Jason Young checked into The Hampton Inn in Hillsville, Virginia at approximately eleven o’clock the night of November 2, 2006, and was seen in the lobby as late as midnight. The hotel was a little more than half-way between his home in Raleigh, North Carolina and Clinton, Virginia — the location of his ten o’clock appointment the next morning at Dickinson Community Hospital.
At both of Jason Young’s trials, the state called witnesses from the Hampton Inn to testify that there were issues with one of the surveillance cameras that night. Though DNA and prints on and near the camera didn’t match Jason’s, the state still managed to find a way to attribute the camera oddities to him. This became circumstantial evidence that Jason “could have” exited the building undetected, but do the facts support the claim?
The state’s theory was that Young left the building sometime after midnight, drove back to Raleigh to commit a murder, and then returned to the hotel sometime that morning. He had his newspaper and receipt which was placed under the door, so he had to have been there early that morning. That is indisputable.
Officer Ikerd with the Wake County Sheriff’s Office wrote a detailed summary dated November 4, 2006 describing his trip to the hotel and his discussion with the employees. He stated that at that time he learned from night clerk Keith Hicks that a camera had been unplugged sometime that night, and that a rock was propping open an adjacent exit door. Sounds very suspicious, right?
Interestingly, another WCSO police officer — Officer Boyette recorded notes of his attempt to reach the Hampton Inn clerks by phone a day after Ikerd’s reported meeting. He was able to reach Hicks that afternoon and simply noted, “Keith does not remember anything. Nothing stands out — any normal guest.” That is quite inconsistent with Ikerd’s very specific details from Hicks one day prior. Hicks testified at both trials and told the rock/camera tampering story.
Detective Broadwell was on duty with Ikerd. He recorded some hand-written notes for November 4, but no mention of a rock, and no mention of camera tampering.
Let’s look closely at the reported camera activity (evening of November 2 through morning of November 3, 2006)
- Detective Brent David summarized the camera activity in narrative #401 on April 4, 2007. For unknown reasons, police did not seem to even examine the surveillance footage until several months after the murder.
- DVDs labeled Pool A, Pool B, Floor 1 Elevator, Floor 2 Elevator, Floor 3 Elevator, Floor 4 Elevator, Corridor, bottom stairwell, stairwell and front desk were examined. Of significance, it’s noted that for every single camera ” Time stamp stops at 11/03/06 6:51:55 then jumps to 11/03/06 7:17:14. ” After that, the cameras are working again! That would have been the likely time for Jason to have breakfast in the lobby, and then depart the hotel. Too bad the tape mysteriously stopped during that critical time that could have possibly proven he never left the hotel. Either there was an unreported power outage at the hotel, or someone erased the video during that time-frame. Yet, there was no discussion of this at trial. Should the evidence have even been allowed?
- Jason’s cell phone pinged in Wytheville, Virginia at 7:40, which is approximately a thirty minute drive from the Hampton Inn — thus placing his departure time at approximately 7:10 a.m — well within that erased window of time.
Testimonies of Keith Hicks (clerk) and Elmer Goad (Maintenance worker):
Keith Hicks testified that he observed that the stairwell camera was unplugged in the early morning hours while delivering receipts and newspapers. It would have been in the 4-5 a.m. range. He stated that he informed Elmer Goad about the camera when he arrived at approximately six o’clock a.m. Hicks claimed he didn’t plug in the camera because it was too high. He couldn’t reach it. Goad would need to use a ladder to plug it in.
Goad testified that he plugged in the camera, but then shortly after that, he noticed on the office monitor that it was pushed up toward the ceiling, so he had to go back and re-position it. The assertion was that Jason was sneaking into the hotel and pushed the camera toward the ceiling so he would not be detected.
(Funny that the employees didn’t seem to notice that the cameras all mysteriously stopped recording for twenty-five minutes that morning, since they were SO observant of the camera activity!)
Both Hicks and Goad lied, and there’s proof.
The stairwell camera was the one allegedly tampered with. Detective’s notes indicate the following:
11/02/06 11:20 p.m. — camera image goes black.
There’s a screen shot of Hicks in the corridor minutes before the camera image returns.
11/03/06 5:50:43 — camera image returns. Camera is now tilted.
5:55:43 — Face and body of Keith Hicks appears.
That is proof that Hicks plugged the camera back in. His face was in the camera! Unfortunately, this footage was excluded from the trials. Since Keith plugged in the camera, wouldn’t it be logical to believe that he also unplugged it shortly after beginning his shift? Possibly to sneak people in, or take smoke breaks undetected? No. The theory is that Jason Young checked into this hotel with a grand scheme of unplugging a stairwell camera so he could sneak out of the building. His hotel door would have remained ajar for the entire night for this plan to work, as there was no additional key card swipes at his hotel room.
But the notion that Hicks may have messed with the camera in both instances was ignored. They needed to find a way to get Jason out of the building to pin the murder on him.
Hicks testified that this camera issue was soooo unusual, never happens. Had to get maintenance involved. Oh, yes and there was the rock propping open the door! (The rock he failed to mention during his initial interviews).
Regarding the testimony suggesting the camera was batted up toward the ceiling — The police notes specifically state that at 5:50 — just as the camera image reappeared, the camera was tilted! Hicks would have tilted it, not someone sneaking into the building.
Further, the police notes go on:
6:16:41 Elmer Goad appears to be walking down the stairs (Officer Stubbs’ notes have Elmer Goad’s name scratched out and replaced with w/m). Would really love to see a screen shot or the actual video. Again, why wasn’t it shown to the jury?
6:35:06 Camera moved and pointed toward emergency light.
6:37:06 Camera pointed toward exit door
6:38 Camera pointed toward stairs
If it was Elmer Goad, why was he going to the camera at 6:16? The camera was plugged in by Hicks before Goad even arrived at work. Why did he lie in court and claim that he plugged it in?
He may have re-positioned it at 6:35, but he certainly didn’t plug it in. Maybe the state wanted to make it seem like it was such a big deal that maintenance had to get involved to correct it.
Second floor camera issues
Camera black-outs also occurred on the second floor. This wasn’t discussed at trial either. Is it because it doesn’t fit with the claim that it is such a rare occurrence at that building?
“Image fades to dark at 00:43:26 and comes back into light at 05:00:48, then goes dark at 5:18:45, and goes to light at 08:01:56.”
Obviously there were issues with many of the cameras, but the state chose to fixate on the stairwell camera so they could convince a jury that Jason had opportunity to leave the building unnoticed.
With the recent prosecutorial misconduct case in Wake County, it’s difficult to trust that any of the cases were conducted honestly. ADA Cummings, who prosecuted Jason Young’s second trial was the unethical prosecutor’s supervisor.