State Supreme Court to examine overturned conviction of 1987 cold-case double murder

May 10, 2022, 4:34 PM | Updated: May 11, 2022, 8:26 am

cold-case murder...

William Talbott II (Credit Andy Bronson/The Herald via AP)

(Credit Andy Bronson/The Herald via AP)

The state Supreme Court will review a SeaTac trucker’s overturned conviction for a 1987 Snohomish County double homicide.

In 2019, a Snohomish County jury found Talbott, now 59, guilty of two counts of aggravated first-degree murder for killing young Canadian couple Jay Cook, 20, and Tanya Van Cuylenborg, 18.

The trial led to the first jury conviction in the world where detectives identified the suspect through forensic genealogy.

Snohomish County Superior Court Judge Linda Krese gave Talbott the only possible sentence in July 2019: life in prison with no chance of parole.

With cold-case murder conviction overturned by state court, former AG explains what went wrong

Former state Attorney General Rob McKenna joined KIRO Radio’s Seattle’s Morning News in December 2021 to break down what led up to the court’s decision.

“It had to do with a juror whom the Court of Appeals concluded demonstrated actual bias,” McKenna explained. “The defense attorneys attempted to have her dismissed from the jury for cause. The prosecutor opposed that, wanted her seated, and the Court sided with the prosecution and allowed this juror to be seated, even though she expressed doubts about her ability to be impartial when they were interviewing her.

“Her mother had been the victim of domestic violence, and she’d been exposed to it. Juror number 40 had a 14-month-old daughter. Feeling very protective as a mom, she was very honest with the court, saying, ‘Look, I will do my best, I will try. I will do my very best … to be impartial,’” he continued. “But the Court of Appeals after Talbott was convicted— who filed his appeal in part based on this issue— concluded the Talbott was denied his right to an impartial jury.”

Snohomish County prosecutors appealed to the state Supreme Court in January, arguing the appellate court’s ruling conflicted with case law in Washington, citing a state Supreme Court ruling: “a mere possibility of bias is not sufficient to prove actual bias; rather the record must demonstrate that there was a probability of actual bias.”

Meanwhile, Talbott, who has maintained his innocence, has remained behind bars at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla.

On Wednesday, justices unanimously granted a motion to hear arguments in the case. Of 42 cases reviewed this week by the state’s highest court, it was one of only two that justices agreed to examine.

“I’m certainly grateful that the Supreme Court decided to grant the petition, and we look forward to defending our case,” Snohomish County Prosecutor Adam Cornell said Wednesday.

Cook, 20, and Van Cuylenborg, 18, had made a trip from Victoria to Seattle on Nov. 18, 1987, as an errand for Cook’s father, who needed someone to pick up about $750 in furnace parts from a company in south Seattle.

Their bodies were found two days apart when a passerby found Van Cuylenborg’s body on Nov. 24, 1987, off a rural road in Skagit County. She was nude from the waist down, and she had been shot in the back of the head. Hunters discovered Cook’s body on Thanksgiving Day under a blue blanket, near the High Bridge on the Snoqualmie River, south of Monroe. He’d been beaten around the head and strangled with twine tied to two dog collars.

Semen stains recovered from two of the crime scenes had long been kept in storage. Cold case detectives at the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office renewed their efforts to solve the case in recent years, sending the evidence to Parabon NanoLabs, who extracted a genetic profile.

Through an ancestry database, genetic genealogist CeCe Moore built family trees of the unknown suspect, based on the DNA. Within hours, she pinpointed the spot where the man’s maternal and paternal family lines intersected: a Woodinville family, the Talbotts, who only had one son.

Dori: Triple murder convict seeks parole as victim’s daughter relives trauma

That son, who went by Bill, was working as a trucker in SeaTac. Police put him under surveillance. One day, a coffee cup fell out of his truck. An officer grabbed it and sent the saliva sample to a crime lab for comparison to the semen’s genetic profile. It came back as an apparent match. Detectives arrested Talbott at his work in 2018.

One of the defense attorneys who worked on the case, Jon Scott, was appointed to serve as a Snohomish County Superior Court judge in April.

If the Court of Appeals ruling stands, he would still face a new trial.

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State Supreme Court to examine overturned conviction of 1987 cold-case double murder