Genetic genealogy is being used more and more by police to investigate cold cases that are sometimes decades old, but some ethicists say that using this kind of technology is questionable. Just as the suspect in the Golden State Killer case was apprehended, a Washington man is on trial for the murders of two Canadians in 1987 because genetic genealogy identified his DNA on one of the victim's clothing. In May 2018, William Talbott II was arrested and charged with two counts of aggravated first-degree murder.
Genetic genealogy is the practice of authorities searching genealogy databases like GEDmatch or 23andme to find the relatives of a DNA sample they have as part of evidence collected from a crime scene. Ethicists argue that the relatives who donated to the database did so because they were interested in learning their genetic or family history, not in solving a cold case.
The Washington Case and Defense
In 1987, a young couple from British Columbia, Canada was found murdered in western Washington. Tanya Van Cuylenborg had been raped and then shot, and her boyfriend, Jay Cook, had been beaten and then strangled. An investigator with the case used GEDmatch to build a family tree of cousins that matched DNA found on Tanya's pants. The investigator then determined that the DNA from Tanya's pants belonged to a male child of William and Patricia Talbott of Monroe, Washington. That son was William Talbott II, who lived in Woodinville, Washington, at the time of the murders.
William Talbott II's defense has not disputed the DNA evidence found on Tanya's pants was Mr. Talbott's, but they have argued it doesn't prove rape or murder. They've claimed that the DNA was left as part of a consensual act, and their defense witness testified that the defendant has lived in the same general area for the decades since the killings and was therefore not trying to run or hide from the crimes. Talbott's defense also pointed out that Talbott rented a room from a police officer in the 1990s, and “Someone who had just brutally murdered two people and had gone undetected would not rent a room from a police officer.” The gun used to kill Tanya was never recovered, and Talbott is not a known gun owner.
Aggravated First-Degree Murder in Washington
According to Washington statute RCW 10.95.020,
“A person is guilty of aggravated first degree murder, a class A felony, if he or she commits first degree murder as defined by RCW 9A.32.030(1)(a), as now or hereafter amended, and one or more of the following aggravating circumstances exist:
(10) There was more than one victim and the murders were part of a common scheme or plan or the result of a single act of the person;
(11) The murder was committed in the course of, in furtherance of, or in immediate flight from one of the following crimes:
(b) Rape in the first or second degree.”
The sentence for aggravated first-degree murder is mandatory life in prison, with a mandatory minimum of 30 years imprisonment without the possibility of parole.
Defense Attorney Steve Karimi
As a former prosecutor, Steve Karimi knows both sides of the law and now spends his time defending those in Washington accused of serious crimes. Even if your DNA is found at a crime scene, there are still strong arguments to be made in your defense, and Steve Karimi will make them. Contact his office today for a consultation at 206-621-8777.