A Bay Area slaying that has gone without any justice for nearly 30 years was back in the news this week, as the case against longtime suspect John Kevin Woodward was dismissed by a judge on double-jeopardy grounds.
Woodward, now 59, was accused in the 1992 murder of 25-year-old Laurie Houts in Mountain View. Houts was dating Woodward's straight roommate at the time, and the theory of the case has always been that Woodward was in love with his roommate, and this was a love-triangle situation.
But Woodward has been put on trial for the murder twice, and both trials ended in mistrials. In recent years, he had been living in the Netherlands while still serving as CEO of the Oakland-based company ReadyTech, and he was re-arrested in July 2022 based on the discovery of new evidence.
Investigators found that Woodward's DNA was on the rope used to kill Houts, and they hoped this would be enough to bring him to trial again.
But, as KTVU reports, Santa Clara County Judge Shella Deen dismissed the case this week, saying that Woodward was technically acquitted at the end of the last mistrial, and a third trial would count as double jeopardy.
Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen vowed to appeal Deen's decision to a higher court.
"The appeals process is how you actually change the system, and that’s really what needs to happen," said Houts's sister, Cindy Ivers, speaking to KTVU.
A friend of Houts, Marilyn Reiss, further added to KTVU that the judge issued her ruling via email, and that also stung. "We were disappointed that we couldn’t be in the courtroom, and she couldn’t say it to our faces when the decision came down."
Houts's body was found in her car, dead of strangulation, on September 5, 1992, about a mile away from her job at Adobe Systems.
A key piece of circumstantial evidence has been a phone call that was monitored by police between Woodward and his former roommate. When asked if he killed Houts, Woodward reportedly asked how much investigators knew.
Since the last mistrial in the late 1990s, Woodward has been mostly a free man. Since his re-arrest last July, he has been under house arrest in California, but he was expected to be freed as of Tuesday — and was likely going to head back to his home in the Netherlands.
Houts's murder is one of a handful of cold cases from the 1990s involving the murders of Bay Area women that have been reopened in the last couple of years. As SFist reported in May, the FBI and Redwood City police appear to have reopened the case of the 1996 disappearance and murder of 42-year-old Swedish national Ylva Hagner. Hagner was last seen alive by a coworker at IXOS Software, where she was working late on October 14, 1996.
Suspicion from Hagner's family has long fallen on Santa Clara University professor Robert Collins, who had apparently sent some suspicious and threatening-seeming emails to Hagner around the time of her disappearance. We've yet to hear from the FBI or local authorities if anything turned up in their May search, and the Redwood City Pulse later reported that no body was found.