The following is an overview of the case against Paul Cortez. Additional reference links are provided for more information.

The Crime
The Investigation
The Media’s Focus
The Arrest
The Trial
The Evidence
    The “Bloody” Fingerprint
    The “Obsessive, Excessive” Phone Calls
    The “Eye Witness” Surveillance Video
    The “Obsessive” Writing, Journals, & Lyrics
    The Bloody Bootprints & Witness Contradicting Testimony
Trial Results
The Fight For Justice


The Wrongful Conviction Of Paul Cortez

Catherine Woods & Paul Cortez

 The Crime

On November 27, 2005, 25 year old Paul Vincent Cortez endured an unthinkable devastation: his best friend and on-again off-again girlfriend, Catherine Woods, was found stabbed to death in her Upper East Side Manhattan apartment as Paul sat at a nearby Starbucks a little over a block away, contacting clients to schedule appointments, and catching up on some reading from a book given to him by a female friend, Stephanie – with whom he’d spent most of that afternoon. Paul and Catherine would usually meet up at this Starbucks when they had plans to get together.

Catherine’s roommate and ex-boyfriend, David Haughn, discovered her body and phoned 911.

David claimed to have left their apartment during the 20 minute window in which the murder occurred.

David Haughn David Haughn & Catherine Woods


The Investigation

On November 28th, the morning after Catherine’s murder, Paul’s mother delivered the news to him at work. Devastated, Paul immediately called the police in an attempt to assist and provide any details that might prove useful. Despite Paul’s voluntary cooperation, because of his friendship with Catherine, police informed Paul that he and David Haughn were the primary suspects.

Certain that his innocence would inevitably clear him in the investigation, Paul continued to cooperate with police without legal representation. He endured hours of intense interrogation, allowed his hands and body to be photographed, volunteered his DNA and his hair, handed over his cell phone, and permitted the police to search his apartment without a warrant.

For some inexplicable reason, the investigators chose NOT to test the tuft of 12 or so short, straight, light color hairs found between the middle and fourth fingers of Catherine’s left hand at the murder scene – or the other hand, also with multiple light colored hairs practically covering it:

Untested Hairs

Warning: Graphic

The DNA from scrapings taken from under her fingernails was submitted, but astonishingly also not tested. The police continued to sweep the crime scene at Catherine’s apartment, but they could not find any relevant DNA, surveillance videos, or other illuminating evidence that would implicate Paul.  

This image is a photo of Paul taken on Thanksgiving 2005, just 3 days before Catherine’s murder. As can clearly be seen, Paul had long, curly, dark hair (he is also Hispanic) and therefore the hairs in Catherine’s fingers, that were there as she passed away, unequivocally do not belong to Paul Cortez.

Paul Cortez 28d

Valerie Wade-Allison, Hair and Fiber Examiner with the NYPD Crime Lab gave this testimony in part during the trial of Paul Cortez: 

No Match

Once again, Paul Cortez is an Hispanic and this fact would’ve been acknowledged during the testing had these hairs been of Latino origins. The 12 hairs in Catherine’s fingers presumably belong to her attacker. 


The Media’s Focus

Paul Cortez Victimized By The MediaCatherine’s murder soon became the top of the news in New York City. Pictures of a beautiful young aspiring Broadway dancer were on the cover of every newspaper in the media capital of the world. Police were being pressured to solve this heinous crime, however, they seemingly did not take the time to investigate the many people with which Catherine regularly came into contact at the gentlemen’s club where she danced in order to fund her Broadway aspirations. The papers ignored the other men in Catherine’s life and focused their attention solely on Paul Cortez.

Police investigators with the NYPD’s 19th Precinct leaked Paul’s and David’s names to the press. Soon, Paul became a much more interesting suspect to the media than David – who had followed Catherine to NYC from Ohio only 2 months after meeting her, and worked as a doorman. Paul made for a much more interesting (i.e. profitable) subject.

The New York Post regularly portrayed Paul as a young, talented Puerto Rican from the Bronx who developed into a monster and threw away all of his potential in order to prey upon an innocent, talented young all-American girl with professional dance aspirations and a secret life as a stripper.

These stories, based predominantly on false allegations and fabrications, pervaded New York City.

Media Lies

Paul’s photo was widespread across newspapers and news programs. On televisions across the nation were images of an exhausted Paul, a scared and devastated Paul. He was stalked by the media with every step, given not a moment’s respite, as the irresponsible media published story upon story with inflammatory headlines about Paul, “the scary Puerto Rican Killer” who “Stalked And Savagely Slaughtered Girlfriend.” 

Media Lies

Media Lies


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 The Arrest

Despite the fact that the NYPD’s 19th Precinct lead homicide detective, Steven Goetz, did not produce any physical or otherwise concrete evidence, murder weapon, or eyewitnesses, and ignored hard, physical evidence such as the hairs clutched between Catherine’s fingers, in December 2005, the police arrested Paul Cortez for the murder of Catherine Woods, a young woman whom he deeply loved. 


The Trial

Believing in the legal system and naively thinking that the truth was sufficient to ensure his exoneration, Paul and his family underestimated the importance of qualified legal representation. Paul’s assumption was that no one could botch the truth. Unfortunately, Paul, who had never even had a driving violation or the slightest run-in with the police, would also have no way of predicting how hungry the District Attorney would be for another conviction under his belt. 

Paul Cortez 40

attysDawn Florio and Laura Miranda -Paul’s two low budget defense attorneys – were so ill prepared for Paul’s case that they failed to show up for the first three days of trial. (They were consequently held in contempt of court.)

During the time she represented Paul, Florio was under indictment by the same prosecutor’s office for smuggling drugs and contraband into a prison for another client.

In addition, Florio had previously faced charges for providing her criminal boyfriend with a false alibi under oath for a crime he was convicted of. Florio is also neice to Anita Florio, a New York Supreme Court Appellate judge (whose colleagues would later be part of the panel reviewing Paul’s appeal motion). 



  The “Bloody” Fingerprint

The one piece of physical “evidence” used to convict Paul was a latent (i.e. invisible to the naked eye) fingerprint found at the scene of the crime.

Although the word latent means hidden or invisible, in modern usage for forensic science the term latent prints means any chance or accidental impression left by friction ridge skin on a surface, regardless of whether it is visible or invisible at the time of deposition. Electronic, chemical and physical processing techniques permit visualization of invisible latent print residues whether they are from natural sweat on the skin or from a contaminant such as motor oil, blood, ink, paint or some other form of dirt. The different types of fingerprint patterns, such as arch, loop and whorl, will be described below.

Latent prints may exhibit only a small portion of the surface of a finger and this may be smudged, distorted, overlapped by other prints from the same or from different individuals, or any or all of these in combination. For this reason, latent prints usually present an inevitable source of error in making comparisons as they generally contain less clarity, less content, and less undistorted information than a fingerprint taken under controlled conditions, and much, much less detail compared to the actual patterns of ridges and grooves of a finger. ~Source: Fingerprint wiki

The police investigators claimed they were able to identify this fingerprint from a wall in Catherine’s bedroom, which had blood splattered on it; and, in fact, every wall in her bedroom had blood splattered on it. The Prosecution’s fingerprint expert stated that the fingerprint

“was not visible to the naked eye and only visible when interacted with chemical solutions.”

Upon seeing the dark brown staining that was no more and no less the end result of the chemical processing (that was, incidentally, performed three different times and then electronically enhanced via computer before anyone could even see anything resembling a fingerprint), the public was easily fooled by tabloid pictures of what was then touted as a “bloody” fingerprint. Had a fingerprint expert been called, he or she could have easily explained that the fingerprint attributed to Paul was a latent one and the blood spatter from the assault overlaid this latent print in the form of a smear; that it was, in fact, pre-existing.

shot3The fact is, there was never any actual “bloody” fingerprint. What the public saw was not a “bloody” print but the dark stain of the chemicals used to make the invisible print visible. The Prosecutors – as well as Paul’s own defense lawyers – continued bandying about the phrase “bloody fingerprint” for no other purpose than to keep that idea firmly planted in the jurors’ imaginations.

Had there been a bloody fingerprint there at all, the investigators would have seen it right away and acknowledged as much. A “bloody” fingerprint will never be mistaken for a latent print. There are no photographs taken at the scene of a bloody fingerprint because no fingerprint was ever seen by investigators detailing the crime scene. The only photographic evidence to date comes only from the Dept. of Forensic Biology who conducted the chemical testing on a segment of wall with a blood smear that gave the illusion of a possible (this time actually bloody) palm print.

The partial fingerprint in question has long been touted to have been at a location that naturally extends from the palm, when in fact the print in question was located opposite the palm print several inches away, above and to the right side, unconnected to the palm impression. The blood in all cases matched that of Catherine Woods. The alleged palm print was never identified nor matched to anyone.


The grounds were shocking as Catherine and Paul had a 13 month relationship. It would not be, nor should not be surprising that his fingerprints would have been found all over the apartment.

It is not surprising that such a gruesome murder scene would result in blood splattering over one of Paul’s pre-existing prints, and anyone else’s who had spent time in the apartment.

It is surprising, however, that investigators could find no other prints anywhere in the apartment that belonged to Paul Cortez.

It is also surprising that no fingerprints were found inside the apartment matching those of Catherine Woods or David Haughn, either – as if the place had been sanitized of all prints everywhere belonging to the residents, and only one partial, invisible print discovered that investigators claimed belonged to Paul Cortez.

Instead of expending the energy required to call and hire a fingerprint expert to refute the findings that said partial print did, in fact, belong to Paul, his defense attorneys cut these (and other) vital corners in what can only be construed as a weak attempt to create reasonable doubt. During the questioning of the Prosecutor’s own forensic expert, Paul’s lawyers did not ask the single most obvious question: “Is it possible that Paul’s print on the wall was a pre-existing fingerprint underneath the blood?” 

Instead, to Paul’s absolute shock, his defense attorneys asked him whether or not he had ever had intercourse with Catherine while she was menstruating. As though this grievous and irresponsible line of questioning were not damaging enough, they followed by asking the State’s fingerprint expert if she had ever been mistaken in her identification and match of a fingerprint print. The answer, of course, was a predictable “No.” So the jury was left to evaluate whether the prospect of a menstrual blood fingerprint on the wall was plausible.


The “Obsessive, Excessive” Phone Calls

The cell phone calls between Paul and Catherine were a focal point of the trial. Some of the many phone calls Paul made to Catherine on the day of her murder were made from only a few blocks away from her apartment. The Prosecution explained to the jury that Paul was a jealous, scorned lover who tried repeatedly to speak to Catherine, who had been avoiding his calls. They further theorized that Paul was a possessive man unable to handle repeated rejection and reached a breaking point, whereby his rage led him to murder. 


In reality, Paul was actually on a date with another woman only hours before Catherine was attacked, having not called her at all, and upon arriving home, Catherine called Paul, and then called a second time shortly after.  

In addition, Paul worked at the Equinox Fitness Center, just a few blocks from Catherine’s apartment, and actually spent most of his waking hours in this few block radius on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Although Paul and Catherine had an on-again, off-again romantic relationship that was not exclusive, they spoke very frequently on the phone each day – often up to 30 times. Months of their phone records corroborate that the 16 phone calls made on the day of the murder was not at all unusual for them.

Note 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 durations 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.

Another key finding from the cell records is that Paul called his voicemail at 6:46pm and then phoned a client to confirm a training appointment for the next morning. This call was picked up by a cell tower on 95th St, 9 blocks from Catherine’s apartment, and 11 blocks from the location of Starbucks, where Paul had told investigators he’d been – the usual spot where he and Catherine would meet up.

Neighbor witness Andrew Gold’s own phone records support the time window of Catherine’s attack and murder beginning at 6:28pm and lasting about 5-7 minutes. So according to Gold’s phone records and testimony, the murder was occurring up until at least 6:33pm or 6:35pm. Interestingly, Paul’s phone records showed that he placed a phone call to Catherine at 6:33pm (the time that he would allegedly be in the midst of committing a murder). The earliest the murder could have been completed was 6:33pm or 6:35pm, but likely later.

Using the 6:33pm murder conclusion time and the 6:50pm phone call from 95th Street and 3rd Avenue, this means that Paul would have had to complete the murder, phone Catherine without getting blood on his phone, clean up and change out of the bloody clothing, escape the apartment without being detected by the building’s surveillance cameras, discard of the murder weapon and bloody clothing, and travel by foot 9 streets and 2 avenues while stopping to check his voicemail all in less than 15-17 minutes. So under this timeline, there is physically no possible way Paul Cortez was able to commit this crime, and his cell phone records always cleared him. 

Paul and Catherine had a routine in which he called prior to her leaving for work because she often decided to skip work and hang out. Based on their prior phone conversations, Paul knew Catherine was not particularly in the mood to go in that evening and was contemplating not going. However, since he did not hear back from Catherine or reach her on the phone on his last call to her at 6:33pm, he assumed that she had, in fact, made the decision to go in that evening. Paul did not phone Catherine again because he knew that she would be busy at work and unavailable to get together either way. With that, Paul continued calling clients and went on to make plans to get together with a friend of his at a local sports bar – also in the same neighborhood.

At trial, the Prosecutor dismissed this 6:33pm phone call from Paul to Catherine as an ‘accidental misdial.’ If the 6:33 p.m. phone call to Catherine was an “accidental misdial,” that happened during or immediately following the murder, one would assume that there would be some traces of blood found on the phone (that Paul voluntarily handed over to Police the very next morning) from the very bloody, gruesome murder. There was not.

Additionally, Paul called his voice mail at 6:46 p.m. and made phone calls to his clients from eleven blocks away at 6:50 p.m. and 6:51 p.m., to coordinate schedules for the training appointments at the Equinox Fitness Center early the next morning. Just over an hour after the murder, Paul was sitting in a sports bar with friends watching the Giants football game. Not one person Paul either interacted with or spoke to that day or evening of the murder said there was anything suspicious about his behavior or any troubling tone in his voice, and that his demeanor had been as pleasantly calm and good natured as it usually was.

Furthermore, though NYPD Homicide detectives, the media and th prosecution attempted to paint Paul as a homicidal, obsessed stalker who Catherine wasn’t particularly interested in, or whom Catherine feared and wanted away from, phone records also showed the frequency of time and communication both Catherine and Paul had with one another along with the loving feelings they expressed in text messages.

Days before the murder, Catherine as usual, texted Paul messages expressing her love of him and their plans to see one another. Catherine had called Paul frequently during her trip back to Ohio over the Thanksgiving holidays.

 Pauls phone records page 2


Catherine Woods own words:

cp (2)


The “Eye Witness” Surveillance Video

Catherine’s murder took place in the early evening. She was stabbed over 20 times and nearly decapitated. This crime was described as one of the most gruesome in recent Manhattan history. Whoever committed this vicious crime could not have avoided coming in contact with her blood. And yet, in Catherine’s busy upscale neighborhood with routine crowds of foot and car traffic at all hours – not one person saw anyone with blood all over them that evening. 

Furthermore, not a single one of the many surveillance cameras at Catherine’s building or in the entire area shows Paul entering or coming out of Catherine’s building. Nor does any camera show Paul walking around the streets in blood stained clothing. While it can be debated how much blood would end up on her assailant’s clothing, shoes, and skin, a fact that failed to get much air play is that the investigators pulled the sink traps from the kitchen and bathroom sinks and tub for testing and all returned negative for the presence of blood.

This finding – provided it was performed accurately – strongly indicates that no blood was washed from the skin of Catherine’s killer inside the apartment sinks making use of the taps, which would have forced her killer to exit the building with very visible, fresh blood on his person, regardless of quantity. This would mean that Paul would have had to walk 9 heavily trafficked city blocks with Catherine’s blood on his hands, spattering of her blood on his clothes, his hair, his face, and the soles of his shoes – and there was never a single witness to come forward to have seen such a sighting. Not just Paul, but anyone.

However, it is a fact that oxygen (not chlorine!) bleach will remove the hemoglobin itself so that latent blood will not be detected by forensics examination, luminol, phenolphthalein, alternate light sources, etc. and typically, luminol or other procedures won’t be utilized unless investigators have already identified an appropriate blood sample. A common household product that contains an oxidizing agent is hydrogen peroxide, and therefore could provide an explanation as to why forensic tests found no presence of blood in the sink traps (and the sinks themselves). Unlike bleach, hydrogen peroxide does not smell (or has a very faint vinegar scent) and would not immediately draw suspicions of a clean up job in any of the sinks.

This, of course, would require time involved for cleaning and that further erodes the state’s posited timeline of events for Paul Cortez to have rushed in, committed a violent assault, vanished into thin air, and made it 9 blocks away by 6:50pm when the onset of Catherine’s attack was clocked at 6:28pm. He would have also had to complete the clean up process in a heightened risk scenario with David due back any minute. 

Incidentally, hydrogen peroxide is regularly used to remove pigment from hair. So, clutched between her fingers was actually very light brown hair, chemically treated hair, and colorless (white or gray) hair. All human, all Caucasian. None of which match Paul Cortez.


The “Obsessive” Writing, Journals & Lyrics

At the time of Paul’s arrest, the police seized 22 journals of Paul’s. They were a collection of thousands of love poems, music lyrics, sketches of comic book characters, cartoons, and his deepest emotional feelings which he had been composing and saving since ten years earlier in high school.


At trial, the Prosecutor isolated a single song to try and show the jury that Paul was filled with anger and violent thoughts towards women. In reality, this song was a commentary on society’s morbid fascination with both sex and violence. The prosecutor ignored the thousands of soft poems and songs about love, God, Spirituality and goodness.

The single, isolated song in question was co-written during a period of artistic differences with the band’s guitarist who wanted darker and harsher sounding lyrics, prompting Paul to want to distance himself from that type of music and band. Paul’s yoga and Buddhist inspired pacivity seemed to contrast with the band’s hard rock sound. 

Paul Cortez 20Raised by a single mother, Paul has always been extremely nurturing and protective of women, and Catherine was no exception. When, several months prior to her death, Paul learned that Catherine was potentially endangering herself by working as an exotic dancer, he pleaded with her to find a safer way to support herself. Worried about her lifestyle and safety, Paul contacted Catherine’s father in Ohio and asked him for intervention.

Unfortunately, she was able to convince her father that she was not working in unsafe places or in an unsafe lifestyle – or dating anyone, for that matter, and sadly, she did portray Paul unfavorably in order to deflect her parents’ further concern about her lifestyle, so much so that her parents acknowledged never having any idea that their daughter had taken work in a strip club.

When it came down to it, however,

Catherine reached out for Paul on many occasions for physical and emotional support.


The Bloody Bootprints

Contrasting the invisible ‘bloody’ fingerprint, there were 20-30 quite visible size 10 1/2 bloody boot prints  determined to be Sketchers brand  found scattered across Catherine’s bed that had been pushed in front of, and blocking the bedroom doorway. Both Paul and David (her live-in ex-boyfriend who had made the controversial 911 call to report the crime) wear size 10 1/2.


These numerous bloody boot prints did not lead out of the bedroom into the hallway nor anywhere else in the apartment, nor were bloody boot prints tracking into the building’s hallway, down the stairs, or out onto the street (neither were anymore fingerprints belonging to Paul Cortez found anywhere outside the apartment). They were primarily found in the bedroom and on the bed itself. Given the fact the sink traps tested negative for blood, and no blood was tracked outside of the bedroom, one cannot help raise the question of the very real, logical need for her attacker to remove the boots before leaving the bedroom. 



Witness Contradicting Testimony

Six months before Paul’s trial, an acquaintance named Spencer, in an interview with CBS’ 48 Hours, said that he had been out with Paul 90 minutes after Catherine’s murder but that he had no recollection of what Paul was wearing, let alone what type of shoes.

Six months later, at trial, however, Spencer changed his story. When testifying, Spenser not only remembered that Paul wore black boots that night, but also specifically recalled that they were a Sketchers brand. Whether this new memory was a result of persuasive police work or not, Spencer changed his testimony and left NYC. Jurors, however, did not see the 48 Hours Interview before the trial;  the only thing they heard was Spencer’s testimony that conveniently matched Paul’s shoes with those of the murderer.

There was video surveillance footage from PC Richards that had, in fact, captured Paul earlier that day while on his date with another woman. He was wearing black Johnston & Murphy shoes. Paul’s defense team presented this video to the jury to prove that though Paul owned black shoes, they were not Sketchers. Unfortunately the video was so grainy that it was impossible to make out.


[Note: Clip excerpts © 48 Hours Death Of A Dream, CBS News]

State’s Picture Of Paul & Tunnel Vision

• The state’s case against Paul Cortez, in brief, was that Catherine had been avoiding Paul as much as possible because she considered him a pushy, obsessive, stalker that she was trying to get away from because he’s unstable, and was fuming over repeated rejection by women, several who claimed he tried to sexually assault them at one time or another, calling obsessively, and/or wouldn’t leave them alone. On 11/27, he hung out with his friend Stephaine Bucci in order to be around Catherine’s apartment. After leaving Stephaine, Paul began calling Catherine obsessively, but was continually “hung up on” by Catherine, and that her two brief calls to him were “clearly” her attempts to get him to stop calling. The State claimed Paul had lied and claimed he was home the last time he spoke to Catherine when in reality, his cell records showed he was “in her neighborhood” and therefore, “inside committing murder.”

Paul became so enraged that he hung around outside Catherine’s building waiting for David to leave (somehow knowing that he would leave) and then he got inside the building (never even remotely making an attempt to explain how or when he could’ve entered through the locked front gate; literally – both cops and prosecution simply went with “he just did” get in there, end of story), went to her apartment, savagely stabbed her multiple times, cut her throat twice, climbed over her bed leaving bloody shoe imprints, all in a singular blitz attack, and left the scene without anyone seeing him entering or exiting.

Paul murdered Catherine out of impulsive, seething rage over being unable to stop her from working as a stripper, and triggered by her refusal to talk to him throughout the day when he called. This “state of mind” was rooted in a mysogynistic perception of women and was expressed obsessively in poetry he’d written before he ever met Catherine, as well as diary entries and song lyrics. 

Scenario Fail

No attempt was made to show how he got into the building; the boots and weapon have never been recovered, no attempt was made to determine whether the weapon was a knife, straight razor or a saw or anything else. David made statements to police and in court testimony that he’d been about to use his key to unlock the gate but was interrupted when he ran into Brad Stewart. First responders all acknowledged they were outside the gate and David let them in. Brad Stewart acknowledged a delivery person opening the door and letting the dog loose onto the street.

These cases suggest that on Sunday, November 27, 2005, the gate  woud’ve indeed been locked and an outsider would have to be let in if they did not have a key. As far as investigators, and later State, was concerned, it didn’t matter how, specifically, this obstacle was overcome, or what time it occurred in light of other events taking place, or how he’d gotten around the presence of the new dog (remember, if Catherine was avoiding him, and David had only been caring for the dog a few days, it’s unlikely he’d have had this knowledge so it would’ve been quite a surprise), the order of events regarding how the dog was disposed of in relation to the attack, how he would know David would be leaving, or whether Catherine would’ve been scheduled to work at all and may have had an apartment full of company.

None of that stuff matters?

It matters a great deal when you’re accusing someone of taking a life and threatening their own with a prison sentence. This timeline took only a few days to piece together using all the same information the investigators and State used and it provides a clear, minute by minute picture of what happened when and who was where all day long, right up through the moment Catherine was pronounced at the scene, and who did – and more importantly who did not – commit this horrific crime. No accusations required. We are confident here at Free Paul Cortez.Org that by the time you read through the chronology of events and arrive at 8:45pm, you, too, will see the grave injustice of a wrongful conviction, an unresolved homicide, and a murderer still at large.

Why, then, couldn’t the investigators have accomplished the same thing – especially when there are several “timeline” notes in the case files, or Paul’s own attorneys taken the time to just sort it out? There are more than 30 boxes of case files for a case that convicted Paul Cortez on nothing but speculative nonsense and media hype that ultimately used about 2 items that were largely misrepresented or outright fabricated.

They focused on cell tower locations to “track his movements” and the closest they could get to Catherine’s was a tower located at 354 E 84th St, and decided that he could’ve just as easily been in her apartment (literally “because he was in her neighborhood”) and that same tower would’ve fielded the call, never explaining where he was supposed to have been the rest of the time before the time of murder when the same tower is shown for every other call as early as 5:36pm. He was somewhere using his phone and being fielded by this tower, but for investigators, in the crucial time slot, he’s now inside the apartment committing homicide. 

The fact that David Haughn’s own statements place him inside the apartment and leaving after the murder, was ignored, in spite of the fact that his 6:47pm phone call to Catherine that he claimed he placed directly outside their building had been fielded by the tower directly across the 1st St intersection, which also fielded his calls when he was on 87th on the job. Of all the similar aspects between Paul and David, the investigators inexplicably ignored the person who lived with her, or other tenants in the building, and focused exclusively on Paul as early as November 28th, for no other reason than ‘David said so.’

It is clear from all police reports from that date that they had begun looking only for evidence they could use to support their already established conclusion Paul was the perpetrator. Other leads and suspects were ignored and David as primary suspect was summarily dropped. All searches and lines of question were 100% focused on whether or not witnesses heard or saw Paul and only Paul. 

This also includes forensic evidence collected at the scene and leaked misinformation to media. For example, several light colored human head hairs were pulled from Catherine’s hands – both of them – as well as from her bed sheet. These and others were only tested to determine human or other origin, and against samples from Paul and Catherine. No test on any hair, animal or otherwise, was conducted to determine type or mDNA. They basically tested all the dark hairs to see which ones were going to match Paul.

When none did, they dropped all further testing on anything else, including Item Q22, described in lab report as “one dark colored human head hair with mixed racial characteristics” and that was “dissimilar to” K1 (Catherine Woods) and K2 (Paul Cortez). The light colored human head hairs pulled from the bed sheet were never tested further. 

Evidence Withheld

• For informational purposes, David Haughn, in his 11/27 statements to police, described a detailed sexual encounter that took place in about 5 minutes shortly before her murder. Setting aside the fact that by her, his, and friends accounts they’d not slept together since October, and only again on the day she’s murdered as suspicious, the lab results showed negative for saliva, semen, or skin cells in the vaginal, anal, and oral swabs. 

Further, Megan Wilkins stated to police that Catherine shared with her that David had given her chlamydia and she’d gotten it cleared up several months prior and this was the reason she’d not had sex in awhile and didn’t want to have sex with anyone. How likely is it that a woman who’s reluctant to have sex with anyone after contracting an STD is going to casually hook up with the same guy who gave it to her to begin with, even for 5 minutes? Megan Wilkins gave police this information in early December, before they went on to arrest Paul, and they did not appear to even question David’s version of events, or what the forensic lab reports did and did not show. 

Additionally, David Haughn states that after their brief sexual encounter, he went into the bathroom to wash his hands. In later statements, and court testimony, he flashed back and stated Catherine had still been getting ready for work. He does not mention that she also cleaned up after sex or that she went to the bathroom. Autopsy report noted 150cc urine present, which amounts to approximately half a cup. That’s quite a substantial amount that would trigger the urge to urinate, especially after sex but he makes no mention that she did anything to that effect. 

Furthermore, the crime scene photographs taken that evening of the bathroom show a flat iron in the sink, its cord draped over the front of the sink and dangling unplugged on the floor. He makes no mention of the flat iron, that he’d moved it, or if he’d left it there while washing his hands. 

The evidence shows that a sexual encounter between Catherine and David Haughn was unlikely. Instead, police decided to use the sexual encounter to paint David and Catherine as a happy little sexually active couple in love being harassed by Paul Cortez. They were not interested in finding out who killed Catherine Woods or why; they were only interested in making it look like Paul Cortez did it, regardless of the evidence pointing elsewhere. 

The evidence also shows that there had been two separate attacks on Catherine with a span of time elapsing between the first attack, which was the stabbing, and the second, fatal attack, and that each occurred in two specific areas of the bedroom. The scenario offered by the prosecution not only did not happen, but was greatly removed from the factual evidence, save but the fact she was stabbed and died of specific neck injuries.

David Haughn Shielded From Investigation

• David Haughn had recently begun “dog sitting” for unnamed associations several days prior to Catherine’s murder. The dog he’d been keeping was a black lab. David has a younger brother who would’ve been approximately 12 -13 years of age at the time of Catherine’s murder. His brother did not reside with him or Catherine in the apartment nor was he present.

While police sought out and questioned most all of Paul’s friends, acquaintances, co workers, and everyone on his call list, they did not do the same for any one of the individuals David had been calling or been called by on the 26th and 27th and none of David’s friends, associates, family, etc. were ever sought out to determine if any of the flurry of calling activity made during the time he claimed to be sleeping might have been in connection with Catherine’s homicide.

Investigators Doctored Timeline Evidence

• Police investigators change the time window for David Haughn several times without ever establishing the basis for doing so, nor is there any report or note acknowledging why the time window for David Haughn was changed. In the case of the incident of David seen on video leaving residence at 6:25pm, this is acknowledged in lead homicide detective Steven Goetz’s Homicide Report timeline, and the 6:25 departure is used a second time without directly mentioning that it’s confirmed by video, but three days later, there is an “updated timeline” for Dec 1, 2005, where the 6:25pm video notation, as well as David’s departure at all at that time have been omitted entirely and instead shows David leaving the apartment at 6:40pm.

There is nothing in our records (that are clearly missing tremendous amounts of information) that corroborates or substantiates that this video exists, from which camera it is referencing, nor any documentation of subpoenas, so it is unknown whether the video mention and 6:25pm exit is accurate, or fictional, or if it was deliberately removed from future accounts for whatever reason.

Another incident of an unsubstantiated change is a Gristedes store receipt David Haughn clearly accounts for in his police statements, down to including the fact it was still in his pocket and time stamped 1727 (5:27pm). When investigators got register tape copies of transactions, it’s noted to the side of David’s and several other purchases that the time stamp is 14 minutes fast, and a notation the “actual” time of 5:13pm.

There is also no documentation to provide any basis of explanation for why the timeline on David was changed or why they decided the time stamp was incorrect, or why it would’ve been. 

Paul’s Phone Records Doctored

The phone records used here are those from the main call record used by investigators building a case trying to “track” Paul to and from the crime scene. There seems to be a discrepancy in which in some places his phone number at the time was noted as being 646 250 4118, while his voicemail calls are to 805 637 7343. Nonetheless, the calls to “voicemail” are recorded here as they appear on the call record used.

The call records used by the state can be shown to have been doctored and crucial information concealed from jurors in that the call immediately after the 6:33 call they claimed Paul accidentally made while in the midst of homicide is shown as the 805 number with no location. Though they blacked out the number, a bit of enlarging shows it to be the 805 number. The 6:50pm call, also blacked out, shows the location being at 95th  st. and it is also the 805 number. In other records not presented to relevant parties, the 805 number is shown for both these calls, as is the location being at 95th St. The relevance is that both these calls were fielded from 95th St, which is where Paul would’ve been as of 6:46pm.

The walk time between the tower in her neighborhood and the tower fielding the 95th st call is 13 minutes conservatively, which would mean that given the factual timeframe of the attack on her (and perhaps not both attacks but just the latter), he would’ve had to leave at 6:33pm, in the midst of the attack, no cleaning, no staging, no nothing. Should it be heavier traffic or any sort of obstacle, the walk time would be even longer, meaning he’d almost certainly have to leave the apartment before the attack on her even began in order to be over at 95th St by 6:46pm.

Evidence of the condition of the phone records the investigators handed off to prosecution and which documents were selectively used, and withheld, shows the state preferred to conceal and even doctor the evidence in order to bolster a case for guilt, withholding this and other information from jurors because to provide it would’ve guaranteed reasonable doubt. They created their own timeline and conveniently spared the jurors the whole picture and timeframes for where everyone was at any particular time.

Other Suspects Ignored

• Police never investigated the delivery person exiting the building between 6pm and 6:30pm, nor did they make any attempts to follow up, locate, speak to, or otherwise check into the identity and background of the delivery person. No delivery person, nor the existence of a delivery person, or of David Haughn’s brother, were ever mentioned during the trial of Paul Cortez, by the prosecution or Paul’s own attorneys. The neighbors who gave this report were never called to testify.

• Megan Wilkins gave at least three statements to police regarding Catherine’s life and relationships, including a follow up call in which she explained that she’d been mistaken on the identity of “Paul” and that it was not Paul Cortez she’d been referring to when she originally told police that Catherine had met someone named Paul who was an instructor at a dance studio, who had been abusive with her, gone through her phone and called people in her address book to question or threaten them about being around her, and that had bruised her arm when he grabbed her during an argument several weeks prior to her murder. 

She related an incident Catherine told her about when “angry Paul” had been loitering in front of Catherine’s apartment about 4:30am and Catherine was upset that he knew where she lived. Megan told police that this was not Paul Cortez, though she did not know the other Paul’s last name but described him as a dark haired Hispanic. Catherine reported this “angry Paul” to management and he was subsequently fired. Megan made this report in December 2005, shortly before police arrested Paul Cortez for Catherine’s murder.  

No further mention of “angry Paul” or any attempt to locate him, question him, check his alibi, not even his last name,  was pursued by investigators, and no attempt was made to rule out the quite “reasonable doubt” in that “angry Paul” the dance instructor who was fired after harassing Catherine could have a motive for murder, pretended to be delivering something for a tenant, got buzzed in, murdered Catherine, changed clothes and exited.

“Angry Paul” was never mentioned again.

• Margaret Rickter stated to police that on the 25th, between noon and 2pm, she saw who she believed was Catherine Woods across the street on 86th (toward Catherine’s building), having a heated argument with a tall dark haired Hispanic male who’d had her by the arm and was forcefully telling her what to do.

Though she described him as a tall, good looking dark haired Hispanic as Megan had, police claimed she identified Paul Cortez in a photo line up as the male Catherine was arguing with. Instead of investigators accepting their mistake, they ignored the reality of the “angry Paul” who had harassed and obsessively stalked Catherine (also acknowledged by a few other people), and allowed the mistaken identity to be attributed to Paul Cortez, who was subsequently wrongfully convicted for the murder of Catherine Woods. 



During the course of the trial, Paul’s attorneys failed their client in the worst possible way. Even a modest layman can recognize the glaring evidence to make a solid case for ineffective counsel, at the absolute least:

► they chose not to hire an investigator.

► they were granted $25,000 to do so, but still did not test any DNA at the scene of the crime, including a) scrapings from under Catherine’s fingernails b) the dozen short, straight, blonde hairs intertwined between Catherine’s fingers, c) a blood splatter pattern on the jeans of David Haughn, d) cellular tower experts to cross detail tower pings and location of calls, e) Medical Examiner to detail autopsy report findings for signs of sexual activity anti and post-mortem, and the nature and degree of Catherine’s sustained injuries, f) anyone else. The unused funding was returned, in full, to the State.

► Paul’s attorneys did not consult (or call at trial) a fingerprint expert to opine that the latent fingerprint – if it did, in fact, belong to Paul – was left prior to the murder during any one of Paul’s many visits to Catherine’s apartment. Despite the fact that the Prosecutor’s own fingerprint expert testified that the print was latent and not bloody, both Paul’s attorney and the Prosecutor repeatedly characterized the fingerprint as both bloody fingerprint, and a patent print that had to have been left at the time of the murder.

Clearly, Paul’s attorneys did not understand the difference between the two types of fingerprints and the Prosecutor capitalized on this confusion and told the jury (without any support or objection) that the print was left at the time of the murder.

► they did not call any witnesses other than character witnesses and Paul, himself. 

► they failed to ask the most obvious and rudimentary questions of witnesses (to wit: when both of David Haughn’s co workers testified that the police had arrived to speak with them on November 27th, 2005 between 6:30pm and 7pm, one of whom “distinctly remembered” the time as such, neither of Paul’s attorneys moved to discredit the witnesses by pointing out that the crime was not reported until 6:59pm, and the police hadn’t arrived at the scene until 7:07pm, and it would be several hours later before investigators ever heard of David Haughn’s co workers to even think to interview them.)

► Dawn Florio should not been allowed to represent Paul while she was under simultaneous indictment by the same prosecutor’s office for smuggling drugs into a client at Rykker’s Island.Paul’s attorneys clearly failed to explore the inconsistencies and basic questions needed to construct the most basic and standard defense for Paul. 

Paul Cortez 40bMeanwhile, each day the non-sequestered jury was bombarded with a media-created frenzy, naming Paul Cortez as the killer. The jury had an easy decision, and on February 15, 2007, Paul was found guilty of a crime that was unthinkable to him.

Despite the fact that the Prosecution produced no physical or other concrete evidence, no murder weapon, and no witnesses, on March 23, 2007, he was sentenced to 25 years to life.

Paul is currently serving time at one of the most dangerous maximum-security prisons in the state of New York.


The Fight For Justice

Still, while in prison and identifying with the suffering of caged animals, and staying true to his compassion for all living beings, Paul made the commitment to become vegan. Despite such harsh conditions, Paul continues to concentrate on painting, writing poetry, song lyrics, meditating and practicing yoga, studying world religions, attending Buddhist services, and fighting for his freedom.

Paul knows that one day the truth will come out and he will regain the life he worked so hard for and the freedom he deserves, but the fact is, for that to happen, he requires substantial financial help in order to afford the frustratingly high expenses for a qualified and experienced (and Just) legal defense team and to be able to secure legitimate forensic testing to prove his innocence.

His only recourse from inside a prison cage is the generosity of those of us on the outside, taking the time to become familiar with his case, this astonishing miscarriage of Justice, and getting involved – be it through helpful donations to his Defense Fund, or to provide lead counsel to plead his case through the appeals process, to volunteer investigative and forensic services, and even to come forward with information that can help clear his name. His spirit has not diminished through all of his trials – figuratively and literally – but each day that passes is one more day of his life he does not get back, and one more day his life is at risk of being further victimized by the dangerous element of prison life.

Paul Cortez was always innocent of this crime.

Please join us in this fight for Paul’s freedom.

Please don’t look the other way.

Paul Cortez 34b

Free Paul Cortez


For a more in depth review and analysis of the above points of evidence, please visit the Case Documents Library