It took 32 years to bring the killer of 18-year-old Tanya Van Cuylenborg and 20-year-old Jay Cook to justice.
In 2019, a Washington State jury found 56-year old William Talbott guilty of murdering the couple in 1987 during an overnight visit to Seattle.
But on Monday, an appeals court overturned the convictions because of juror bias.
Before the trial, a juror admitted that her own past family violence, and as a new mother, and she wasn’t sure if she could be fair.
The decision stunned Tanya’s brother, John Van Cuylenborg.
“Yeah, it was a real shock. Came out of the blue yesterday afternoon. It was hard.”
The families spent every day in the courtroom during the murder trial. Van Cuylenborg said Talbott’s conviction was vindication after decades of waiting for justice.
“Now having to take such a big step backwards like this is hard. It’s very hard to process, and to come to terms with.”
Talbott appealed to have the two murder convictions overturned, arguing his right to an impartial jury was violated.
Adam Cornell, the prosecuting attorney for Snohomish County, said the latest news doesn’t necessarily mean the case is over and done with.
“We’re going to do everything we can to continue to fight. We’re down, but we’re not out.”
Now the Snohomish County Prosecutor‘s office will have to decide whether or not to appeal the decision or go ahead with a new trial.
Talbott’s conviction was the first in the world to use genetic genealogy.
“Judges make mistakes. Prosecutors make mistakes from time to time. And we do the very best that we can with the law that we have at our understanding and disposal at the time. And that’s what happened in the trial with Mr. Talbott,” Cornell said.
Chris Considine, a defense lawyer in Victoria, said similar situations have occurred in British Columbia with jury trials.
“It will either proceed to a new trial or the option of going to the Washington State supreme court. and that’ll be up to the prosecutor at this stage. Ultimately I can see a new trial proceeding.”
Prosecutors will be meeting with the Cook and Van Cuylenborg families later this week, and have until Jan. 5 for a decision on an appeal.