After new forensic evidence emerged, the executive was charged in the strangulation of a Bay Area computer engineer. He had been tried twice for her murder in the 1990s.
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Christine Hauser and
In the 1990s, John Kevin Woodward was tried twice on charges that he had killed his roommate’s girlfriend, a three-sport athlete in high school and computer engineer who was found strangled in her car in Mountain View, Calif.
The first trial ended in a hung jury and, in the second, a judge dismissed the case for lack of evidence, prosecutors said.
Now, more than 25 years later, prosecutors charged Mr. Woodward again with the 1992 murder of Laurie Houts, they said, after forensic technology linked him to the murder weapon, a rope.
Mr. Woodward, 58, the president and chief executive of ReadyTech, an online training company, was taken into custody on Saturday at Kennedy International Airport in New York after arriving from Amsterdam, the Santa Clara County Office of the District Attorney said in a statement this week.
He was charged with the “strangulation murder” of Ms. Houts and was set to be arraigned in Santa Clara County after extradition from New York, the statement said. He faces life in prison if convicted, it said.
Ms. Houts’s younger sister, Cindy, said that when she first heard that Mr. Woodward had been charged again, her reaction was: “Yes!” But then it sunk in that a conviction would not bring back her sister. She and Ms. Houts’s older sister, Suzi, spoke in a joint interview, asking that their last names be withheld for privacy reasons.
“She has not been here for 30 years, and we miss her all over again,” Cindy said. “Also, we have been through two trials, so we know how hard it is going to be to go through the trial. And we hope that this one has a good outcome.”
Todd D. Greenberg, a lawyer who is representing Mr. Woodward in New York, said that Mr. Woodward had agreed to return to Santa Clara County during a hearing on Monday in Queens Criminal Court and was “anxious to get to the California courts to answer these charges, which he adamantly denies.”
A statement from Mr. Woodward’s company, which has its headquarters in Oakland, Calif., and an office in the Netherlands, said the news of his arrest “was a jolt to all of us.”
“We have the utmost empathy for the families involved,” it said.
On Sept. 5, 1992, a passer-by found Ms. Houts dead in her car near a garbage dump about a mile from the office of Adobe Systems, where she worked. The rope used to kill her was still around her neck. Her footprints were on the windshield interior, “a sign of her struggle with Woodward,” the district attorney’s statement said.
Mr. Woodward was soon considered a suspect, the statement said. Prosecutors said he was “openly jealous” of Ms. Houts because he had developed an “unrequited romantic attachment” to his roommate, who was her boyfriend.
When the boyfriend asked Mr. Woodward if he had killed Ms. Houts, prosecutors said Mr. Woodward avoided answering the question and instead “asked what the investigators knew,” as the police listened in on their conversation.
Mr. Woodward was arrested in 1992 and tried twice for the murder, the authorities said.
The first trial resulted in a hung jury in 1995, the Mountain View Police Department said. The following year, a judge dismissed the case after a jury in a second trial failed to reach a verdict, prosecutors said.
The judge said in the second trial that there was not enough evidence to prove that Mr. Woodward was motivated by jealousy, The San Jose Mercury News reported.
Mr. Woodward’s fingerprints had been found on the outside of Ms. Houts’s car, but investigators in 1992 were not able to show that he had been inside the vehicle, prosecutors said.
After the second trial, Mr. Woodward moved to the Netherlands.
In 2020, detectives began to re-examine the case, and resubmitted evidence from the investigation to the Santa Clara County Crime Lab, the police said.
New technology was used to process a DNA sample collected from the rope, the police said. The testing determined that Mr. Woodward’s skin cells were on the rope, according to Jeff Rosen, the district attorney.
Investigators also used new technology to determine that fibers from sweatpants inside Mr. Woodward’s car were “virtually indistinguishable” from fibers found on the rope, the police said.
Together, the evidence “put the rope in his hands,” Mr. Rosen said in an interview.
More than 80 latent fingerprints that were collected at the time of Ms. Houts’s death were also re-examined, which resulted in more fingerprints matching Mr. Woodward, the police said.
“Murder is incredibly serious and life-altering for the people around the victim, and we don’t forget that,” Mr. Rosen said. “We didn’t forget it, and Mountain View police didn’t forget it.”
Mr. Rosen said that Dutch authorities, working with the U.S. Justice Department, had obtained a warrant and searched Mr. Woodward’s home and business in the Netherlands, seizing computers and USB drives.
Ms. Houts’s older sister, Suzi, said her sister, who had played basketball, volleyball and softball at Gunderson High School in San Jose, and could hit 25 straight free throws, was a “happy, very funny, loving person who treated everyone like family.”
The sisters said they shoot free throws in Laurie Houts’s honor, every year on her birthday.
“We are happy to have a chance at some measure of justice,” Suzi said in an interview. “We’ve waited patiently for 30 years.”