EVERETT — It should have been sentencing day for Terrence Miller, who lived 48 years without facing the consequences for killing Jody Loomis, 20, on a sunny August day in what is now Mill Creek.
But there was no defendant in the courtroom.
In a unique hearing for a unique case Thursday afternoon, Superior Court Judge David Kurtz upheld a guilty verdict for Miller, 78, the Edmonds man who killed himself last month as a jury deliberated — and convicted him a few hours later — in the 1972 killing.
It was the longest a family has ever waited for justice in Snohomish County and lived to see it in court.
Before ruling Thursday, the judge heard statements from family members speaking on behalf of both the victim and the defendant. He also heard arguments from the defense and a deputy prosecutor, debating whether to vacate the conviction in light of the timing of Miller’s death. The jury was allowed to keep deliberating in spite of the defendant’s suicide.
Deputy prosecutor Craig Matheson argued that “Mr. Miller did not die of a disease or get COVID or get hit by a car.” He took his own life, he said, “in order not to show up in court.”
The defense conceded, and the judge agreed, that somewhat relevant case law cited in the defense’s motion did not quite align with the circumstances here. Kurtz said it was “somewhat unprecedented” and “truly an extraordinary situation.” In the end, the judge was not persuaded by the defense’s legal arguments.
“And indeed, I am convinced that, quite simply, it is not the right thing to do,” Kurtz said.
In lieu of sentencing, the judge read and signed a document affirming that Miller’s guilt had been proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
“Labels and symbols are important, and how this case is ended does matter,” the judge said.
Loomis was riding her 10-speed bicycle from her family home on Winesap Road to see her horse at a stable about 6 miles away when she encountered the killer on Aug. 23, 1972. Passersby found her mortally wounded on a dirt track off Penny Creek Road, a place that was much more rural two generations ago.
Loomis had been shot once in the head with a .22-caliber round. A suspect left a tiny semen stain on a boot worn by Loomis. But the DNA went undetected and languished for decades, until a state crime lab worker discovered it in the 2000s.
Ultimately, investigators turned to a novel technique known as forensic genealogy — extracting and uploading the DNA profile into public ancestry databases the way people go searching for long-lost cousins — but this was a kind of reverse search, with the goal of identifying the source of the DNA by the process of elimination of blood relatives.
An Oregon genealogist’s research led Snohomish County sheriff’s detectives to Miller, a retired heavy equipment operator who still lived in Edmonds, a few miles from the crime scene.
Snohomish County detectives realized Miller had been accused multiple times in the past of sexual crimes but was never convicted of a serious offense. The sheriff’s office put Miller under surveillance. One day he threw a paper coffee cup into a garbage can at a casino. Undercover police seized it and sent it to a crime lab to compare the genetic profile of his saliva with the profile on the boot. It was an apparent match.
Detectives arrested Miller in April 2019. He was charged with first-degree murder, then posted $1 million bond. At a bail hearing, the deputy prosecutor argued Miller might harm himself and rob the Loomis family of the justice they had awaited for decades.
A trial began in October, with testimony from those who knew Loomis or saw her on the day she died.
The case went to a jury Nov. 6. It was a Friday, and the seven women and five men deliberated a few hours before going home for the weekend. Miller’s wife called 911 the following Monday, reporting her husband had shot himself at their home off 52nd Place West. Hours later, the jury, unaware of the death, reached a verdict of guilty.
An autopsy confirmed the death was suicide by gun.
Loomis’ sister, Jana Loomis-Smith, spoke first on Thursday. Both of their parents, she said, died without ever knowing who killed their daughter. She didn’t want vengeance, she said. She simply wanted the truth written in the court record — that Miller murdered her sister.
“We miss Jody’s love, her sisterhood, and this pain is now part of our surviving life,” she said. “Friends are there to help me, but they’re not my sister.”
Miller’s niece, his only family member in court, offered a tearful kind of apology — “but that’s not the right word; we feel for your loss, very much so.”
Outside the courtroom, Loomis’ sister carried a portrait of Jody in riding gear beside her horse, Saudi, which she was going to see that day. Loomis borrowed the size 5½ St. Moritz waffle-stomper boots — the linchpin evidence that helped solve the crime — from her younger sister, who was then 12.
Jana Loomis-Smith said this outcome should give hope to other families and victims who have waited years for their cold cases to be solved. She wanted to thank the forensic experts at Parabon NanoLabs; sheriff’s detectives Jim Scharf and Kendra Conley; the deputy prosecutors; and “all the advocates helping us to stand, because there’s times when you don’t think you’re going to make it.”
“Truth never dies,” Jody Loomis’ sister said. “They thought it was going to die. They thought it was so old that we wouldn’t be able to follow through with the truth. And this helps, this helps.”
Caleb Hutton: 425-339-3454; firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @snocaleb.