Friday, January 26, 2007

Young Autopsy Report

The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner of North Carolina released the autopsy report of Michelle Young on Monday, confirming that the 29-year-old pregnant mom died as a result of blunt force trauma to the head. In summary, the pathologist wrote the following:

Michelle Young was a 29-year-old woman who was found dead in her home along with her small child.

Autopsy examination shows extensive blunt force injury. Multiple blunt force injuries to the head have resulted in lacerations, extensive abrasions and contusions, multiple fractures of the mandible, avulsion of teeth, multiple skull fractures, and subarachnoid hemorrhage of the brain. There is injury to the neck consistent with manual strangulation. Blunt force injury to the left deltoid region has resulted in an abrasion and multiple contusions. Blunt force injury to the extremities has resulted in laceration of the left thumb, abrasion of the right wrist, and multiple confluent bruises over both hands. Other anatomic findings include an intrauterine pregnancy. A postmortem alcohol determination is negative.

Death is most likely due to blunt force injuries to the head.

Though the public has awaited this report for 2½ months, that part -- the cause of death -- was to be expected, having been widely published mere days after the murder. Unforeseen by many is the extreme brutality and viciousness of the attack. An attempted strangulation and some thirty blows to the head, neck and shoulder make it indubitably clear that the assailant intended to kill this woman and was determined to see it through to the bitter end.

Michelle did not die quietly. She fought for her life. A set of fingernail scratches on the left side of her neck illustrate her attempt -- a discernibly successful attempt -- to stave off the strangulation, which is evidenced by hemorrhage of the strap muscles in her neck. It appears that the killer then resorted to a barbaric and merciless barrage of blows, the majority of which are concentrated on the head, that left the victim with skull fractures, a broken jaw, at least twenty-five lacerations, multiple abrasions and contusions, and fractured and avulsed teeth. Scrapes and bruises to the backs of Michelle's hands, as well as a laceration on her left thumb, demonstrate that she attempted to shield her head from the flurry of blows rained down by her attacker. But to no avail. Most likely attacked in her bed in the middle of the night, she was at a distinct disadvantage. Perhaps startled from sleep by an unknown presence in the house or the throttling grasp of the intruder's hands, she was barefoot, unarmed and 20 weeks pregnant. The murderer, on the other hand, likely had the advantage of size, strength, stealth and malevolent intent. Abrasions and contusions on the left shoulder may be an indication that she crouched in a defensive position against the side of her bed or perhaps cowering in the niche between bed and nightstand during part of the onslaught.

Some may disagree with my assessment and interpretation, and of course, the Average Jane Disclaimer applies. I've read speculation that this may have been a verbal altercation that escalated to a physical assault and ultimately death. I admit that the same thought crossed my mind upon first reading the report. But on further review and rumination, I don't believe the evidence supports that theory. The injuries to the mouth were the result of crushing impact that split both upper and lower lips, broke off and knocked out teeth, and fractured the surrounding bone. This was no backhanded slap in response to a verbal offense. There is no evidence that the assailant chased Michelle around the room landing poorly aimed blows on her retreating back. The injuries are concentrated and don't appear to be inflicted by someone swinging in a blind rage. There are no scrapes or bruises on her legs to indicate that she was repeatedly knocked down. The location of her avulsed teeth on the floor near her head implies that she was stationary during much of the attack.

Some contend that Michelle's clothing is proof that she had not yet gone to bed for the evening.

The decedent is clothed in a hooded sweatshirt which is zipped up, a T-shirt, black pants, and pink panties.

Without a more specific description, it could just as easily be argued that this was loungewear commonly worn by women of Michelle's generation. It might be explained as the pragmatic choice of a mother whose husband is away on business, the indifference of a pregnant woman too tired to bother with changing, or a personal preference. Of note is the fact that she was not wearing shoes, socks, or a bra and her hair was not pulled up or tied back.

As for the weapon, some of the lacerations and abrasions -- the crescentic abrasion on the left deltoid, in particular -- have the appearance of being inflicted by a hard, cylindrical object. I tend to envisage the barrel of a hefty flashlight rather than a bat, which in my unlearned opinion, would have resulted in more numerous and pulverizing skull fractures. If the murder weapon has been recovered or identified by investigators, they have not yet revealed that detail.

There isn't enough information to determine if any items of evidentiary value in identifying the murderer were found on Michelle's body. The scratches on her neck provide the possibility that Michelle also scratched her attacker. Her nails were clipped by the ME and preserved for DNA testing of any skin scrapings beneath them. If the murderer was not wearing gloves, his fingerprints may have been found on Michelle's neck, detectable with cyanoacrylate (superglue) fumes. Certainly, the evidence of a struggle gave investigators reason to believe that the perpetrator may have been injured and prompted them to demand DNA samples and photographs of Jason Young's body. A hair found adhered in blood to Michelle's hand was also preserved for testing. However, it wouldn't be very strong evidence unless it proved to be from someone who had no reason for being in the Youngs' house. The presence of a follicle attached to the hair could boost its evidentiary value if it turned out to be Jason's though.

A prelimary report issued in early November placed the time of death between midnight and 6 a.m. on November 3, 2006. The completed autopsy report does not specify time of death. However, there are some details listed that may have been useful in narrowing it. Upon discovering the body at 1:30 p.m. on Friday, Meredith, the victim's sister remarked that she was cold to the touch and her limbs were stiff, apparently in full or near full rigor. When the ME examined the body at 11:30 a.m. on Saturday, rigor was not detectable. Meredith informed the 911 operator that her sister was lying face-down, but the ME denotes that livor was dark and posterior upon his examination, indicating that it had not yet set when the body was discovered. There was approximately 70 grams of thick, partially-digested food in Michelle's stomach. All of these things might be useful to a trained expert in narrowing the timeline. Perhaps, a more thorough report of the pathologist's findings and interpretations already exists. If one isn't made publicly available beforehand, I'm sure he will be questioned about and testify to his opinions regarding time of death and possible murder weapons when this case goes to trial.

In the meantime, the findings in this report offer more to study in conjunction with information included in other previously released documents. I hope to do that in a future entry. Actually, I was working on an interpretation of the investigation prior to the release of the autopsy report and hope to finish it soon. Bear with me.


RPD said...

Base skull fracture, is a linear skull fracture involving the base of the skull. Breaks in bones at the base of the skull, require more force to cause than other skull fractures. Thus they are rare, occurring as the only fracture in only 4% of severe head injury patients.
This type of skull fracture can be caused by a blow to the back of the head

Anonymous said...

Just wanted to remind you guys on the board that pregnancy slows down your digestive system so the amount of time food is in all parts of digestion gets longer.

Average Jane said...

Yep, probably too many variables for stomach contents to be much help in narrowing time of death. When you get right down to it, I'm not sure that they really need to narrow it further than midnight to 6 am. What will be important is Jason's timeline. Did he really make the 11 pm phone call? If so, from where? What will various records show in regard to his whereabouts Friday morning? And do time and distance allow for the return trip to Raleigh during the night?

What was it Major Johnson said? "at certain places at certain times." That's an intriguing and weighty remark.