Man Arrested in 2018 for 1987 Cold Case Has Conviction Overturned Because of Juror Bias

William Earl Talbott II, who was arrested in 2018 for the 1987 killing of a Canadian couple, had his conviction overturned because of juror bias by an appeals court in Washington state on Monday.

One of the jurors said during jury selection she was unsure if she could be fair but was failed to be dismissed, The Associated Press reported. The juror experienced violence against women and didn't know if she, as a mother, could remain unbiased during the trial, she said.

"A flood of emotion might come over me ... and cloud my judgment," she said.

Despite her comments, Superior Court Judge Linda Krese still seated the juror, referred to as juror 40. Since then, Krese has retired. The juror listened to testimony and determined Talbott was guilty along with 11 other jurors after three days of deliberating.

"After her clear, repeated expressions of actual bias as to the precise nature of the allegations at the heart of this trial and evidence which would be introduced, we cannot conclude that juror 40 was sufficiently rehabilitated such that Talbott was provided a fair and impartial jury," wrote Judge Cecily Hazelrigg for the appeals court.

Prosecutors can ask the state Supreme Court to review the ruling until Jan. 5.

While concerns of juror bias were addressed, concerns about genetic genealogy were not. Talbott and his appellate attorneys pointed out issues regarding case evidence, with Talbott preparing court papers in which he mentioned the problems.

To identify suspects, detectives used genetic genealogy, which inputs crime-scene DNA profiles into public databases that people use to fill out their family trees. This method was used to arrest Talbott in 2018 for the killing of Jay Cook and Tanya Van Cuylenborg.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

William Earl Talbott II, Overturned Conviction, Bias
William Earl Talbott II was arrested for the 1987 killing of a Canadian couple through genetic genealogy, which inputs crime-scene DNA profiles into public databases that people use to fill out their family trees. Concerns were raised about this method during trial but were not addressed like the juror bias issue. In this photo, a police vehicle follows behind a group of demonstrators near Pike Place Market as they protest the death of Daunte Wright on April 12, 2021 in Seattle, Washington. David Ryder/Getty Images

In 2019, Talbott, 58, became the first person convicted by a jury in a case involving genetic genealogy, which previously had been used to crack the Golden State Killer serial murder case and which has since been used to solve many other cases.

Talbott was sentenced to life in prison for two counts of aggravated murder in the first degree.

Talbott's appellate attorneys raised many other issues related to the evidence in the case, as did Talbott in court papers he prepared himself. The appeals court only addressed juror bias, not concerns related to genetic genealogy.

Cook and Van Cuylenborg, of Vancouver Island, were on a trip to Seattle to pick up furnace parts for Cook's father on Nov. 18, 1987. They never made it to their destination. Within days, their bodies were found many miles away, and about 65 miles apart.

Cook, 20, had been beaten, strangled and left dead beneath a blue blanket south of Monroe. Van Cuylenborg, 18, was shot in the head. A passerby found her half-naked body in wet leaves off a rural roadside north of Mount Vernon. Prosecutors believe she was raped.

No arrest was made for more than 30 years. Then a Snohomish County sheriff's detective who inherited the case, Jim Scharf, decided to try genetic genealogy, using a DNA profile from semen-stained pants found in the couple's van and semen on the young woman's body.

With the help of DNA analysis by Parabon Nanolabs, genealogist CeCe Moore traced family trees on the ancestry database GEDmatch. The mother's and father's lines intersected with the Talbotts, a Woodinville family with only one son, William.

Scharf put the SeaTac trucker under surveillance. One day in south Seattle, a coffee cup fell out of his truck. An undercover officer swooped in to collect it. Saliva on the cup came back as an apparent genetic match.