EVERETT — The family of Jody Loomis waited 47 years for detectives to track down and arrest the suspect accused of murdering her on Aug. 23, 1972.
They’ve waited another 1½ years for Terrence Miller’s trial to begin, amid delays brought on by bail hearings, depositions and a pandemic that slowed the wheels of justice to a crawl.
The wait appears to be over.
Snohomish County Superior Court Judge David Kurtz denied a defense motion Thursday that would have pushed back the trial beyond late October, into 2021.
Loomis was killed a few miles from her home near Mill Creek after she left on a 10-speed bicycle to see her horse at a stable. That day she borrowed her sister’s boots. Passersby found her on Penny Creek Road, where someone shot her above the right ear, according to charging papers. She was dead on arrival at the hospital. She had just turned 20.
Years of investigation proved fruitless.
Then forensic genealogy led Snohomish County sheriff’s detectives to identify Miller as a suspect in 2018. Semen had been left on one of the boots. A lab managed to extract a DNA profile, and it was uploaded to a public genealogy site. An Oregon genealogist built family trees based on that profile, searching for the point where the branches intersected.
Last year, a Snohomish County jury convicted William Talbott of murdering a young Canadian couple in 1987, marking the first time in the world that forensic genealogy had been used to get a conviction at trial.
In the Loomis case, the technique led detectives to Miller, who still lived in Edmonds, selling ceramics out of a garage with his wife of 42 years. Police put him under surveillance. Eventually, at the Tulalip Resort Casino, he tossed a coffee cup into the trash. Officers seized the cup. It was tested and came back as an apparent match for the male genetic profile on the boot, according to the charges.
Miller was arrested in April 2019. He was charged with first-degree murder and pleaded not guilty. The defendant, now 78, posted $1 million bail over a year ago.
On Thursday, defense attorney Laura Martin argued she needed more time to get ready. In the past months, public defenders in Snohomish County have handled a flurry of bail hearings for imprisoned clients who are at serious risk of death if they become infected with COVID-19.
Martin represents a total of 68 defendants, she said.
Her co-counsel, Fred Moll, has 95 clients.
In Miller’s case, the defense still needs to interview three expert witnesses about the DNA evidence — the central evidence in the case — as well as 15 civilians, Martin said.
“The defense has not been dilatory in its preparation of this case. In fact, quite to the contrary,” she said. “We have made diligent efforts to prepare Mr. Miller’s defense, and that has been at the expense of other clients that we represent.”
She asked that the trial be set for January.
The judge heard from Loomis’ sister, Jana Smith, and a foster brother, Richard Durfee, who said his mother died while the case was pending. His father died before the arrest. Many of the people interested or involved in the case are now elderly, including the defendant, and may not be alive much longer. Loomis’ childhood friends keep asking Durfee what’s taking so long, he said.
“For all of them, they want to know, as do I,” he said.
Kurtz reached a decision independent of the family’s pleas, he said. He said it’s safe to say this case has waited for trial longer than any other in Snohomish County’s history. He pointed out that Richard Nixon was running for re-election when Loomis was killed. It was that long ago.
If the pandemic worsens in the fall, it could be pushed off again for “months and months and months,” Kurtz said.
“In my mind, at this point, it’s not even a close call,” he said. “So, respectfully, all counsel and all your witnesses need to buckle down and get ready. Yes, things may change, and going forward on Oct. 16 might ultimately prove impossible. But I doubt it.”
Kurtz said his opinion was “extremely unlikely to change.”
Before the judge stepped off the bench, Martin jumped in and said she wanted to be very clear about something: The court was putting her in a position where she would need to interview the state’s forensic witnesses without having time to consult her own expert. So if Miller is found guilty, the conviction will likely be overturned on appeal, she argued.
“What the court is asking me to do is virtually impossible,” she said. “… I don’t have any idea how the court expects us to get that done. So, respectfully, I’m asking to put that on the record, because I suspect this case will be coming back.”
“Thank you, Ms. Martin,” Kurtz said. “You have made your record. But, respectfully, get ready.”
Caleb Hutton: 425-339-3454; email@example.com. Twitter: @snocaleb.