William Earl Talbott II enters the courtroom May 18 at the Skagit County Community Justice Center before entering a plea of not guilty. (Charles Biles/Skagit Valley Herald via AP)

William Earl Talbott II enters the courtroom May 18 at the Skagit County Community Justice Center before entering a plea of not guilty. (Charles Biles/Skagit Valley Herald via AP)

Prosecutors confirm they won’t seek death in Talbott case

The state Supreme Court found the death penalty unconstitutional. Trial expected in 2019 in slayings.

EVERETT — One month after the state Supreme Court set aside the death penalty in Washington, Snohomish County prosecutors confirmed for a judge Monday that they won’t try to get around the ruling in a decades-old double murder cold case.

The confirmation was largely a formality during a pretrial conference.

Until the October decision, prosecutors had been considering whether to seek the death penalty in the case against SeaTac truck driver William Earl Talbott II, 55, who is charged with the aggravated murders of Jay Cook, 20, and Tanya Van Cuylenborg, 18. The Canadian couple were on an errand to the Puget Sound area to pick up furnace parts for Cook’s father when they were abducted and killed more than 30 years ago.

Superior Court Judge Linda Krese asked deputy prosecutor Matthew Baldock Monday if the state didn’t intend to file paperwork seeking the death penalty.

“That is correct your honor,” he said.

Use of capital punishment effectively ended in Washington when the Supreme Court ruled last month that the state’s death penalty law is unconstitutional. Justices concluded the law is imposed in an arbitrary and racially biased manner, and converted all death sentences to life imprisonment.

Even so, the court did leave open the possibility for lawmakers to revise the law in a way that’s constitutional.

Monday’s hearing was a chance to check on the status of the case with prosecutors and defense attorneys.

The plan at the moment is for trial to begin in early April with pretrial motions March 29.

Preparations have been challenging, given that there are more than 11,000 pages of investigative reports from two law enforcement agencies to comb through, Baldock told the judge.

“Discovery is voluminous,” he said.

The time-consuming task is making it hard to quickly come up with a final witness list to send to defense lawyers, he said. Even so, that should be done by mid-December.

The trial is expected to last a month with the bulk of the first week spent choosing a jury, defense attorney Jon Scott told the judge.

Cook and Van Cuylenborg were killed in 1987 while on a road trip from their hometown of Saanich, B.C., on Vancouver Island, to Seattle’s industrial area.

Days later, a passerby found Van Cuylenborg’s body off a road 80 miles north, near Alger in Skagit County. She had been sexually assaulted, shot in the head and dumped in the woods.

The body of Cook was discovered beneath a blanket that week, near a bridge south of Monroe. He appeared to have been beaten with rocks and strangled.

Talbott’s parents lived six miles from the bridge, according to charging papers.

The case went unsolved for three decades. Talbott’s name never made a list of more than 300 potential suspects, according to the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office.

This year a new analysis of DNA evidence led a genetic genealogist and cold case detectives to identify him as the suspected killer, by way of second cousins who had uploaded their DNA to public genealogy sites. The cousins were searching for relatives. If convicted, Talbott faces life in prison.

Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446; stevick@heraldnet.com.

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