'Utterly devastating': Prosecution disappointed by overturned convictions in Saanich couple's murder
The man found guilty in 2019 of murdering Saanich sweethearts Tanya Van Cuylenborg, 18, and 20-year-old Jay Cook more than three decades ago had those convictions overturned by the Washington State Court of Appeals.
The ruling, made Monday, was disappointing to Adam Cornell, the prosecuting attorney for Snohomish County, Wash.
“I’m very disappointed and I can only imagine how utterly devastating it must be to the families of Jay and Tanya,” said Cornell on Tuesday.
A jury in convicted 58-year-old William Earl Talbott II in July 2019.
The Seattle-area truck driver was arrested the previous year and genealogy technology provided the big break in the cold case.
Van Culenborg and Cook had travelled from Victoria to Seattle on Nov. 18, 1987 to pick up a furnace for Cook’s father.
Her body was found six days later in a ditch near Bellingham, Wash. She was naked from the waist down, her hands tied and she had been shot in the back of the head from close range.
Cook’s body was discovered approximately 100 kilometres away. He had been strangled to death, his face was beaten, and his hands were also tied.
In 2018, investigators traced DNA from the crime scenes to Talbott’s relatives on a public ancestry database, and then zeroed in on him. Undercover police then grabbed his DNA from a coffee cup that fell off his truck when he was working.
Talbott's DNA matched some found on Can Cuylenborg's body, and was key evidence in securing guilty verdicts in the case.
But on Monday the court ruled that one of the jurors was biased, and should have been dismissed during selection, after she’d said she didn’t know if she could be fair.
It’s an outcome that wouldn’t be likely to happen in Canada, says Michael Mulligan, a criminal defence lawyer in Victoria.
“In Canada, we don’t ordinarily ask any questions of prospective jurors, so that we wouldn't know that this juror didn't think that she could be fair and impartial,” said Mulligan.
The prosecution can either appeal the latest decision to the state’s highest court, or proceed with a new trial.
“Whether that takes another few months or years, we are steadfast in our desire to bring justice,” said Cornell.
Talbott has maintained his innocence throughout the process.
Cornell said the prosecution will likely decide Wednesday whether it will appeal the overturned conviction or launch a new trial.