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A Washington state court has overturned the conviction of a man found guilty of murdering a couple from Vancouver Island over 30 years ago.
According to court documents released on Monday, William Talbott was found guilty of two counts of aggravated murder in the first degree following a jury trial.
He was arrested in 2018 for the murders of Saanich couple, Jay Cook and Tanya Van Cuylenborg, in 1987.
Talbott was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, but is now appealing due to “juror bias” in his trial.
Talbott argued that his right to an impartial jury was violated because a juror who expressed bias was seated and deliberated on his case.
The juror said during her questioning that due to a history of domestic abuse in her family, and the fact that she had a young daughter, there was potential that she could not be impartial when faced with graphic imagery.
However, when asked if she could put emotions aside and consider the evidence, the juror said “I could try.”
“After her clear, repeated expressions of actual bias as to the precise nature of the allegations at the heart of this trial and evidence which would be introduced, we cannot conclude that juror 40 was sufficiently rehabilitated such that Talbott was provided a fair and impartial jury,” said the court in its decision.
Cook and Van Cuylenborg left Vancouver Island on November 18, 1987. Cook was 20 and Van Cuylenborg was 18-years-old.
The couple was on an errand for Cook’s father to retrieve furnace parts in Seattle.
On November 24, Van Cuylenborg’s body was discovered down a steep embankment off Parson Creek Road in a rural wooded area in Skagit County.
She had been sexually assaulted before being shot.
On November 26, Cook’s body was discovered in a rural area of Snohomish County. He was partially covered with a blue blanket and he had multiple blunt force wounds to his head.
Through genealogy matching in 2018, William Talbott was identified as a possible source of the unknown male DNA profile found on Van Cuylenborg.
Undercover officers surveilled Talbott and eventually collected a coffee cup he discarded. Talbott’s DNA matched the DNA profile, and police arrested Talbott at his job site in May 2018.
Prosecutors have until Jan. 5, 2022 to ask the Supreme Court to review the reversal.