The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

A coffee cup tied him to a 1972 murder. He killed himself hours before he was convicted, police say.

Jody Loomis, who had been riding her bicycle on a remote dirt road, was sexually assaulted and murdered on Aug. 23, 1972. (Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office) (Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office)

Jody Loomis had been lying half-naked, dying from a gunshot wound to the head, when a couple found her along a secluded dirt road on Aug. 23, 1972, near Bothell, Wash. They scooped her up, not stopping to cover up her bare body, and rushed her to a hospital. But Loomis, 20, was pronounced dead upon arrival.

For 47 years, the case remained cold, with little evidence of who assaulted and murdered Loomis — until last year, when a DNA sample from a coffee cup matched semen found on Loomis’s boot. Police said they used genetic genealogy to trace it to Terrence Miller, who was charged last April in her death.

On Monday, though, just hours before a jury convicted Miller of first-degree murder, the 78-year-old defendant died in an apparent suicide at his home, the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office said in a news release.

For two weeks, the jury had heard testimony of the sexual assault and murder of Loomis. Miller grew increasingly worried that the DNA evidence was solid and would probably lead to him spending the rest of his life in jail, according to court testimony reported on by the Everett Herald.

Sheriff’s deputies found Miller, who posted a $1 million bond last November, dead at his home just before 10 a.m. Monday. The cause of death has not been confirmed and will be determined by the Snohomish County Medical Examiner’s Office, police said.

The case goes back decades, when, on a warm Wednesday afternoon, Loomis rode her white 10-speed bicycle to visit her horse at a stable six miles away. As she neared the halfway point, a witness saw Loomis pass by, wearing a crop top, jeans and “waffle-stomper” boots, which she had borrowed from her 12-year-old sister, according to the Herald.

At around 5:30 p.m., the couple who had been driving their roadster through a wooded road were stopped in their tracks by a fallen tree. When the man got out, he discovered Loomis, who was bleeding from a .22-caliber gunshot wound and unable to speak.

Leads grew thin and police all but gave up until the investigation was reopened in 2008 with an initiative from the sheriff’s office to solve the cold case. The boots Loomis was wearing that day were sent to a crime lab where a technician noticed a tiny stain, which turned out to be semen, and extracted a DNA sample. But the sample did not match any of the male suspects.

It wasn’t until a decade later that investigators got a breakthrough. In 2018, they partnered with forensic experts at Parabon NanoLabs, a Virginia-based company that often helps law enforcement with DNA matching, and independent genealogist Deb Stone, who uploaded the genetic profile onto public ancestry websites to try to narrow down possible suspects.

The process Stone focused on, known as genetic genealogy, has been widely used in recent years to prosecute decades-old cold cases. Parabon NanoLabs has also assisted in several reopened investigations, including a 1976 double murder and rape in Wisconsin, a 1996 killing in Idaho solved by a cigarette butt, and a 1988 abduction and homicide of an 8-year-old in Indiana.

The technique led Washington state investigators to identify Miller, a retired heavy equipment operator who ran a ceramics shop with his wife in Edmonds, Wash., about 17 miles north of Seattle. Police began surveilling Miller, and eventually obtained his DNA from a coffee cup, which he had thrown out at a casino.

According to investigators, the DNA sample from the cup was the exact match to the sample found on Loomis’s boot.

Laura Martin, Miller’s public defender, argued the DNA sample on the boot was dubious and the lab’s procedures caused a “miscarriage of justice.” During the trial, Martin said the forensic scientists were “sloppy,” according to the Herald, and they allegedly diluted samples, covered up certain results and neglected to have supervisors review work.

“The crime lab broke rules meant to ensure accurate results, hid discrepancies, and buried notes that called into question the validity of the DNA testing,” Martin said in a statement to The Washington Post. “These rules exist to protect the innocent."

At 1 p.m. on Monday, three hours after sheriff’s deputies found Miller dead, the jury convicted him of first-degree murder. A follow-up hearing is set for Dec. 17, where the prosecution will argue Miller’s family should pay fines in the case.

“I think we should put this to bed properly,” Craig Matheson, the prosecutor, said in court on Monday.

In a statement to The Post, Martin reasserted her client’s innocence, adding the entire situation, including Loomis’s murder, is a “terrible tragedy.”

“Death seemed preferable to letting a jury decide a verdict on tainted evidence,” she said.