Although I didn't know Michelle, at the time of her death, I was working for a law firm in a building right next door to the Progress Energy building in which she worked.  The associate attorney I worked most closely with lived in Michelle's neighborhood.  Our life's journeys had much in common.  That connected me to this story.

Like many, I was drawn to the news coverage surrounding the murder of this pregnant woman--whose toddler was found unharmed in her home, amidst the bloody crime scene.  As a lawyer who at one time wanted to be a prosecutor, I found the criminal investigation and prosecution theories fascinating.  There was so much conflicting and confounding circumstantial evidence.  There was compelling human drama.  I recall watching Jason Young's testimony on the WRAL News live stream of the first trial, riveted to his words and demeanor as if I had been sitting in the jury box.  I also watched Bryan Collins' closing argument on my computer.  I was captivated by the courtroom drama and theatrics.

As a law student, I spent part of the summer of 1988 working for Tharrington Smith, where Bryan Collins was a young associate, and where Roger Smith, Jr., Alice Stubbs, and even Howard Cummings would eventually work.  During my career as a civil litigator, I had appeared before Judge Donald W. Stephens many times--and had been a recipient of "the look" on more than one occasion.  Thus, my own career was connected in several ways to this story. 

But none of this truly explains why I decided to take on this project.  Ultimately, I did it for two reasons:  First, I believed strongly this is a story that needed to be told---a story that would interest and fascinate a much larger audience than those in the Raleigh area who consumed the daily news coverage of the case as I did.  Second, I had reached a point in my life in which I wanted to challenge myself.  To do something out of the box.  To get outside my own comfort zone.  To be willing to fail.  Call it a midlife crisis if you will.  Not one that would be fulfilled by a fancy new sports car, however.  Working on this book fulfilled some type of desire I had apparently been keeping at bay for some time.  I'm glad I challenged myself to do this and am very satisfied with the end result.  And the feeling of achievement that comes with seeing one's work in print. 

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My Papa

This book is dedicated to the loving memory of Morris Goldstein, my Papa. 
 
Papa was born December 26, 1905.  He was the only maternal grandfather I ever knew--even though he was actually my step-grandfather, having become my mother's stepfather shortly after her own father died when she was just 13.

Though he logged only one year in college, at Cornell, Papa had a life-long love affair with reading and writing.  He instilled that same love in me.  By the time I was in college, I would send Papa op-ed pieces I was writing for the Daily Tar Heel, the campus newspaper at UNC- Chapel Hill, which he would help whip into shape before my submissions.  My political science honors thesis was a labor of love--for us both.  When I taught law school from 1994-1996, he had a hand (heavy at that) in the law review articles I wrote.  My second article, published in the Columbia Law Review, acknowledged the assistance of several people who had reviewed the manuscript and provided helpful comments.  All but one were law professors.  But Papa's comments were the ones that proved the most insightful and helpful.

The above picture of Papa with my children Benjamin and Madeline (Thomas was in utero) was taken in April 2004 when we visited him in Las Vegas.  Papa was 98.  A mere two months later, he would succumb to complications from a blood infection.  But as of April 2004, he lived completely independently at his golf course condo, relishing in his independence, taking long walks each and every day and, of course, reading and writing.  His mind remained his greatest asset until the very end of his life.

Toward the end of that trip, Papa asked if I was "writing" and, learning that I wasn't, asked when I would and what would be next.  At that time, I had no answer, or any inclination to write anything of significance ever again.  Yes, it took some 15 years, and the answer is MURDER ON BIRCHLEAF DRIVE.  Though I missed his help along the way, what Papa taught me over the first 39 years of my life is hopefully evident in the end result.  Deep down, I believe he would be as proud of me for this book as he was for all of the stepping stones he witnessed--and assisted with--in my life.  To the extent this book marks any sort of achievement, I proudly share it with my Papa.