Young artists have always flocked to New York City, like bees to honey. Since the 60s, the Big Apple has acquired and retains a certain mystique and energy that keep creative people in search of inspiration coming back for more.
In the past decade though, many artists have changed their mind about New York, and the reason is simple: it is too bloody expensive. The cost of living is very high and most of the neighborhoods that used to provide cheaper rent and offerings have now been revitalized and rendered unaffordable by gentrification; a phenomenon not very conducive to creation.
The Josef Astor’s 2010 nostalgia documentary ”Lost Bohemia” illustrates the situation very well. It is about the exuberant life and final years of the Carnegie Hall studios where artists like Editta Sherman lived and created but eventually had to vacate because of corporate greed.
Some wealthy New Yorkers have preoccupations that seem totally outside the realm of common mortals. In 2012, Upper West Siders went to war over a Peace symbol. A resident of the Ansonia landmark, a building located on Broadway and much beloved, had decided to protest against wars in Iraq and Afghanistan by posting a neon peace sign in her living room window.
The vile and combative reactions of the neighbors would not have been more vehement if she had put up a Swastika. It was a peace sign for goodness sake. So it is not hard to see that going to war on peace signs is not the kind of activity young creative minds have the time or the energy to focus on. Their main purpose is to find work and succeed. The hell with crazy games rich people play.
So our young bohemians are now headed South, East, West or North in search of new hoods where they will be able to pay rent, do their craft and find sustaining jobs until they can make a decent living and follow their bliss.
Visual artists can now reach an audience online and sell their products through the Internet so they can afford to live in cheaper and smaller towns where they are able to rent an apartment and a small art studio for their work. The same could be said for musicians who can record and produce in their own home and sell their product online. They can continue touring, but their home base can be anywhere.
Dancers and singers aspiring to work in Theater are still drawn to New York and its famous Broadway shows, because so far, no other American town can rival the amount of productions and the prestige you can attain in the Big Apple. After all, if you can make it there, you can make it everywhere.
This concrete jungle has seen the rise and fall of many young artists.
Catherine Woods was born in June 1984 in Columbus, Ohio and moved to Manhattan in 2002, after graduating from high school. She was 17-year-old, a classically trained dancer and by all accounts, a very talented one. Like many performers before her, she came to pursue her dream of becoming a Broadway performer. It is with great trepidation that she first came to the big city.
Catherine had a rough beginning when she arrived in New York. She was raped at knife point by the person she rented a room from and consequently, headed back home. But she did not give up and returned in a safer environment accompanied by her parents who did their best to forego their anxiety and support her dream.
Being from an upper middle class family, Catherine was very lucky to have parents who could give her money for rent and classes. She still had to earn her keep by working at various jobs to cover her other expenses while auditioning for parts and taking lessons. In spite of her obligations, she felt footloose and fancy-free in a vibrant city.
Not long after she settled in her new life, Catherine met David Haughn during one of her visits back to Ohio. At the time, he was an aspiring rapper selling his CDs in a parking lot and after being introduced to her by a friend, decided almost instantly to follow her to New York City to pursue his career and follow his heart.
They were from very different backgrounds. Catherine came from a very loving and functional family and David grew up in foster homes without much direction. He probably did not have much to lose when he impulsively decided to move to the Big Apple to be with his dream girl.
All was well for quite a while as Catherine took dance lessons, taught at a dance studio, auditioned for shows like Sweet Charity, worked at a Spa and maintained her relationship with David who, as time went on, seemed to become more of a lap dog than a boyfriend. He looked up to Catherine almost as a mother figure who would boost his confidence and pay most of the bills.
By all accounts, David was not too enthused about work and kept floating from one menial part time job to another. Catherine was the breadwinner and she grew tired of it. By 2005, she had asked him to move out, but took him back 2 weeks later after he threatened to kill himself and had to resort to living in his car.
Catherine had a heart of gold. She was very kind and made a habit of compartmentalizing her life in order to please everyone. Instead of stealing from Paul to pay Peter, she would lie to Paul to please David, so to speak. And after a while, she was lying to pretty well everyone to keep up with the charade her life had become.
In February 2005, when Catherine moved to 355 East 86 St apt 2D in Upper East Side, she had already met Paul Cortez in the summer of 2004 at the NY Sports Club where he worked as a trainer, and they were dating.
David finally took a full time job as a doorman one block away from the apartment and he worked the graveyard shift. He was banished from her bed and slept on the futon in the living room during the day. They were no longer romantically involved. Catherine broke off the romance and probably his heart in the process. David continued to profess his undying love for her.
As usual, Catherine probably did not have the heart to tell him there was no rekindling their romance and he kept hoping she would eventually reconsider. In the meantime, he served her hand and foot and remained her loyal friend, but kept his irresponsible ways with money and remained a poor provider.
Paul Cortez was born in 1980 in a rough Bronx borough of New York City where he lived with his mother, and two siblings.
His mother who had to live on social assistance for a while, forged a good career for herself and managed to get an outstanding education for Paul with the help of scholarships. He gained entry into the Buckley School in Upper East Side Manhattan where he excelled in academics as well as athletics.
He also attended the Poly Prep Country Day School in Brooklyn where he focused in ballet and jazz dance. He was involved in numerous theater and dance productions. But it did not come easy for him. He had to ride public transportation for hours back and forth and had a grueling schedule.
He persevered and turned out to be a success who dreamt of helping his family move out of the Bronx and land a career on Broadway for himself.
He attended the Boston University’s Theatre Arts Program and while in Boston, he formed a band. He recorded solo albums, wrote songs and played several instruments. He also sang all vocals.
He was a very talented young man, but also a very hard worker who cultivated great relationships with his family and friends.
Catherine and Paul had similar interests, a great work ethic and they were going places. Paul as a yoga and physical trainer and Catherine as a dancer and instructor.
I wish I had as much information on David Haughn, but all I could find out is that he was from Columbus, Ohio and worked as a doorman in New York City while writing rap music. He has albums under the name City 270. One of them is called Certified MidWest, and the other Amplified Trunk Art.
He had a difficult upbringing and developed a strong attachment to the lovely Catherine he would have liked to marry. But his actions were often out of sync with the reality of their situation. The object of his desire was drifting away from him and he felt unfulfilled by his work.
Prelude to a murder
In March 2005, Catherine quit her job at the Spa and in June, started working at a strip club called Privilege. Her friend Megan Wilkins from Ohio came to New York and bunked with them for two months. She also decided to embark on the same dancing adventure as Catherine.
I would imagine that the possibility of making good money a few nights a week was appealing to them and that way, Catherine could audition during the day. You could call it a little walk on the wild side, and it did not seem to bother their friend David one iota.
I was close to that scene as a University student and I have known many girls who chose that path. It is a risky proposition, especially when it involves lap dancing and backrooms. It is one thing to dance on a stage, but to be doing lap dances can be degrading and leave some emotional residues.
Most girls do not tell their parents about it and see it as a phase and a way to earn good cash under the table while pursuing their dreams. Some come out of it unscathed, but some do not. It can be demeaning even if you try to be emotionally detached. Plus, some patrons can be dangerous characters, even if they wear fancy suits.
Megan Wilkins was a good friend of Catherine who only had positive things to say about David who probably was as accommodating with her as he was with the object of his affection. They were a busy bunch and they managed to live in that small space without much inconvenience.
She did not know much about Paul Cortez because Catherine had kept this aspect of her life compartmentalized so that David would not find out. One lie leads to another.
Wilkins said she was making thousands of dollars working in backrooms with Catherine and pretty good money in the club. She mentioned making $2000 in private settings. According to Megan, her friend was saving money to be able to stop working soon and pursue her dreams full time. After Megan left, Catherine left Privilege and started to work at Flash Dancers.
While reading Megan’s police interview, I was struck by the numerous inconsistencies in Catherine’s stories to her friends. She definitely appeared to tell people what they wanted to hear. What a tangled web she wove. She tended to pit people against each other, telling one that the other was crazy or that she did not care when in fact, she did. I wish the investigators had kept her journals instead of giving them to her parents. It might have answered a lot of questions.
When questioned by the police, Megan talked about a guy named Paul (not Cortez) who was an instructor at the dance studio where Catherine worked. He had allegedly pushed Catherine against a wall and was supposedly fired after the incident. She was worried because he knew where she lived. The police did not seem too interested in finding out more about this important piece of information.
Catherine was a beautiful girl so she had to attract attention everywhere she went.
The incident at the Club
Even if Catherine did not talk too much about Paul Cortez, their romance was going strong. They were in constant communication and saw each other frequently, a fact documented by phone calls, texts and dates. He introduced her to his mother and the three of them went to the zoo. His mother and close friends could see he was hooked.
This girl who shared so many of his interests was a dream come true for Paul and she relied on him a lot as a confidant.
He eventually found out she was living with David Haughn, but was told that he was just a friend she felt sorry for and still cared about. She did not have the heart to kick him out and wanted to help him. Paul did not see David as competition and was pretty understanding at first.
One night, Catherine called Paul from the Club because someone had put drugs in her drink and she was confused and afraid. He came running and even if the doormen wouldn’t let him in, he managed to catch up with Cat who was stumbling and the fear was that she might have been raped.
He was very upset and tried to convince her to go to the hospital after taking her to a hotel, which she was not keen on doing considering the secret nature of her job.
He was so worried about Catherine that he looked in her phone to find her parents’ phone number. He called to let them know what was going on with their daughter. It was very risky because he had to know that he might lose her because she would feel betrayed.
Paul was willing to risk his relationship with Catherine to save her from what he considered a very dangerous lifestyle. He knew she had been raped when she first came to New York and the drugging incident made him go into overprotective mode.
Strangely enough, Catherine never turned to David for help and did not confide in him about the attack.
When he heard the message from Paul, Catherine’s father, Jon Woods, found him to be very polite and articulate, and decided to come to New York to talk to Catherine. Phone records indicate that Paul and Jon Woods talked several times, even if they tried to minimize this fact at trial. But when confronted by her father, his daughter lied. She told him that Paul was a crazy guy who was making up stories about her.
Her father called the Club, but the person who answered did not know Catherine who danced under the name Ava. Plus, it could have been the cleaning lady for all we know. The club owners do not usually rat on their dancers.
The man went back home satisfied that his daughter had told him the truth and had landed a role in an 0ff-Broadway show called Privilege.
The break up
As to be expected, Catherine was furious at Paul and wanted nothing to do with him anymore. She switched to another gym to exercise and gave him a hard time. He was hurt and wrote about his pain in his journals. Since he was a boy, writing had been an outlet for Cortez. He had at least 22 journals that he kept in his apartment. And he also wrote songs for the band he fronted called Monolith. As the lead singer, he had also recently came to the conclusion that the type of lyrics and songs his mates were asking of him were not in sync with his ideology.
He was a devotee of the Hindu religion and a very peaceful guy. So he probably had outgrown the edgier style of Monolith. In fact, his co-band members had noticed his lack of luster recently and were going to ask him to leave the group.
Even if Paul was against Catherine’s risky lifestyle and worried about the damage she was suffering by exposing herself to objectification and all kinds of strange patrons at the club, he persisted and tried to patch things up with her.
He vacillated between moving on and holding on. After all, he knew Catherine’s heart and she was a gem. If he could only convince her to quit and find other ways, everything would be all right, he thought. The two of them could have a good relationship while sharing their love of the arts in NY. Frankly, any adult in her life would have wanted her to quit, including her parents and dance instructors. So Cortez was not being over the top at all.
So he kept communicating with her and she relented. She probably realized that he had intervened because he sincerely cared about her well-being and her warm feelings were revived. She started seeing him again and they were exchanging a lot of texts and having conversations.
In the meantime, Paul met other women and went on with his active and creative life and Catherine did the same. All was not lost for them.
On Sunday, November 25th, 2005, at 18:57 hours, David Haughn called 911 to report that he had found his girlfriend Catherine Woods face down in a pool of blood in her bedroom with the bed pushed in front of the door. Throughout the investigation, he kept refering to Catherine as his girlfriend and pretending they were still an item.
He was strangely calm and interestingly enough, the operator is the one who showed signs of distress during the conversation.
After listening to David’s call, I was struck not only by his demeanor, but mostly by his words.
Click on file below to listen to the 911 call.
He is not all over Catherine trying to see if she is still alive, but says he pulled on her sweater. He does not ask how to do CPR and mentions an accident. These types of injuries do not look at all like an accident. Plus, he slips and mentions boot prints on the bed.
How on earth would he know they were boot prints? You cannot tell at first glance if bloody prints are made from regular shoes, running shoes or boots. He is not focused on reviving Catherine.
Plus, the way he describes seeing her body in the room does not coincide with the description given by the EMTs who first showed up at the scene.
Haughn started creating a diversion right away and was keen to mention a ‘stalker’ and the name Paul Cortez. Catherine had a 30 minutes conversation with Paul in the morning. He was never a stalker. David also said to the cops he ‘knew’ something like this would happen. He knew all right something was going to happen, but I doubt it had anything to do with Cortez.
Mind you, Catherine had denied sleeping with Paul to spare David’s feelings and had told him he was nuts. Exactly like she did every time she tried to get out of telling the truth. After talking to Paul, David had to come to terms with reality and that they had been intimate. Plus, he had recently called Paul to tell him to leave his girl alone or else. He was growing more and more desperate about losing his baby girl. She was also seeing other men and he had to know it.
Poor Catherine had multiple lacerations from a beating and her throat was slashed. She did not look like she had any kind of accident. There was blood on the walls and it was an ugly scene. Her bed was blocking the entrance, meaning she had been cornered and there was a foot print on her back. Someone was really mad at this girl and went ballistic on her. It had all the markings of a crime of passion. It looked and felt really personal.
David Haughn’s timeline
When the cops showed up, David mentioned Paul Cortez right away and gave them a CD of his music with his picture on it that just ‘happened’ to be in his bag. This is very disturbing in itself and a tad obsessed.
David claimed to have left for 20 minutes and that Catherine was attacked and murdered during that time.
Detective Steven Goetz who was in charge of the investigation referenced in his report, a video of David leaving the building at 6:25 and as the time he went to get his car at his job site, a block away. But in his case outline, he changed the time to 6:40 and did not mention the 6:25 video anymore in the timeline. He subsequently did not account for the video showing David leaving the building and turned his undivided attention to Paul Cortez.
Two frames taken from that same video that picked up David and Catherine earlier that afternoon are timestamped 6:34 and the other 6:57 and neither show David nor Paul.
This video was never turned over to Paul Cortez’s attorneys. If David was seen exiting at 6:25pm, it puts him in the apartment during her murder. If David is not seen in the video at all, then David is caught in yet another lie and cannot prove when he left the apartment that evening during a specific period of time.
David said he went to get his car and stopped to talk to his coworkers. He added that he made 3 phone calls to Catherine to tell her he was on his way, but his phone records only show one call at 6:47. Goetz, in his report, says the call is at 6:59, but it is in fact when the 6:57 call to 911 ended.
David told the detective that he spoke to his coworkers for only 5 minutes, but his coworkers changed their stories about the encounter and said it could be longer. This came from the same witnesses who testified about cops interviewing them the same day when in fact, they were there the following day. The coworkers were confused about the time and described David wearing a hooded sweat shirt and jeans which is clearly not what he was wearing on the video at 4:59 or what he was wearing at the police station a little later. So you wonder if anything they said was reliable and if they really saw David at all that day.
David said that he parked his car in front of the building and after trying to call Catherine, went to use the buzzer, but got no answer. The cell phone records indicate that he did not call her. As he was going to put the key in the lock to enter the building to go fetch Catherine, he met their neighbor Brad Stewart who had found the black lab David had been dog sitting for a few days.
By the way, David told cops he went back to his car to get his key to enter the building, so the theory of the front door having a faulty lock on that day does not hold water, and Cortez or any intruder could not enter without being let in or buzzed in. This place had no other access in the back or on the side.
I personally wonder why he would have to go upstairs to fetch Catherine if he did not bother calling her and she is hardly late. Why not wait for her in the car? Why go through the trouble? It is not like she was late enough to get him to worry about it. It appears that he knew she would not ever come out.
How did the dog get out and why?
David and Catherine owned a tiny Chihuahua named Josie, but to make extra money, Haughn had started walking a few dogs from owners at his work place and he was dog sitting a black lab since 3 days in his own apartment.
Their neighbor Brad Stewart, who lived on the same floor, came out at approximately 6 pm to go walk his own 2 dogs and saw the black lab running down First Avenue without a leash. He knew this dog was in the care of David so he grabbed it by the collar and dragged it back to the building and knocked on David’s door. There was no answer. He then went to his own apartment with the dog and told his girlfriend, Julia Jeon, about it. He finally left it in the vestibule.
When Haughn came in the building to go check on Catherine, he encountered Brad who told him about the dog left in the hallway and running loose outdoors. Haughn told Brad that he was gone 20 minutes and that his brother was supposed to keep an eye on the dog. And Julia corroborated the story to the police.
Excerpts from Brad’s police interview: “…stated in substance that he was at home with his girlfriend Julia and stated that they did not hear any noises, Brad stated that at approximately 1800-1830 hours he was leaving apartment to walk his dogs when he did get into vestibule noticed black dog down by door trying to get out, dog he stated belonged to David that he stateds [sic] David walked, delivery guy pushed through door and dog got out head towards 1st ave where Brad retrieved the dog put a leash on and took dog back to the building to apartment 2d saw door was ajar light was on, sounded as if someone there but could have been the television no answer but heard buzzer ring.
Then David came up the stairs and Brad stated that he found his dog, David looked confused and stated that he was gone 20 minutes and thought that his brother was looking after the dog, he then looked at the dog shocked. David thanked him than [sic] Brad left building and David went into his apartment. Julia called him shortly after he left and said that neighbor was hurt came running back to the building and saw David with detectives, said David looked dead and that David stated to him that she didn’t do it to herself. Told David to hang in there David looked shocked.”
The problem is that David’s brother was 13 and lived in Ohio at the time. Why make this story up?
David claimed he had left the door to the apartment unlocked and brought the dog back in with him. Five minutes later, he went to knock on Julia’s door and told her his girlfriend was not breathing and there was blood everywhere. Julia called Brad and he came back on the scene.
At trial, Brad and Julia did not testify. They were essential to the defense and would have obliterated the prosecution, but they were not called in.
It does not take a rocket scientist to know that the only person who could have thought of putting the dog in the hallway by opening a couple of doors so the dog could not return if there was going to be a fight, is David Haughn. He hardly knew this big dog, and it could have barked very loudly or even bit him if Catherine was attacked.
By letting the dog out, it eliminated this problem and demonstrated a violent intent. If a stranger had come in and let him loose, the neighbors would have heard frantic barking.
Paul Cortez had no way of knowing that there was a big dog in Catherine’s apartment and he thought that David had moved out months ago. Another lie she had told him, probably to facilitate the relationship.
Click here to read the dog’s timeline that makes it impossible for Paul Cortez to have killed his friend Catherine.
Upstairs neighbor Andrew Gold
Andrew Gold lived directly above Catherine’s apartment whose floor plan was similar to his. According to his official cell phone records, he talked to his girlfriend at 6:18 pm and the call lasted 22 minutes, which means that it ended at 6:40 pm. Andrew remembers that at no later than 6:25 pm, he heard a ruckus downstairs and one small dog yelping. He knows because he was sitting in front of his cable box when he talked to his girlfriend.
She heard it also. He paused the conversation and she could hear a scream. He stated ‘’ I heard a scream. And I heard a scream and then I heard scuffling. It sounded like a scuffle and I heard a dog barking and then I heard another scream, and then I heard a thud. And then nothing.’’
At that point Gold, feeling uneasy, went outside his apartment to investigate. He did not see anyone in the stairway or the hallway and checked out the window on 86th. He yelled is anyone out there? But heard dead silence.
The downstairs apartment was usually pretty quiet except for a bit of music so it worried him.
Same floor Neighbors Jesse Danzig and Amy Van Deusen
“Residents Jessie Danzig and Amy Van Deusen state at approx. 1745 to 1800 hrs they heard a sound like a child screaming or having a tantrum, at this time residents were watching TV in the living room and put the TV on mute to hear better. Heard movement like someone moving furniture or walking. Then heard dogs barking. Sounds did not last long. Other side of ear witnesses apt is the victim’s living room. Stated that they normally did not hear anything from victim’s apt and did not know victim. Based upon other follow up interview on 12/7/05 their time frame is still 1745 to 1800 hours.”
It either means the attack was twofold and started earlier or they were wrong about the time. But it corroborates the attack and strongly suggests that David Haughn is the culprit.
Jesse Danzig and Amy Ven Deusen were not called as witnesses.
The Murder’s timeline
The killer’s bloody foot prints on the bed and on Catherine’s back stopped at the bedroom door so it means that the culprit removed his boots not to leave tracks in the apartment or in the hallway. And probably threw his bloody clothing in a bag with the boots and ran out of there.
It makes it possible for the killer to have fled at 6:35. Who would have had extra shoes and clothing handy in such a quick homicide? They found traces of blood in Catherine’s bath tub so someone felt comfortable enough to clean up in this apartment.
There was absolutely no sign of blood out of the apartment or downstairs so it had to be an inside job and someone quickly executing a plan.
As previously stated, Goetz mentioned the existence of a building security camera showing David leaving the building at 6:25, but it was changed later in his report and the video was never handed over to the defense or shown in court.
Andrew Gold exited the building between 6:40 and 6:45 and did not encounter David or see him waiting outside. Brad met David after 6:47 when he was calling Catherine.
Let’s not forget that David’s car was parked only a block away and he said that he stopped at work 5 minutes, so he would have had plenty of time to rush and come back. His impromptu visit, if there ever was one, was undoubtedly to try to establish an alibi. He said in his deposition that Catherine wanted to leave in the next ten minutes so why would he have taken the time to show up at work?
In the meantime, contrary to the lies propagated by the media, Paul Cortez was not captured on any video around the building. With all the comings and goings that evening, he would have been spotted by someone or caught on camera.
There was no way in or out of the building through the back and you needed a key to unlock the front gate of the building. It was mentioned that the lock would sometimes remain open, but there was no evidence of it happening on that night and this theory would not have solved the other mysteries surrounding the invisible presence of Paul around the building.
It is not because he hung out in the neighborhood and called Catherine several times that he had any opportunity to kill her in this very small window of time. How on earth would he have known to come at that time and to let the dog out earlier? It defies logic.
Paul Cortez’ timeline
On the day of the killing, Paul had talked with Catherine for 30 minutes in the morning and they had mentioned the possibility of hanging out later in the day. Paul worked at a gym a few blocks from Catherine’s apartment and chilled in the area quite often. He was on a date with another woman earlier in the day and they had a video to prove it. It was also corroborated by his date. She even said that he was a bit too flirtatious and that he apologized for it. On that day, she bought him a book about sex. Let’s talk about mixed messages.
He tried to call Catherine several times during the day and she briefly called him back twice. He came to the area and went to Starbucks hoping to meet her as they had done in the past. Even if the cell location was a mere 2 blocks from Catherine’s place, it did not mean he was in her apartment. It means he was in the neighborhood.
David Haughn’s calls from his place of employment and route back to the apartment does not preclude him from being literally inside his apartment since the same tower picks him up in both places. Why did it suggest Paul’s presence in the apartment but not David’s?
How can a tower 2 blocks away from Catherine mean that he was attacking her when the tower for David was across the street?
The police tried to make his constant calling that day look very sinister. It was very typical for Catherine and Paul to call each other up all the time. Constant texting is the norm nowadays. Their relationship was on and off but it was strong. Catherine had spent the night at Paul’s place days earlier and she would sometimes skip work to spend time with him.
She told him that she did not feel like going to work that night. He was probably hoping she would change her mind and meet him at Starbucks. He said she sounded strange.
His last phone call to Catherine was at 6:33, but the police tried to make it sound like it was a butt call or misdial because they knew she was already dead at that time. How could he have called her in the middle of an attack? Plus, he handed his phone to detectives and it had no blood or DNA on it. He had nothing to hide.
When Paul realized Catherine would not answer and intended to go to work at 7 pm, he simply went home and called clients along the way. He called his own voicemail at 6:46 pm and a client afterwards and the call was picked up by a cell tower on 95th St, 9 blocks from Catherine’s apartment and 11 blocks from the Starbucks where he was earlier. So it makes it impossible for him to have committed any kind of a crime.
He later met an acquaintance from the gym called Spence Lebowitz at a local bar to watch a game and nothing was amiss. He was still wearing the same leather jacket he had on his date earlier in the day.
The section of blue and yellow were Paul’s calls to Catherine. The two pink highlights are Catherine’s calls to Paul. The series of blue lines being so frequent show a series of repeated brief calls, the shortest length duration being 1 second, the longest being 35 seconds, supporting Paul’s explanation to investigators from the beginning that the calls kept dropping and he was simply making an attempt to call back.
The two longest call duration had been both of Catherine’s calls to Paul that day: 2 minutes and 38 seconds, and 1 minute 23 seconds. Paul’s statements to investigators were always supported by his own cell records.
For Paul Cortez to have snapped and butcher Catherine Woods, he would have had to bring boots he never owned and change clothing and shoes. This is utterly ridiculous and disproved.
He would also have had to make himself invisible to the cameras and neighbors. He would have had to enter the apartment by magic to release a dog he knew nothing about while David was proven to be in the apartment, and then come back to murder Catherine after David came out.
He would also have had to be on the lookout and near the entrance door. The dog is the smoking gun because of the presence of Haughn and the impossibility of anyone releasing it but him.
He did not have a key. The police reports states that Haughn was seen leaving at 6:25 and then at 6:40, so when did Paul come in and how did he perpetuate this horrible crime in seven minutes including clean up and having extra shoes and clothing?
The person that released the dog through several doors never intended for it to be let loose in the streets by a delivery guy. Only David Haughn cared if that dog got lost or not.
It is not possible for Paul Cortez to have murdered his friend Catherine.
He was not losing her. He was still working at regaining her love and she had recently texted him twice that she loved him. They were recently seen at the gym in an embrace so affectionate that they were told to get a room.
On the other hand, David Haughn was on his way out and he knew it. Catherine had put an end to their romantic relationship and contrary to Paul who had an education, was popular and going places, David was on a fast train to nowhere. His difficult childhood came with baggage and he was a more suitable candidate to snap because he lived with the object of his desire and she was slipping through his fingers.
To his chagrin, she had declined Paul’s invitation to join his family for Thanksgiving to go to her hometown with David. It might have been a nice sendoff for old times sake. If Catherine left David, he had nothing. She was his life.
Poor Catherine was savagely attacked in what had to be a crime of passion. The person had actually stepped on her back to keep her down. She was slashed on the neck and had multiple stab wounds. She had hairs on her body and was clutching some hairs in her hands.
None of the hairs belonged to Cortez because according to the lab, they were of Caucasian origin. The short light hairs entangled in her fingers were never analyzed or compared to David’s hair that was short and blond.
It soon became a typical case of tunnel vision. After the detectives talked to David and wondered why he did not cry or show emotions, they quickly turned to Cortez. Even if he was a very educated and peaceful guy, they treated him like a thug and focused all their efforts on proving his guilt. It sure looked like the Puerto Rican kid from the Bronx could do no right in their eyes and they totally forgot about David.
When Catherine’s father received the phone call informing him of his beloved daughter’s demise, his first reaction was to say why did she have to be with this guy? And he meant David Haughn. His impression of Paul had been positive when he had called them. Paul cared about his daughter and had actually tried to save her from herself and further attacks. Not the case with David who kept taking advantage of her generosity.
The cops and the state did not investigate David or the phone calls he made. They did not read the lyrics of his rap songs and did not search for clothing and boots he could have discarded nearby. They did not check if he had purchased or owned Skechers boots size 10 ½, which was the size of the foot prints left on the scene that matched his shoe size.
Catherine who was supposedly making good money was found with only $64 in her wallet and $200 in her bank account. How could that be? They never verified how much money Haughn had on him or spent in that time period. He would have been the only one to know where she kept her hard earned cash.
At trial, David seemed to suffer from amnesia when he answered most questions. When asked how much money he made, he answered around $500 net weekly. Catherine was getting $1000 monthly from her family and he could not help her make the rent that was $1475? He admitted giving $125 or more or whatever ‘he could’.
He testified that he had bought a car behind her back and kept spending instead of paying his share. Why was money so tight if he made that kind of salary? Catherine was buying him shoes and clothing and she co-signed a loan for him that he was not repaying. Common sense indicates that they would have had fights about his chronic unwillingness to contribute, even if it had improved a little.
Instead, the cops zoomed on Cortez whose hair did not match and who had left no DNA or any traces indicating he could have been there that day.
When Paul realized that Catherine was going to work and was curt with him, he headed home and stopped calling her at 6:33 pm. He made phone calls to friends and clients. He went to work early in the morning without calling her. He probably wanted to give her a chance to call him back.
The investigators took this as evidence that he knew she was dead. On the contrary, if he had killed her, this smart guy would have called her to cover his ass. When his mother came to notify him of the tragedy, he fell apart.
When he was first interviewed by the police, he only answered the questions asked of him and did not volunteer that he was in the immediate area. He was in a daze and subsequently told them where he was in detail and gave them his phone. I see nothing sinister about this and I would not blame the guy for staying out of it or not wanting to publicize that he was in the area, unless he had to. Look at what happened and you will know why. This is New York.
They also made a huge deal of the fact that his band mates said that he didn’t show up for practice that night and said he was asleep. The answer was simple; he knew he was going to get canned because of his recent lack of commitment and he was trying to avoid this unpleasant encounter. He called a friend and went to a bar to watch a game. It is not like he was the only one to fib. Catherine and David also seemed to have a problem with the truth. It is not a crime.
They managed to arrest him because a girl he had slept with after a concert long ago said he was rough. It was simply an excuse to get his fingerprints. She never pressed charges and had gone back to listen to the band and being friendly with him.
The latent print
The big not so smoking gun of the state’s case was a print that was found two weeks after the fact on a wall in Catherine’s bedroom. After they obtained Paul’s fingerprints, someone finally found an invisible or latent print on a wall. They called it a bloody print, which it was not.
It was a partial print that could have been there for a long time or even planted if we want to go there. They had to use chemicals to lift it and that was it for the state. They had their case.
In reality, Paul had been to Catherine’s apartment several times, so it was no big deal that a partial latent print would be found. The blood had simply been deposited on top of it at the time of the murder or the chemical had reacted to something else. They did cut a piece of the wall and made it sound and appear as if the dark coloration was blood, when in fact, it was the chemical reaction from the product used to lift it. And this product reacted to other elements than blood.
So it was a joke, but they brought it up at trial and presented it as a bloody print.
They charged Paul Cortez with 2nd degree murder because he had called Catherine often from her neighborhood and had left a partial print there a while ago. Oh and the cherry on top was the journals he kept that they used to illustrate that he was a monster with a lot of rage towards women.
It must have been surreal for Cortez and such a relief for Haughn who pointed the finger at Paul from the minute he ‘found’ Catherine.
I do not know why they were so easy on David, but they cut him loose even if he said that he was kind of resigned to being guilty. Not once did Cortez say that. He denied killing Catherine and still does.
The Arrest & the Media
Woods was murdered on November 27, 2005 and Cortez was arrested and charged in December of the same year. Considered a flight risk, he did not get bail. Talk about rush to judgment. It is during that period that Paul was in the process of auditioning for Rent and completing another solo album. He had no reason to snap at Catherine. On the other hand, David’s night shift career and relationship with Catherine were pretty much in the crapper.
In no time at all, the police had let go of David Haughn or of any other person of interest like the mystery delivery guy, and decided that Paul was their man. Because he had made a series of quick calls on that day, they branded him a stalker and focused entirely of him.
The media was in a frenzy and constantly publishing lies about the case. They called Cortez every name in the book. The lethal Lothario, the Stripper Slasher, the Savage Ripper, the Hispanic tsunami, and they went as far as questioning his sexual orientation. The New York Post ran a story called Beauty and the Beast.
Even if Cortez was already in a band and playing venues for a quite a while, they said he was an aspiring rock star. In reality, he wanted out of the band to pursue more artistic venues. He was not a rocker at heart but had already established himself as a good singer and musician. David was the aspiring rapper star, and we all know that rap music comes with a bad rap for its violent edge and the way it portrays women.
Some articles implied that he was caught on video outside Catherine’s building, when in fact, he was streets away.
Some said he had threatened to kill himself if she left him when in fact, David was the one who had played that card. They published younger photos of David to make him look sweet and innocent.
Some articles were plain racists and invoked Paul’s Puerto Rican origin as the cause of his fiery temper. The fact that he was from the Bronx, made them ignore his education and real character. With all their might, they created a monster by twisting facts and his every word and move.
Cortez from the block is the one who did not stand a chance against this media tsunami. The press had realized early on that this villain would be more profitable than going after other suspects. They had their big media bliss and they ran with it. As far as the head detective goes, I guess he saw this case and its media attention as a way to shine. And he went for it with guns blazing and blinders on.
In shock and trusting the system, Cortez thought that the truth would set him free. He had given hours and hours of interview without legal representation and had cried a river over losing Catherine and the horrendous fate she met.
He had no money to hire attorneys so his friends and family did their best to collect funds to get him representation. Dawn Florio and Laura Miranda became his ragtag defense team. He had no way of knowing at the time, how unprepared and incompetent they would turn out to be.
Unbeknown to Paul, Florio was under indictment by the same prosecutor’s office for smuggling drugs and contraband into a prison for one of her clients: 98 blue pills; 95 yellow pills, 100 pink pills, three bars of soap, two sticks of deodorant, four sheets of rolling paper, a rap magazine titled Felon, and a turkey sandwich. She had been arrested and released on bail.
In 2012, Florio was accused of misconduct by Bronx prosecutor Omer Wiczyk when she was visiting a client at a lower Manhattan jail. Consequently, her client had to ask for new legal representation.
She had been fired in 2000 after some officials had alleged she had provided an alibi to an ex-con boyfriend. The fact that she still practices law is surprising at best. She obviously won and the decisions were sealed.
They were not prepared and failed to show up for the first 3 days of trial for which they were held in contempt of court. They actually faxed Supreme Court Justice Carol Berkman, a message to explain their absence. Miranda’s mother had a medical emergency and Florio’s uncle died. Miranda had gone to Puerto Rico and goodness knows where Florio was. They had complained several times about not being ready for the case.
Judge Carol Berkman
Carol Berkman retired in 2012 after being the longest-sitting judge in New York. It was cause for celebration for many lawyers tired of her attitude in court. She stated herself, “I have this reputation for being a mean old bitch.” “It’s the way I talk. I don’t pad it,”
She was disciplined for her severe sentencing of a defendant that fully cooperated with the state. She mocked the woman and disregarded the fact that she had risked her life to cooperate with the District Attorney’s office in some drug arrests.
This charming judge became another element of the perfect storm the trial of Paul Cortez would become.
Basically, Cortez’ attorneys let him testify thinking the truth would set him free, and probably because they did not want to spend their fees on pesky experts. Instead, they presented character witnesses, which was the jest of their defense. In an unprecedented move, they did not hire an investigator to dig up information and prepare for trial.
Assistant District Attorney Peter Casolaro
In his opening statement, prosecutor Peter Casolaro went for the kill by attacking the defendant’s character and taking out his big smoking gun: the bloody partial print allegedly matching Cortez.
The problem with this ‘evidence’ is that it was not a bloody print. It was a latent print that was found weeks later and had to be lifted with chemicals.
The blood could have been deposited on top of it at the time of the murder. The defense did not bring any expert to debunk this false evidence.
Casolaro must have thanked his lucky star when he realized the lady defenders were incompetent and unprepared to the point where they had Paul talk about having sex with Catherine when she had her period as an explanation for the possible print.
He also brought good old Spencer Lebowitz to testify under oath that he had seen Paul after the murder at a bar, and he was wearing the size 10½ Skechers boots that left bloody foot prints at the crime scene.
The problem with this testimony is that this same individual was interviewed a year earlier by 48 hours and he had no idea what Cortez was wearing. Fat chance that a killer would be wearing bloody boots at night when he murdered someone while wearing them earlier. The defense did not debunk this witness and their tactic was to call him a pothead. Way to go ladies!
Click here to watch the video of 48 hours interview with Spencer Lebowitz and the video of Paul wearing Johnston & Murphy shoes.
At trial, Cortez testified that the day of the murder, he was wearing Johnston & Murphy shoes and they were size 10 medium which is not the same size as the bloody prints.
He was seen on video wearing them earlier on in the day and his attorneys decided to show the grainy video to the jury to prove their point. He never owned Skechers boots.
Casolaro went on and on about the phone calls Cortez made frequently to Catherine the day of the murder. As if it was a crime. They proved nothing and the defendant explained that he was trying to call and it was a series of hit and miss. On many days, Catherine had called him as frequently.
In this era of texting and cell phones, it is not a rare phenomenon to be calling someone until the person answers or will text back. It is documented that she had also texted him a lot during their relationship.
The defense showed that Cortez had called Catherine at 6:33 pm and it proved his innocence, but the prosecutor made it sound like it was an accidental call. As if in the midst of a bloody attack, you would be misdialing or do a butt call. The cellular would have been covered with blood or DNA.
The lack of DNA
The DNA testing or lack thereof, was the glaring problem of this trial. Catherine had non- Hispanic hair on her body and hands. Some of them were short and light, but no analysis was performed to see if they matched David or another perpetrator.
During his police interview, Cortez was examined and had no bruises, cuts or scratches on his body. He had worn the same leather jacket in the afternoon and in the evening. Nothing in his apartment and on his shoes and clothing was bloody.
David Haughn on the other hand, had blood on his pants and they were never tested to see if the blood on it was from spatter or simply from being on the scene. If he attacked Catherine, the blood patterns would have been different than if he had walked innocently on the scene.
It is surprising that Haughn did not have blood all over his clothes if he had rushed to Catherine’s help to see if she was hurt or to render assistance. Why didn’t he cradle her or try to help? He tugged at her sweater?
Haughn had bruises on his hand and he said that he got them from working on his car. He pretended to forget this important fact at trial, but was reminded of it by reviewing the police report.
They brought a witness who lived in Cortez building and his testimony was that he had seen him throwing a garbage bag in a trash can in his underwear early in the morning. The problem is that he did not know on what day it happened and described Paul’s hair as very straight instead of wavy. Desperate and tentative at best.
The cherry on top was Margaret Rickter who had been unable to identify Cortez earlier, but showed up at trial to say that she saw someone who looked like Catherine and a man having an argument. He was taller than her and he was holding her arm. The problem is that Cortez was the same height as Catherine and she could not say for sure if it was him or not. That same witness rambled on about a bible, a premonition and how she was a trial junkie. The jurors were eager to say that they did not take her seriously at all.
The pièce de résistance came when the prosecutor singled out a few excerpts from the numerous journals written by Cortez through the years, and tried to tie the content to the murder. Almost laughable if the outcome had been any different.
Casolaro asked Cortez “Do you remember writing that you want to f— all these girls with your hard c— and turn them to stone? Didn’t you write that since your mother and other women had hurt you, you wanted to bury every girl in the ground?” Cortez answered that he may have written that as an acting exercise to prepare for a role in Hamlet. Cortez also explained that one of his drawings that Casolaro described as a “warrior with a sword” was “actually a foot soldier and two Ninja Turtles.
The prosecutor also focused on lyrics from a song called “Killin’ Machine” which Cortez said was “a parody of violent male fantasies” and that the steel “Killin’ Machine” in question was really a sex toy.
Some of the entries were written one year before Catherine’s death and had absolutely nothing to do with the case. They should have never come in. The ones written after Catherine’s demise were not scary either.
One his entries said ‘’out in the Midwest, where boys are dirty and girls are princesses,’’ who ‘’wipes clean the shaft that cuts her throat’’. Keep in mind that it was written 8 months before her demise.
Casolaro equated this entry with murder intent, but Paul testified that he wrote this because Catherine had been raped at knife point and was willing to wipe the slate clean and still work in dangerous situations.
I wonder what they would have found it they analyzed David Haughn’s rap songs. This type of music is crude and often contains violent lyrics. I realize it is just music, but for Paul, it became intent. He should have been equally scrutinized.
In spite of all this circumstantial evidence, not to say hogwash, the prosecutor went on with his closing argument and demanded justice in a very flamboyant manner and for effect.
“Why did this happen?” he told the jury. “Because this misogynist and narcissist couldn’t handle rejection.”
Throughout the 3-week trial, he kept labeling Cortez without having him assessed by a psychologist or any mental health specialist. He attacked his character and portrayed him as a jealous monster and a Harlem Spanish man.
Cortez had not lost Catherine. David had and she was dating other men. So the jealous monster not being able to handle rejection was too farfetched and unrealistic. Paul Cortez was a great looking man and he was popular. He was successful and talented. He was not going to throw away the rest of his life because Catherine Woods did not meet him that day.
On November 23rd, she wrote to him, I am sorry, I love you. They had spent the night together a few days earlier. On the other hand, David Haughn lied about having sex with Catherine the night of the murder because according to the autopsy, her bladder was full and there was no indication of intercourse, so who was losing who in this triangle? If his DNA was to be found on Catherine, this last minute alleged impromptu quickie could have got him out of hot water.
The defense brought character witnesses and none of Cortez former flames testified for the state because in fact, he had remained in good terms with them and the bad blood was created by the prosecutor.
The prosecutor also accused the defense of destroying Catherine’s reputation by lying about her character and activities. They only related what she was doing for a short while in her life. In no way, did it diminish the great human being that she was and that Paul grew to love.
The intention was never to make Catherine Woods sound bad or look like a whore. That is the last thing Paul Cortez wanted when he called her father, but he had to tell the truth as he knew it to her father and now in court. She was simply dating several guys and living life on the wild side for a while.
If there was a whore in this case it had to be Lady Justice catering to the media and the lynch mob.
On February 15, 2007, Paul Cortez was found guilty of 2nd degree murder even if the prosecution had not managed to present any physical or concrete evidence at trial. No murder weapon or witnesses to be found.
On March 23, 2007, he was sentenced to 25 years to life and sent to one of the most dangerous maximum-security prisons in the state of New York.
Some of the jurors interviewed after the trial admitted that they based their decision mostly on the grainy video of Paul taken a few hours before the murder. The video produced by the defense to show he was not wearing the Skechers boots is the same one that they viewed to conclude he was wearing them. The video experts who viewed the footing were to say the least, baffled. What a mistake his defense team made.
How bizarre, how bizarre, how bizarre. ”Ring master steps out and says “the elephants left town”
People jump and jive, but the clowns have stuck around TV news and camera, there’s choppers in the sky”.
On January 21, 2014, the state’s highest court upheld the murder conviction of Paul Cortez in the killing of Catherine Woods.
‘’The Court of Appeals ruled the evidence against Cortez was strong enough to outweigh any mistakes made by his lawyer or the trial judge.’’
“We agree with the Appellate Division that the proof before the jury overwhelmingly pointed to the conclusion that defendant was Ms. Woods’ assailant,” Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman wrote in the court’s majority opinion.
The next step for Paul Cortez is the Supreme Court. The appeal would have allowed for a retrial where a new competent team could have presented all the evidence that was omitted at the first trial to prove his innocence.
An appeal is not a retrial, but it is a review of the original trial to find out if mistakes were made. Usually, you cannot present new evidence or testimony during this review. It is to point out irregularities during the proceedings.
On a positive note, the New York Court of Appeals reversed two legal rulings of the trial court.
They ruled that Paul’s original trial attorneys represented Paul while under a conflict of interest because Dawn Florio was facing a simultaneous indictment by the same prosecutor for smuggling drugs to one of her clients.
They stated that the trial judge erred in allowing Florio to represent Paul at trial as she could try to curry favor with the prosecutor and hold back on her defense of her client.
They also ruled that the trial judge erred in allowing the prosecutor to present the jury with Paul’s old journal entries. These writings and drawings dated back as many as ten years prior, during Paul’s teenage years, and ranged from old song lyrics written in collaboration with band mates to drawings of teenage mutant ninja turtles with swords.
The prosecutor used these out-of-context journal entries to portray Paul as a man violent towards women who had an obsession with knives/swords. The Court of Appeals ruled in Paul’s favor that these journals unduly prejudiced the jury against Paul without providing useful evidence.
Paul had a great relationship with his mom and women in general. His band mate testified at trial that Paul was not a rocker and he was too peaceful and soft to be in their group.
The edgy lyrics they were asking for were not his style. He wrote love poems to his two former girlfriends that were read by the defense during closing argument and of course, they were conveniently ignored by the state.
Click here for an interesting link about Cortez being refused Vegan food in prison.
The “fingerprint” was very damaging, but the Court of Appeals had to ignore the information supporting that the partial “fingerprint” as preexisting because it was not part of the original trial.
So, although the Court of Appeals overturned trial rulings, they concluded that those trial deficiencies were not enough to outweigh the evidence against Paul at trial to reverse the case.
They also had to ignore the fact that two jurors told the media that they were very much on the fence about what they had heard at trial and ultimately were swayed to convict Paul based on the behavior of his trial attorneys. As lame and pathetic as the defense closing argument was, I still would have been unable to find Cortez guilty. This was definitely a trial by media.
Sadly, it seemed obvious from their demeanor and language that to the cops and the state, this defendant was still Paul Cortez from the block, no matter what boots he wore. And as peaceful as he was, they were good and ready to launch a full-fledged war on his character. Quite reminescent of what happened at the Ansonia.
Note: We cannot say for sure if David Haughn is guilty or not of committing this crime, but if they had enough to prosecute Paul Cortez, David should have been first in line because of his relationship with Catherine and the fact that he was on the scene. This investigation was incomplete and to this day, I do not understand why they overlooked him and did not analyze the DNA that could have solved the case: scraping under victim’s nails, hair, blood on pants, etc. And the video of David exiting the building should be revisited. Why was the timeline changed in the police report and what did the video show, if anything? Paul Cortez was definitely not shown coming out of the building on any video.
You can visit www.freepaulcortez.org to view videos, read about his defense and more information on the case.
UPDATE: According to the latest news from Paul Cortez, some new evidence has come in; a video showing who came out of the building after Catherine was killed and some fingerprints in blood that were not analyzed. Consequently, the timeline has been removed from his official website until further notice. They are also in need of funds to do more testing so you can make a donation by going on the website or by clicking here.