A suspect in a 1972 murder died by reported suicide hours before a jury convicted him, Washington state authorities said.
The body of Terrence Miller, 78, was found at a home in Edmonds, about 16 miles north of Seattle, just before 10 a.m. Monday, the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement posted to Facebook.
The county medical examiner will make the final determination of his cause of death.
Miller had been on trial for the murder of Jody Loomis, a 20-year-old woman who died on Aug. 23, 1972. Authorities said she was riding her bicycle from her home in Bothell to a nearby stable to ride her horse when she was shot in the head.
Later that evening, two people discovered Loomis disrobed and suffering from a gunshot wound. She died at the hospital.
The case went unsolved for decades until the use of genetic genealogy and DNA testing identified Miller as a suspect.
“A digital file containing DNA genotype data gathered from evidence collected from the victim was uploaded to GEDmatch, a public genetic genealogy website. Several promising matches were found for a few of the suspect’s relatives,” the sheriff’s office explained in a 2019 Facebook post announcing the arrest of Miller.
“After the genealogist identified parents of possible suspects based on the family tree, police acquired an abandoned DNA sample from a cup one suspect had used. Washington State Patrol’s crime lab confirmed that it positively matched the DNA profile from the crime scene evidence,” authorities said in the post.
According to The Everett Herald, authorities were able to make the connection by comparing the DNA sample from the cup to semen left on a boot Loomis was wearing.
Miller was arrested at his home and charged with first-degree murder. Investigators believe that at the time of Loomis’ death, he was living near the location where her body was found. He pleaded not guilty to the charge, according to The Everett Herald.
Miller was out on bond when deputies were called to the home Monday by one of his family members. Just hours after his death, a jury convicted him of first-degree murder following two weeks of testimony.
Loomis’ brother, John Loomis, said he would have liked to see Miller go to prison.
“He got away with it for 48 years,” he said in a phone interview with NBC News on Tuesday.
John Loomis was 27 at the time of his sister’s death and was living away from home with his own family after getting married. He said he did not attend the verdict but watched it via a livestream.
“I was so glad they finally got him,” he said of Miller’s arrest. “Justice was almost done.”
Laura Martin, a public defender for Miller, said her client was innocent and that the only evidence against him was “a botched DNA analysis of the outside of a boot.”
“What I can tell you is that critical pieces of evidence in this case were lost or destroyed and the evidence presented to the jury was unaccounted for for the better part of three decades,” Martin said in an emailed statement.
Martin alleged that there was contamination during a lab test of DNA samples and that an analyst also contaminated the boots with his own DNA.
Martin further said that the sample found on the boot does not tell the whole story and doesn’t point to Loomis’ killer.
“Death seemed preferable to letting a jury decide a verdict on tainted evidence. This is a terrible tragedy that began with Jody Loomis’s death and is compounded by an innocent man taking his own life,” she said.
The Prosecuting Attorney’s Office said that the defense argued Martin’s claims at trial and it was rejected by the jury, which ultimately “found the State’s evidence, including the integrity of the DNA testing process, sufficiently compelling to convict Mr. Miller of murder.”