With jury selection now complete, the trial of 78-year-old Terrence Miller of Edmonds in the 1972 rape and murder of then-20-year-old Jody Loomis got underway Monday before Superior Court Judge David Kurtz. In their opening statements to the jury, both the prosecution and defense attorneys made it clear that the guilt or innocence of the accused will be primarily determined by DNA evidence.
Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Craig Matheson began by thumbnailing the pertinent facts of the crime for the jury. He built a picture of the crime scene — near what is now Mill Creek Road, east of the intersection of Bothell-Everett Highway and 164th Street Southwest — and surrounding area, stressing that in 1972 it was rural, wooded and very unlike the busy, populated location it has become over the intervening years. He described the victim, her family situation, her physical appearance, and a passing couple’s discovery of her still-breathing body, mostly undressed and with a single gunshot wound to the head. He went on to relate how the couple transported her to Stevens Hospital in Edmonds (which was then a small community hospital and the closest facility to the crime scene), where she was declared dead on arrival.
Matheson next described the manner in which the evidence was collected and stored, noting that while police conducted investigations at the time and identified several persons of interest, they were unable to link anyone to the crime.
He then noted that over the next two decades the science of DNA analysis progressed to the point where it became an increasingly important tool in crime investigations, and that in 2008 the stored evidence in the Jody Loomis case was subjected to DNA analysis. At that time, technicians found a semen stain on Loomis’s boot, which yielded a partial DNA profile. This prompted investigators to again contact persons of interest and obtain DNA samples. But none provided a match to the profile extracted from the boot.
It was 2018 before the next development in the case, when forensic genealogy profiling provided a new technique to identify and match DNA samples by searching DNA databases for close relatives and then use conventional genealogical tools to build family trees.
Matheson described how this technique provided a link to a local couple, and further suggested that the DNA sample from the crime scene likely came from among their male offspring – one of whom was Terrence Miller.
Undercover detectives then began covert surveillance of Miller, which included following him to the Tulalip Casino, where in August 2018 they observed him discard a coffee cup. The agents retrieved the cup, and the saliva residue provided a match to the DNA sample taken from Loomis’s boot.
A seven-month investigation of Miller’s history then ensued, and in April 2019 detectives determined they had enough evidence to arrest him for the crime. They took a new DNA sample, which provided what Matheson described as a match to the profile from the boot, positively linking him to the 1972 rape and murder.
The opening statement for the defense was presented by Frederic Moll, who along with attorney Laura Martin comprise Miller’s defense team.
Moll began by telling the jury that this case is as much of a mystery today as it was in 1972. He stressed that the DNA on the boot does not constitute proof that Miller committed the crime, and that over the intervening years there were numerous flaws in how the DNA evidence was handled that together cast reasonable doubt on its validity.
He pointed out that at the time of the crime, the police, coroners and other officials were not attuned to DNA evidence or how to handle it. He described how the evidence, including the boot, was stored in unsealed garbage bags, that at least one person who collected it was not wearing gloves, and that the evidence was then out of sight for 30 years. During this time, it may have been touched or handled by others – and that no one knows how it may have been compromised over the intervening years.
He went on to raise the possibility that the technician who extracted the stain from the boot touched the boot material without gloves and may well have contaminated the sample with his own DNA in the process.
“What happened to the evidence?” he asked. “Whose DNA would have been found on Jody’s boot if the evidence hadn’t been lost over the years? Too many pieces of this puzzle don’t fit.
“The most important question of all,” he concluded, “is who killed Jody Loomis – because it wasn’t Mr. Miller.”
The trial resumes Tuesday at 9 a.m. and will likely continue at least through the remainder of the week. Those interested can follow the proceedings via the YouTube livestream here.
— By Larry Vogel