Man who eluded homicide investigators in Washington state for nearly 50 years – until a DNA match on a coffee mug solved the cold case – died Monday in apparent suicide , just hours before a jury convicted him of murder, authorities said.
The man, Terrence Miller, 78, was charged last year with the 1972 murder of Jody Loomis in Snohomish County, about 20 miles north of Seattle.
Ms Loomis, 20, was cycling to visit her horse at a nearby stable when she was sexually assaulted and then shot in the head with a .22 caliber pistol, according to a probable cause affidavit.
Investigators used genetic genealogy, a process that involved cross-checking DNA evidence – taken from a hiking shoe worn by Ms Loomis – with ancestry records to link Mr Miller to the unsolved murder. They did not know each other, authorities said.
Genetic genealogy has helped identify more than 40 suspects in lingering cold cases, including the so-called Golden State Killer in California. It also led to a double murder conviction in another high-profile case in the same Pacific Northwest county where Ms Loomis was killed.
Just before 10 a.m. on Monday, Sheriff’s assistants in Edmonds, Wash. Responded to a suicide report and found what they believed to be Mr Miller’s body, the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office. Mr Miller was on bail and a family member reported the suicide, the sheriff’s office said.
About three hours later, in Snohomish County Superior Court, a jury that had been hearing the case against Mr. Miller for two weeks found him guilty of murdering Ms. Loomis. The judge in the case announced in court that Mr. Miller had died, reported a local radio station.
A final decision on Mr Miller’s cause of death will not be made until at least Tuesday, a spokeswoman for the county medical examiner wrote in an email Monday evening.
For decades, the murder of Ms Loomis had baffled investigators. A couple who had fired at the target found her partially naked body on a secluded dirt road near Bothell, Wash. On August 23, 1972. Semen was recovered from Ms. Loomis’ body and from a “waffle” hiking boot. ” that she had. wore at the time and had borrowed from her sister.
In 2008, the samples were sent to the Washington State Patrol Crime Laboratory for DNA testing, but they did not return a match.
The breakthrough in the case came in 2018 when investigators, working with Parabon NanoLabs, were able to compile a family tree of possible suspects based on the semen sample found on the heel of the victim’s hiking shoe. . The company uses DNA to help law enforcement find genetic matches.
It was at this point that investigators began monitoring Mr. Miller, whom they followed to a nearby casino and from whom they retrieved a cup of coffee that he had thrown in the trash, according to the probable cause affidavit. The DNA sample matched exactly the semen found on Ms Loomis’ boot, according to the affidavit. He was arrested in April 2019 and charged with first degree murder.
Both Ms Loomis’ parents are deceased and her sister could not be immediately reached for comment on Monday evening.
Laura Martin, Mr Miller’s public defender, challenged the integrity of the DNA evidence in an email to the New York Times on Monday evening.
“Death seemed better than leaving a jury to decide a verdict on flawed evidence,” Ms. Martin wrote. “It is a terrible tragedy that began with the death of Jody Loomis and is made worse by an innocent man who committed suicide.”
When two undercover detectives visited a ceramics business Mr Miller ran with his wife out of their garage in November 2018, they noticed a diary of nearly seven months on a table with a headline on an arrest made in another case cold in Snohomish. County, states the affidavit. This case involved the double murder of a young couple from British Columbia in 1987, which led to the conviction of William Talbot II.
“The presence of the newspaper seemed, at best, a strange coincidence,” the affidavit states. “It could also be inferred that the defendant was keeping track of the techniques law enforcement used to resolve cold cases.”