The possibility of any further civil proceedings stemming from the 2012 death of Molly Young now rests in the hands of the appellate court in Mt. Vernon.
Lawyers for Young’s father, Larry Young, and defendant Richard Minton presented oral arguments Thursday before the Fifth District Appellate Court regarding whether a wrongful death case should be allowed to move forward, despite it having been dismissed from the circuit court last year because Larry Young did not file the suit within the two-year statute of limitations for such action.
Of particular interest in the case, although not in any legally applicable sense, is the fact that Gov. Bruce Rauner last week signed “Molly’s Law,” which in part extends that statute of limitations in wrongful death cases to five years. The law will take effect next year.
Molly Young, 21 at the time, was found dead in March 2012 from a gunshot wound to the head in the apartment of her on-and-off boyfriend, Minton, who at the time was a Carbondale Police dispatcher. Supporters of the Young family have pointed to a host of details — Minton not making a 911 call until hours after her presumed time of death, Minton reporting the death as an overdose, and Minton having been allowed to wash his hands by the first officers on the scene — as evidence of fraudulent concealment of a crime. Such a distinction, in theory, would allow the statute of limitations for a wrongful death case to extend to five years even under existing law.
An inquest jury in early 2013 was unable to rule Young’s death a suicide or homicide, instead calling the cause of death undetermined. Meanwhile, three separate prosecutors have declined to bring criminal charges against Minton, saying there is insufficient evidence to prove that Young’s death was a homicide. While text messages sent from her phone seem to indicate possible suicidal intentions, other evidence — a lack of fingerprints on the gun and the downward trajectory of the bullet, for example — have raised significant questions.
Larry Young filed the wrongful death lawsuit against Minton in July 2014, about three months after the end of the statute of limitations. In circuit court hearings, Young’s attorney, Charles Stegmeyer, argued that Young did not bring the case right away because he learned facts following the January 2013 inquest that indicated to him more clearly that his daughter’s death may have been a homicide. Also, Stegmeyer has argued that Young has had great difficulty obtaining records from police agencies involved in investigating the case.
The case was dismissed from the circuit court last year because of the statute of limitations issue, although Young appealed it. On Thursday, Stegmeyer presented similar arguments to the appellate court.
“Had Larry had more time than two years, he could have presented facts, documents, photographs, what have you,” Stegmeyer argued. “He had to rely on what information he got supposedly from a police department, investigating arms. He was not satisfied that they were correct. What was he left to do?”
Minton’s attorney, Bryan Drew, said the evidence Stegmeyer has presented of fraudulent concealment in the case does not meet any legal standard. He also argued that Larry Young should have known from the very day of his daughter’s death that it was the result of a “sudden traumatic event” — the very kind of event that begins the clock on the statute of limitations.
“In a car accident, there’s always a disagreement as to what happened,” Drew argued. “Statements are made, and cars are moved, and things take place. But when a car accident happens, you know there’s a sudden traumatic event. Someone could be at fault for this. You’re aware. You’ve been placed on notice that you may have a cause of action, and your job at that point if you want to be a plaintiff is to move forward with that and determine whether or not there is a cause of action, investigate it and bring it within two years.”
There is no firm timeline as to when the court will issue its decision.