The two-week trial of 78-year-old Edmonds resident Terrence Miller, accused in the 1972 cold case rape and killing of then 20-year-old Jody Loomis, concluded Friday. Loomis was found, mortally wounded, the afternoon of Aug. 23, 1972 about 300 yards south of what was then Penny Creek Road, just east of the intersection of 164th Street Southwest and the Bothell-Everett Highway. (Read case details in our earlier article here).
The trial, held in Snohomish County Superior Court, was presided over by Judge David Kurtz. Miller’s fate now rests with the five-man, seven-woman jury.
The key to the case is DNA, using the relatively new technique of forensic DNA tracing. Miller was linked to the murder from a semen sample recovered from the victim’s left boot, which has been preserved in evidence storage. Miller was arrested and charged with first-degree murder in April 2019. He has been free on $1 million bail since that time.
During the first week of the trial, the prosecutorial team of Craig Matheson and Bob Langbehn began their case for Miller’s guilt with a detailed description of the crime and the victim. That was followed by a meticulous reconstruction for the jury of the area surrounding the crime scene as it was in 1972 — a rural environment characterized by farms, livestock, two-lane roads, fruit stands, and large tracts of undeveloped woodland crisscrossed by dirt roads and trails, very different from the upscale suburban complex of today.
Witnesses included family members, friends and acquaintances of the victim; the couple who discovered the wounded 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, DNA analysts, and other persons and witnesses associated with the case. (See our earlier story covering week one of the trial here).
Examination of the DNA evidence continued into the second week. Both the prosecution and defense teams took the jury to school with testimony and depositions that amounted to a crash course on the techniques and vocabulary of DNA collection, processing, analysis and identification. Witnesses included the various lab analysts who processed the samples, detectives, and others. According to testimony, this analysis matched the semen on the victim’s boot to Miller, with the odds of it coming from anyone else at 980 million to one.
The arcane and complex process of DNA analysis has many steps, and quality results depend on following strict protocols. Under intense cross examination by the defense team attorneys Laura Martin and Frederic Moll, witnesses revealed a host of irregularities and deviations from established procedures in how the samples related to this case were handled. One of these even resulted in contamination of a reference sample with the DNA of at least one State Patrol Crime Lab analyst.
Not as technically complex but equally important to the case were details of how evidence was handled, and the history of how it was stored, cataloged, examined and moved in the 48 years since the crime. Again, cross examination by the defense team revealed problems with this, including the loss of some potentially critical pieces of evidence including the victim’s underwear and vaginal sample swabs taken at Stevens Hospital the day of the crime.
Toward the end of the week the jury heard testimony and jailhouse telephone voice recordings of conversations between the defendant and a friend, and between the defendant and his wife. These conversations happened after Miller had been charged with the crime, and included statements by Miller referring to the period of the crime as “a dark time in my life,” that “the DNA looks bad and I probably won’t be coming home,” and “when this is over I’m gonna be in prison, that’s the way it is.”
Closing arguments were made to the jury on Friday.
Presented by Craig Matheson, the prosecution stressed the importance of considering both direct and circumstantial evidence, advising jurors to “use their common sense” in examining these. He pointed out that the victim and defendant did not know each other and described the crime as a “crime of opportunity.” Focusing on the key evidence – the DNA upon which the entire case hinges – Matheson described as “ludicrous” any claim that the boots were stained by anyone’s semen other than that belonging to Miller (a possibility raised earlier by the defense team), and that any deviations from lab protocol do not change the fact that the DNA on the boot matches the suspect.
“The location was perfect,” Matheson continued. “It was wooded, easy ingress and egress, not visible from the road. A perfect place to do what you want without being observed. He lured or forced her into the woods, raped her, shot her in the head, and left her in the dirt to die. I ask you to convict him of first-degree murder.”
Closing arguments by the defense centered on the compromised evidence and that nothing in the evidence precludes the possibility that Jody Loomis could have been killed by someone else.
“The pieces just don’t fit,” stressed defense attorney Laura Martin. “From the tiniest spot of semen on the outside of the boot, Mr. Miller became the defendant in a very serious case. But no witness has been able to connect him to the crime.”
Martin went on to cast doubt on the physical evidence, citing “very poor evidence handling” including keeping it in unsealed bags, handling it without gloves, and storing it in “unknown locations.” She raised doubts about treatment of the evidence by various personnel who examined it, stressing that there is no way to know who handled it or even if the same evidence was returned to the storage facility. Pointing to the evidence that had been lost as a further example of sloppy procedures, she asked “where did it go?”
Citing the contamination, she referred to the analyst whose DNA was found in the reference sample as a “sluffer” whose work is “sloppy,” adding that he “makes up his own rules as he goes along” and is “more concerned about getting results than following proper procedures.”
She characterized Miller as a “normal guy” who raised five daughters, was married four times, was a heavy equipment operator, and liked bowling and golf. He went through two divorces in the early 1970s, which account for his statements about a dark period in his life, and that any statements about going to prison stem from him knowing enough about DNA evidence to be “just plain scared” that he would not be able to defend himself regardless of guilt or innocence.
“The fact that his DNA was found on the boot is not proof of murder,” she concluded. “There is no way to know where it came from or when it was deposited. I know you will find reasonable doubt, and that you will come to the only possible conclusion – not guilty.”
Following closing statements, Judge Kurtz provided instructions to the jury and dismissed them to begin deliberations. They are expected to continue into next week.
— By Larry Vogel