A tech CEO who was prosecuted twice in the 1990s for the death of South Bay computer engineer Laurie Houts — with both trials ending with hung juries — is back in the Bay Area facing a third set of charges after authorities say updated DNA analysis and a new review of the case more firmly linked him to the killing.
John Kevin Woodward, 58, was extradited from New York to Santa Clara County this week following his July 9 arrest at John F. Kennedy International Airport upon his arrival from the Netherlands, where he now lives and runs an online training company that has a stateside office in Oakland.
He was booked into the Santa Clara County Main Jail on Wednesday, according to jail records, and he is initially being held without bail. Those same records show he is scheduled to be arraigned Thursday afternoon in a San Jose courtroom.
Woodward’s attorney told The New York Times after Woodward waived extradition to California at a court hearing in New York City that his client was “anxious to get to the California courts to answer these charges, which he adamantly denies.” It was not immediately clear who will represent him in local court.
Houts died after leaving work at Adobe Systems on Charleston Road in Mountain View on Sept. 5, 1992. Her body was found in her car about two miles away on Crittenden Lane. The inside of the car showed signs of a physical struggle, and police recovered her unopened pocketbook nearby.
Woodward was prosecuted unsuccessfully in 1995 and 1996 in the killing of 25-year-old Houts, with juries hanging 8-4 and 7-5 in favor of acquittal. During those trials, the evidence was deemed by jurors and defense attorneys as being mostly circumstantial, and prosecutors could not prove at the time that Woodward was ever inside the car.
The first trial drew controversy on the prosecution’s theory that Woodward, who is gay, was jealous of Houts’ relationship with Woodward’s male roommate. The two roommates did not have a romantic relationship, and the alleged motive was criticized as homophobic. A judge ruled the romantic jealousy motive was inadmissible in the second trial, saying there was not sufficient proof that any jealousy existed to serve as a motive.
After the second hung jury, a judge dismissed the case against Woodward, though it was eligible to be re-filed because there is no statute of limitations on murder, and because the two juries did not exonerate Woodward.
Earlier this month, the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office and Mountain View Police Department announced that DNA from the crime scene, Houts’ car, was reexamined, including the rope found around Houts’ neck.
In a police investigative summary, Mountain View Police Sgt. David Fisher wrote that a DNA sample collected from the rope in 2005 — the case had been periodically revisited by cold-case detectives — was analyzed by the county Crime Lab using Y-STR analysis of paternal male chromosomes. That reportedly yielded a match to Woodward, and also excluded Houts’ boyfriend.
Additionally, police wrote that the lab determined in a new examination “that fibers from sweatpants inside Woodward’s car were virtually indistinguishable from fibers found on the murder weapon (rope) around Houts’ neck.”
When Woodward initially came under police suspicion, he participated in a monitored call with Houts’ boyfriend, and “did not deny” killing Houts, and asked “what evidence the police had against him and suggested they meet in a parking lot to discuss the matter,” according to the police summary.
On July 9, after being alerted by the Department of Homeland Security, DA investigators traveled to New York and along with local authorities arrested Woodward as he arrived. Within 24 hours, Dutch authorities, working with the Justice Department, served a search warrant at his home and business in the Netherlands.
The new development in the case gave Houts’ family and friends a chance to revive her memory 26 years after they last saw Woodward walk out of a courtroom. In an interview with the Bay Area News Group, they talked about the lost possibilities with Houts being a pioneering UC Davis-educated female computer engineer just as the historic Silicon Valley boom was taking shape.
They are also renewing attention to her legacy through the Houts Memorial Girls Athletic Scholarship at San Jose’s Gunderson High School, her alma mater and where she was a three-sport athlete, headed by a love of basketball. The scholarship benefits graduating female seniors who participated in sports all four years and plan to pursue a degree in science, technology, engineering or mathematics.
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