A Washington State man who was found guilty of two counts of aggravated murder of a young B.C. couple in 1987 has had his conviction overturned.
William E. Talbott II was arrested more than 30 years after the killing of 18-year-old Tanya Van Cuylenborg and 20-year old Jay Cook.
In 2019, Talbott was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
However, he stated numerous “evidentiary and constitutional errors occurred at trial” including a biased juror.
In a ruling, the Washington State Court of Appeals found that under questioning a juror indicated she might have “difficulty with the topics and evidence of the trial, due to past traumatic experiences and as a new mother, such that she was unsure if she could be fair.”
The ruling states “since seating a biased juror is reversible error, we need not reach his other various challenges argued in briefing or the issues Talbott raises in a pro se statement of additional grounds for review. We reverse.”
At the time, Talbott’s lawyer moved to have the juror removed but the trial court denied the motion and the woman deliberated on the case.
In November 1987, 18-year-old Van Cuylenborg and 20-year-old Jay Cook were murdered on a trip to Washington state.
Van Cuylenborg and Cook each lived with their parents in Victoria.
On Nov. 18, 1987, the high school sweethearts decided to visit Seattle on an overnight trip.
They took the ferry from Victoria to Port Angeles, Wash., and drove down the Olympic Peninsula in a van. Investigators know they stopped to get gas at a business called Ben’s Deli. Receipts show they then took another ferry from Bremerton to Seattle.
However, investigators do not know what happened next.
On Nov. 24, 1987, Van Cuylenborg’s body was discovered in a ditch 20 kilometres south of Bellingham, Wash. She had been sexually assaulted and shot.
One day later her wallet and keys were found behind a Bellingham tavern. The van was found next to the Greyhound bus station.
On Nov. 26, 1987, Cook’s body was found under a bridge near Monroe, Wash. He had been beaten and strangled.
Talbott was identified as a suspect through the use of genetic genealogy, which is the use of DNA testing in combination with traditional genealogical methods to establish the relationship between an individual and their ancestors.
It was the first arrest of a murder suspect using results from Parabon’s genetic genealogy service.