First week of cold-case trial focuses on the crime, evidence handling and DNA analysis

Defendant Terrence Miller (left foreground) with his defense team of Frederic Moll and Laura Martin. Judge David Kurtz is in the background.

The trial of Terrence Miller of Edmonds in the 1972 rape and murder of then-20-year-old Jody Loomis concluded its first week of proceedings on Friday before Superior Court Judge David Kurtz.

The now 78-year-old Miller was linked to the crime via modern forensic DNA analysis, which utilized a DNA profile extracted from a semen stain found on the victim’s left boot. This sample was extracted in 2008 by the Washington State Patrol Crime Lab and subjected to further analysis in 2010 and 2011. In 2018, the crime scene DNA profile was compared to profiles now available in various public and law enforcement DNA databases. By identifying close matches, forensic analysts identified a local couple, one of whose male children was the likely source of the semen recovered from the crime scene. Miller was one of these children.

Undercover detectives then began following Miller, and in August 2018 observed him discard a coffee cup in a trash receptacle at the Tulalip Casino. They retrieved the cup, submitted it for analysis, and the saliva residue provided a match to the crime scene DNA profile. This prompted an intensive investigation of Miller’s background. By August 2019, detectives had amassed sufficient evidence for probable cause and arrested Miller, accusing him of the 1972 crime. He was subsequently arraigned, formally charged with the crime, and has been free on $1 million bail since then. The trial began on Monday, Oct. 26.

After opening arguments, the team of Deputy Prosecuting Attorneys Craig Matheson and Bob Langbehnbegan their presentation of the case for the state. Initial witnesses included family members, friends and acquaintances of the victim, the couple who discovered the unconscious Loomis and brought her to the then-Stevens Hospital emergency room where she was declared dead, current and former county medical examiners, and various detectives, evidence room officials and other persons and witnesses associated with the case.

The state’s case began with a meticulous reconstruction for the jury of the area surrounding the crime scene as it was in 1972. At that time it was very different from the upscale suburban complex of today, and was a decidedly rural environment characterized by farms, livestock, two-lane roads, fruit stands, and large tracts of undeveloped woodland crisscrossed by dirt roads and trails. Prosecutors then built a profile for the jury of the victim herself through testimony of her sister and several acquaintances, who described a young, attractive, outgoing woman who dressed and carried herself in the style of the times. They particularly noted her passion for horses, describing in detail her devotion to caring for, riding and being with her horse Saudi.

By mid-week the state moved to the details of the crime itself, which brought at least one witness – a neighbor, friend of the victim, and fellow horse lover –  to tears while providing testimony on the stand. Additional testimony included accounts from the couple who found Loomis’s still-breathing body, describing how they found her and transported her to Stevens Hospital in their two-seater sports car.  The victim’s sister also testified, providing an account of the scene at the family home the evening of Aug. 23 when police arrived to inform them of Jody Loomis’s death

Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Craig Matheson asks a question of Judge David Kurtz

During the latter part of the week, the state’s case moved to testimony from detectives, evidence room supervisors and coroner’s office personnel, who detailed how evidence – including pieces of the victim’s clothing and autopsy photos –  was collected, handled, and stored.  Pieces of this evidence were removed from the storage bags and presented as exhibits in the courtroom.

This testimony told the story of how over the years the physical evidence from this case was moved from the original evidence room in the old Everett JC Penney building on Colby to a different facility on the county administrative campus, and how parts of the evidence log – the record of who had checked out and examined pieces of evidence – went missing and remain so to this day. On cross examination, the defense seized on this to point out that it opens the possibility that some of the evidence might have been compromised, and requested that it be excluded, a request that Judge Kurtz denied.

Friday’s testimony included additional information from detectives and others who examined the evidence over the years. Questions were raised that opened the possibility that the crime scene DNA sample could have been contaminated with DNA from others, or even earlier by the late Walter Morris, half of the couple who came upon Loomis’s still-breathing body at the scene.

The final witness on Friday was the DNA analyst who prepared the most recent DNA profile from the sample extracted from the victim’s boot. In 2010, she conducted a Y DNA analysis (as opposed to a full DNA analysis) of the crime scene sample, which looks specifically at the Y chromosome. In her testimony, she explained that because it focuses exclusively on the Y chromosome, which is passed intact along the paternal family line, if a match were found with the crime scene sample it could point to anyone in the male line of the subject providing the matching sample.

In 2011, she was provided with a sample taken from Thomas Morris, Walter’s son, to compare with the crime scene DNA. She testified that it did not match, which excluded Thomas Morris and his male forebears, including Walter, as potential sources of the DNA found on Loomis’s boot. However, the defense had earlier inferred that while Walter was listed as the father on Thomas’s birth certificate, he might in fact not be his biological father and hence is not necessarily eliminated as a source by this test.

Further testimony scheduled for next week will come from additional DNA analysts involved in extracting the crime scene sample and other samples (for example, that of Thomas Morris) pertinent to the case. It will also include evidence from recorded jailhouse phone conversations made by the defendant while he was incarcerated.

Proceedings will resume at 9 a.m. Monday, Nov.2 when the state will continue presenting its case. The trial will likely last at least through the end of next week and could take longer.  Interested persons can follow the minute-by-minute proceedings via live-stream by visiting Courtroom Live Stream website and clicking on the link to Judge David Kurtz. Note that court live-streams are not archived and can only be viewed as they are happening.

— By Larry Vogel

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