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48 Hours Death Of A Dream 05.12.07

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05.12.07 48 Hours Death Of A Dream 

Death Of A Dream
An Aspiring Broadway Dancer Is Found Murdered

(Page 1 of 6)May 12, 2007
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Catherine Woods (CBS)
 


(CBS) Some children never lose that fantasy of making it big on Broadway. Catherine Woods was one of them.

"It was her dream. Itís what she wanted to do. She wasnít going to be happy until she reached her goal, which was to dance on Broadway," remembers Catherine's friend Katie Miller. "She just looked like a dancer, looked like a star."

Katie and Catherine met as children in a Columbus, Ohio, dance studio. With her big smile and personality, Catherine was the image of the all-American Midwestern girl.

Catherine's father, Jon Woodsóthe well-known director of the Ohio State University marching band and a music professoróhad hoped his oldest child would follow him into music.

But Catherine made it clear all she wanted to do was dance. "She told me that if she didnít leave now, she never would," her mother Donna recalls.

In the summer of 2002, when Catherine was just 17, her father and mother Donna, drove her to New York. They were filled with hope and anxiety.

"She had never lived away from home. I mean this was the true coming of age, going to the biggest city in the United States and going to start putting a career together," Donna explains.

For the next three years, Catherine seemed to thrive in New York, taking dance, voice and acting lessons, and on a visit back home, Catherine found love.

David Haughn, then a 20-year-old rap musician, was selling his CDs in a parking lot when he met Catherine. Weeks later, David moved to New York to be with her and pursue his career

In many ways they were an unlikely couple. Catherine grew up in middle class comfort with her parents and two younger siblings; David was raised in foster homes. "She made me feel confident about myself. I looked up to her so much, almost in a way as a parent," David says.

David says he and Catherine were "real serious," and had even thought about marriage.

But sometime in 2005, the relationship became strained. Catherine was paying Davidís bills and the money was tight. Finally, she broke it off with David although she allowed him to remain living in the apartment.

"Did you break up because you or she was interested in seeing other people?" Moriarty asks.

"Not on my part. I donít know on her part. Iím not sure. Itís possible," David says.

Catherine was 20 years old when she met 24-year-old Paul Cortez, a trainer at her gym. By early 2005, Paul says they were dating.

Asked if he thought David knew he existed, Paul says, "I donít think so. I think, you know, in that situation when one is just breaking up with someone else and you know, youíre seeing someone newóI donít think so, I wouldnít think Catherine would tell him about me."

That summer, Paul unexpectedly showed up at the apartment while David was there and told David that he had been dating Catherine for almost a year.

How did David react? "He was upset," Paul remembers. "He was surprised."

But Paul got a surprise as well.

"Did you realize that David still thought they were boyfriend and girlfriend?" Moriarty asks.

"Yeah thatís what he told me," Paul remembers. "And I was like, 'Ok, well thatís not good.'"

Later, David called Paul. "Oh he was definitely angry. He was upset," Paul recalls.

Asked if David threatened him at any point," Paul says, "Yeah, he was like 'Donít see her again or else.'"

For the next four months, Catherine continued to live with David and secretly date Paul. But according to Katie, Catherine was still searching for true love.

"Sheíd say 'Why do I always get these guys? Why canít I find Mr. Right who rides up on a horse and comes and picks me up and we go riding off in the sunset,'" Katie remembers.
 




One week after Katie last spoke with Catherine, Catherine was dead.

On the night of November 27th, 2005, Catherine Woods was getting ready to go to work, when David says he left their apartment to pick up his car. When he returned, David says he made a chilling discovery. "It was a bad scene. Blood everywhere. It was bad. My first instinct was to call 911," he remembers.

Catherine lay on the bedroom floor, face down, blood. She had been stabbed 20 times, her throat cut twice. No weapon was found, according to New York City police detective Steven Goetz, who led the investigation.

"To be honest with you, the first thing that I remember thinking to myself was that this girl is dead on the floor in her bedroom. And she has a family out there and that they donít even know that she is dead," Goetz recalls.

Catherineís mom and dad were 500 miles away, at home in Columbus, when three police officers arrived. "I said 'How bad is it?' And he said 'Itís bad.' And I said 'Is she dead?' And he said 'Yes,'Ē Donna recalls.

At the precinct, police began grilling David Haughn. "I really just couldnít believe it was happening. I just kept asking God in my headÖyou know, 'Why is this happening?'" David recalls.

Det. Goetz says the killer left what appeared to be a bloody handprint on a bedroom wall and several bloody boot prints in the apartment, including one left on Catherineís back.

The print, says Goetz, came from a 10.5 size shoe. Asked what David's show size is, the detective says 10.5.

"Did the police at first accuse you, I mean did they say 'Come on, David?'" Moriarty asks.

"Yeah. Yeah. Oh yeah," David recalls.

Asked what he said to them, David says, "I told them 'No, you have the wrong person. You have the wrong person. I would never, never hit that girl. Not at all. I loved her. I would have did anything for her.'"

As the interrogation wore on, David showed little emotion or grief. "Couldnít even cry. Even afterwards," David remembers. "The detectives were asking me 'If you love this girl so much, why are you not crying?' I looked at them 'I donít know. I really donít know.'"

The brutal end to a beautiful young womanís life and dreams was the lead story that morning. Ivette Cortez heard it on the radio as she was getting ready for work.

When Ivette saw Catherineís picture in the paper, she recognized her instantly. Ivette is Paul Cortezí mother. She knew her son had been seeing Catherine, which is why the rest of the story sent her into a panic.

"They just kept mentioning the boyfriend being held and I didnít know what that meant," Ivette remembers.

She didn't know if they were referring to her son Paul. "But I tracked him down, he was at work. He didnít even realize what was happening," she says.

Ivette went to the health club where Paul was working to break the news to him.

"She told me that Catherine was killed the night before. Just like, I just buckled. I remember just kind of sitting on the stoop right almost outside of the club and I just couldnít believe it. I was just in complete shock," Paul remembers.

Later that day, police called Paul and brought him in for questioning.

Asked to describe Paul Cortez, Det. Goetz says, "Quiet, he came to the precinct with his mother, and he seemed like a very nice person."

While police questioned Paul in one room in the precinct, and David in another, they were learning about something else in Catherineís life that could have a bearing on her death: in the months before she was murdered, she had been working as a dancer in a topless club.

For the tabloid press it was suddenly a sensational story. For investigators, it opened up a whole other line of possible motives and suspects.

Chloe hired and managed the dancers at a club called "Privilege." "I looked at her and I am like 'What is this girl doing here?' Because she looks like the girl next door and she needed to have money to live on," she remembers.

Catherine, who worked under the name Ava, danced nights so she could audition and attend classes during the day. She hid that part of her life from her parents.

"I was, like, you know 'This isnít you, this isnít what Ö' Sheís like 'I know. I know,'" her friend Katie recalls.

Was Catherine was having trouble with one of the customers? If so, she never mentioned it to anyone. Katie spoke with Catherine the week before she died. And Katie says she didn't seem worried about anything or afraid of anyone.

Six hours after Paul Cortez and his mother Ivette arrived at the police precinct they were allowed to leave.
 


 

Police discovered that Paul, like David, wears a 10.5 size shoe. And thereís more: a serious problem with the written statement Paul gave to police, detailing what he did the day of Catherineís murder.

At the time of Catherine's murder, Goetz says, Paul said he was home in his apartment.

According to the detective, Paul told police he was making calls at his apartment a mile and half away from Catherineís, but when police set out to verify his story, Paulís cell phone records indicated something else. Paul called Catherine a dozen times shortly before 6 p.m. the evening she was killed. If he had been home, his calls would normally go through a cell tower in his neighborhood. Instead, some of those calls were handled by a tower just two blocks from Catherineís apartment.

But according to Goetz, Paul didnít tell any officers that he was in Catherine's neighborhood at the time of her murder.

Ivette Cortez always believed her son Paul was going places. "He just does so much with his life. And to live vicariously through all of his accomplishments."

Ivette was a single mom when she was raising her three children in a tough neighborhood in the Bronx. Paul, her youngest, earned scholarships at some of New Yorkís most prestigious prep schools.

Ivette acknowledges she couldn't afford to send her son to those prestigious schools but that he had to win the scholarships. "He worked really hard for everything that he has," she says.

But it meant Paul had to rise before dawn each day for the two hour ride to school. He didnít just thrive academically Ė Paul also stood out on the stage starring in high school productions of Pippin and West Side Story.

Paul got a scholarship at Boston University, where he majored in theater; he was the first in his family to get a college degree.

At 24, Paul replaced show tunes with rock. He was the lead singer and lyricist for a New York band, "Monolith."

Paul also had a day jobóhe worked as a trainer in the gym where he met Catherine Woods.

"She was playful. Thatís what I liked about her. She was really like open and you could see like compassion in her eyes. And I loved that about her," Paul says.

Within a couple of months Paul and Catherine were dating. But when Paul learned Catherine was dancing on the side in topless clubs, he insisted that she stop.

How did she react to his demand? Says Paul, "Well basically, like you know, 'I know what youíre saying, but it really isnít any of your business and Iím gonna be careful and nothingís going to happen to me.'"

But in April 2005, something did happen while Catherine was working at Privilege. "In the middle of the night, Catherine called me," Paul recalls. "And she was crying and she was like 'Please come, please come here.'"

Paul went to the club to get her. "I had never seen her like that, just stumbling and just kind of like off balance and her eyes were just like pins. She looked like she was on drugs or really drunk," he remembers.

Catherine believed a customer slipped drugs into her drink. Paul says Catherine thought she might have been molested.

The next day, when she told him she planned to go back to work, Paul says he was shocked and went through her cell phone to find her fatherís telephone number.

Paul called Catherineís father and told him where Catherine had been working and what had happened that night.

Paul says he didn't tell Catherine he was making the call.

"When he told me, as a father, I thought, 'Wow, you know thank you for this information,'" Jon Woods remembers.

Jon took the next flight to New York to confront his daughter. But Catherine told her father the story wasnít true.

Paul says Catherine was "really mad" when she found out Paul had called her parents.

They broke up, Paul says, but not for long. "We realized we loved each other and we always were thinking about each other, and we got back together," he says.

But just how serious a relationship it was is in dispute. Catherine did go to one of Paulís performances that summer and he introduced her to his mom.

Yet apparently Catherine never told her friends or family that she was even dating Paul.
 


 

As for Catherineís other boyfriend, David Haughn, Paul believed he was out of the picture. "Eventually she told me he did move out in, I think August of 2005," Paul says.

"I moved out for a few weeks, I went to a friendís," David acknowledges. But in fact, he moved back in with Catherine not long before she was killed.

Paul says he didnít know that David had moved back in with Catherine and that she hadn't told him.

Lead Detective Steven Goetz says Paulís obsession, and jealousy, is plain to see in the journals he wrote. And so is something else. "The writings were very violent. Spoke about slashing peopleís throats," the detective explains.

Police point to some of the songs and poems Paul wrote as proof that he had a deep seated anger towards women and Catherine in particular.

"At one point Paul, you wrote, 'She wipes clean the shaft that cuts her throat.; And then Catherineís throat is cut. Thatís how she dies," Moriarty remarks.

"Itís a poem, I mean," Paul replies.

Paul says he wrote that poem eight months before Catherineís murder, after she told him she had once been sexually assaulted at knifepoint. "I mean, to say that I had been plotting this thing eight months before is ridiculous. I didnít know what was going to happen to her that night," he says. "You can take anything out of context and make it sound the way that you want it to fit and tailor it to your needs."

But the meaning of Paul's writings wouldnít have mattered at all if he could prove where he was when Catherine was murdered

"You loved this woman. She had lied to you over those months. Did you in fact, that night just snap and kill her?" Moriarty asks.

"No, I would never do that," Paul says.

Paul could have had an alibi. "We had rehearsal scheduled for 6 p.m. that Sunday night and Paul didnít show up," says Alex Rude, who was one of Paulís band mates in Monolith.

Asked if that was normal, Alex says, "No, he usually showed up."

Alex says Paul's performances had been getting erratic and he had planned to ask Paul to leave the band that night. So where was Paul?

"I called him around 8 oíclock. And I asked him why he wasnít there and he said that he overslept," Alex recalls.

"One of the few times youíd ever miss a practice happens to be at the time that Catherine is killed?" Moriarty asks.

"I didnít go to rehearsal because they were gonna tell me 'Youíre not part of the band anymore,'" Paul explains. "And I didnít wanna have that whole conversation that night."

The two men who knew Catherine Woods best are both suspects, but as days passed, Det. Steven Goetz focused less on David Haughn, and more on Paul Cortez. "My feeling is if Paul Cortez had nothing to do with this, then he had no reason to lie," Goetz explains.

Police say Paul hid from them the fact he was in Catherineís neighborhood at the time of the murder, leaving it out of his written statement

"In here, you never mention that you were right down in her neighborhood, just blocks from her house. Why not?" Moriarty asks.

"I just remember that point being a haze. I was still in shock. I had just found out that someone I had loved dearly was killed. And that I was a suspect for it as well. I just didnít know what to do or what to think or what to really put in," Paul says.

And then police got a big break: in the midst of this bloody crime scene, they say they were able to isolate one single fingerprint. Goetz says the fingerprint matched Paul Cortez.

Paul Cortez was arrested for killing Catherine Woods and held without bail.
 


 

Marguerite Shinouda had met Paul just a few months earlier on a Yoga retreat. "He had been at my house a couple of weeks before Catherine was killed and he was flirty, he was fun, he was warm," she says.

She is so sure of Paulís innocence, she used her own money and borrowed thousands more to help pay for his defense.

Over the next year, Marguerite created a Web site to build support for Paul Cortez and helped hire lawyers, defense attorneys Dawn Florio and Laura Miranda.

"He has a very gentle, caring soul about him. I canít even imagine that somebody like this could have committed such a vicious crime," Miranda says.

They say there could be any number of other suspects; that a customer from one of the topless clubs could have killed Catherine. They also believe police were too quick to clear David Haughn.

"David is the one who gave up his life. He came from Ohio to live with this woman. And Catherine was kicking David out of the apartment. So if anyone had a motive, Iíd say it was more David than Paul," Florio argues.

Her reasoning: a neighbor testified hearing screams coming from Catherineís apartment about 20 minutes before David said he left the apartment. But police investigated David's movements that night and believe he was away much longer.

Fourteen months after Catherineís death, Paul Cortez goes on trial for murder.

Manhattan assistant district attorney Peter Casolaro paints Paul Cortez as an obsessed boyfriend who didnít want to share Catherine with anyone else. "Failure in love often leads to anger and murder and thatís precisely what happened here, ladies and gentlemen," he told jurors.

Casolaro says that after months of Catherine seeing other men, Paul was like a volcano, ready to erupt. And on that night, Paul waited outside the apartment, watched David leave and then slipped in to kill Catherine.

"Itís the defendantís persistent use of his cell phone," Casolaro argues.

The prosecutor introduces the phone records that prove Paul was in Catherineís neighborhood, calling her numerous times right before she was killed. And then the phone calls stopped. "He never ever, ever calls Catherine Woods again," Casolaro argues. "Is that a coincidence? Is that why he stops calling her? Or is it because he already knows sheís dead and thereís nobody to answer the phone?"

But Paul's defense attorneys are quick to point that Paul wasn't injured and that no DNA was found under Catherine's fingernails, or elsewhere in the apartment.

There is little physical evidence that connects Paul to the murder, but what does exist is incriminating.

"His fingerprint is in her blood put there at the time of the murder. And there is no innocent explanation for that," Casolaro tells the court.

But the defense attorneys say there is other evidence that points to someone other than Paul: unidentified strands of hair found in Catherineís hand that didnít belong to Paul and were never tested by police.

Asked whose hair that is, Miranda says, "I donít know the answer to that. But we definitely know that theyíre not Paul Cortezís hair."

"The last piece of really, really critical evidence are the footprints. The footprints are undoubtedly left by the killer," Casolaro says.

Those bloody foot prints in Catherineís apartment, says the prosecutor, were left by a man wearing Skecher boots, size 10.5. But Paul maintains he doesn't own any Skecher boots.

And police never found any, but they did find a surprise witness: Spencer Liebowitz. He knew Paul from the gym. Spencer testified he saw Paul at this bar the night Catherine was murdered and that Paul was wearing Skecher Boots.

It's surprising testimony, because a year earlier, Spencer told 48 Hours he had no memory of what Paul was wearing.

Paul claims that he was wearing these Johnston & Murphy shoes. And Paulís attorneys say they have video that will prove it: a surveillance tape from a store that shows what Paul was wearing when he was shopping a few hours before the murder.

As the trial comes to an end, itís the evidence that the defense hopes will convince the jurors that Paul Cortez is innocent of murder.
 


 

Jon and Donna Woods donít need to wait for the verdictóthey are already convinced Paul Cortez killed their daughter. "Paul Cortez stabbed Catherine 20 times," Donna says. "He slit her throat and then stabbed her larynx. There is no doubt in my mind that heís a monster."

But Paul maintains he is innocent. But what will the jury think?

For Paulís family, thereís nothing but doubt. They stand behind him, believing that he is not guilty.

And Paulís lawyers are feeling confident, too. "We think that thereís no way that this jury will be able to convict him," Miranda says.

As one day of deliberations rolls into two, the pressure on everyone intensifies.

Behind closed doors, jurors were fighting it out. At the beginning, the majority believed Paul Cortez was guilty.

Four jurors sat down with 48 Hours. They asked not to be identified by name, but they were willing to give a rare look back at the drama that was unfolding inside the jury room.

Three of the women thought the cops may have gotten the wrong guy. For them, David Haughn, Catherineís other boyfriend, was a much better suspect.

"Actually I thought he could have done it. I thought he was more likely the type of personality to do it rather than the defendant," a female juror remarked.

Still, almost everyone on the jury was concerned that Paul gave police the impression he was at home the night Catherine was murdered.. He was, in fact, just blocks away.

"Everybody looked at that," another juror remarked. "He lied on there clearly."

They were even more bothered by the fact that Paul had no alibi for the time Catherine was killed and never tried calling her after that.

"If youíre that worried about her, you would call. But he didnít call," a female juror said.

As the hours wore on, two jurors stubbornly refused to convict. If they didnít change their minds, there was going to be a hung jury and Paul Cortez could go free. And then they decided to look at one more piece of evidence: the store surveillance video that Paulís defense put into evidence at the end of the trial.

Itís the surveillance tape, from the appliance store PC Richards, where Paul Cortez had gone shopping just hours before the murder.

Paulís attorneys say the video proves Paul was wearing shoes that day, not boots, which are similar to what the killer wore.

But what did the jurors see? They decided he was wearing boots.

For the holdouts, it was the tipping point. The grainy, blurred video made everything crystal clear. They believed he was wearing the Sketcher boots.

In a bitter irony, the evidence that sealed Paul Cortezís fate came from his own defense lawyers.

After a day and a half of deliberation, the jury finds Paul Cortez guilty of second degree murder.

"Your heart drops to your stomach and then you know, it just kind of obliterates you," Paul says, recalling the moment he heard the verdict.

"What if I told you that two individuals who were on the fence who might have hung the jury changed their mind, based on that videotape," Moriarty asks Paul's attorneys.

"It would be the mistake of our lives. And it's terrible. You know I'd feel responsible for him being convicted," Miranda says.

The verdict changes nothing for Paulís mother, Ivette. "Paul will always be my baby. Iíll always be there for him. And so will his family," she says.

But for Catherineís parents, Jon and Donna, the verdict comes as a relief, although it is no consolation.

"Thereís no happy ending to this. It isnít like anybody really wins," Donna says.

"Weíve lost a daughter," Jon says. "And the Cortez family has lost a son."

But loss is no longer what Jon and Donna Woods want to focus on. They want to remember how much their daughter Catherine lived, in her very short life.

"She was 20 years old, independent and strong and going after her dream," Donna says. "With a little luck, she might have made it."


 

 

 

Notes

 

Links

 

05.06.06 48 Hours The Last Dance

05.11.07 N3 323 Money For Nothing

   
   

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