North Sound News

State Supreme Court reinstates guilty verdicts in Canadian couple’s 1987 murder

EVERETT, Wash. — A guilty verdict for a man originally convicted of murdering a Canadian couple in 1987 — but was later overturned — has been reinstated by the Washington State Supreme Court Thursday.

Vancouver Island couple Jay Cook and Tanya Van Cuylenborg 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.

In 2019, William Talbot the first person convicted by a jury in a case involving genetic genealogy, which has since been used to solve many other cases.

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

Talbott appealed the conviction, which hinged on a woman known as juror 40. The appeal asserted that the juror should not have been seated because she was biased, but Talbott’s defense attorneys did not use one of their three peremptory challenges to have a juror removed from a case without giving a reason.

Juror 40 was still seated by Superior Court Judge Linda Krese, who has since retired. The juror heard witness testimony for weeks and reached the guilty verdict with 11 others, following three days of deliberation.

In December 2021, a state appeals court overturned Talbott’s conviction, citing juror bias.

The three appeals court judges found that juror 40 should have been dismissed during jury selection because she said she didn’t know if she could be fair. She had experience of violence against women and she did not know if she, as a mother, could be unbiased in such a case, she said.

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

“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,” Judge Cecily Hazelrigg wrote for the appeals court.

Snohomish County prosecutors asked the state Supreme Court to review the appeals court ruling.

In September of this year, the state Supreme Court heard arguments in the case.

High court justices had to decide “whether a party who declines to remove a prospective juror with an available peremptory challenge has the right to appeal the seating of that juror,” the decision said.

On Thursday, justices said the answer to that question was no.

Talbott’s attorneys had accepted the jury, including juror 40, and that “his claim is foreclosed by a long line of precedent holding that a party who accepts the jury panel without exhausting their peremptory challenges cannot appeal ‘based on the jury’s composition,’ the decision said.

Talbott remains at Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla. He would have faced another trial if the murder verdicts had not been reinstated, the Herald reported.