On September 5, 1992, computer engineer Laurie Houts, 25, was found strangled to death in her car near a California garbage dump. Her boyfriend’s roommate was arrested in connection with the case, but two trials — and two hung juries — later a judge dismissed the case. The housemate moved to the Netherlands shortly afterwards.
According to the district attorney’s Santa Clara County Office, the roommate — now the director of a small software company — was arrested over the weekend as he landed at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City.
John Woodward, the 58-year-old CEO and president of ReadyTech, is expected to be extradited to Santa Clara County by the end of the month, District Attorney Jeff Rosen said Monday. Once there, Woodward is charged for the third time with the murder of Houts by strangulation.
“I was excited and very excited,” Houts’ sister told me The Mercury News. †Then you get out of there. Nothing will bring your loved one back. They are gone. Even if in some way it feels good to have justice, it doesn’t solve the problem. It’s not like if you win, you get your sister back.”
Houts’ body was discovered more than 30 years ago by a passerby less than a mile from her office at Adobe Systems in Mountain View. San Francisco Chronicle. There was a rope around her neck and footprints on the inside of her windshield, which the district attorney’s office called “a sign of her struggle with Woodward.”
Forensics at the time was able to match Woodward to fingerprints found outside the car, but investigators were unable to prove he had been inside the vehicle.
But when Houts’ friend called shortly after the death of 25-year-old Woodward, under police supervision, he did not “deny” that he had killed Houts. Instead, according to a summary of the case by police, Woodward asked what evidence authorities had against him and suggested the roommate “meet in a parking lot” to talk more.
Woodward, who had no alibi for the night Houts was murdered, was arrested that same year. Prosecutors alleged that Woodward had developed an “unrequited” romantic interest in Houts’ boyfriend. The theory was criticized as homophobic during Woodward’s first trial by his attorney in 1995, the… The Mercury News reported Monday, and the jury balked at his innocence, voting 8-4 for acquittal.
A year later, the jury hearing Woodward’s second trial hanged itself again, despite a judge ditching the romantic-rival argument, this time with a 7-5 verdict. The judge quickly dismissed the case due to insufficient evidence.
But thanks to advances in DNA technology, detectives were able to connect Woodward for the first time with the rope around Houts’ neck last year, Rosen’s statement said. Investigators at both the Santa Clara County Crime Lab and the Mountain View Police Department have compared both Woodward’s genetic material and fibers on his sweatpants to “the murder weapon,” police said.
Woodward was arrested after federal agents alerted local authorities to his impending arrival from Amsterdam. The Dutch authorities, the prosecutor said, had also received a warrant and seized a number of electronic devices from his home and business.
ReadyTech, headquartered in Oakland with an office in the Netherlands, did not immediately respond to an email from The Daily Beast to the company’s general information address.
“I want Mrs. Houts’ family and friends to know that we never gave up on her,” Rosen said Monday. “Neither time nor distance will prevent us from seeking the truth and seeking justice.”
Houts’ family also released a statement after Woodward’s arrest was announced, recalling their daughter’s heart, humor and guts.
“The way Laurie lived and treated people was a stunning example of what was right in the world,” they said, according to the Bay Area affiliate of CBS News. “She was a gem to so many, but her beautiful life was taken from us at the age of 25. We hope justice can finally be served for Laurie and are incredibly grateful to the law enforcement agencies who never gave up on her. †