Thirty years after a woman was strangled to death in Mountain View, a Bay Area tech CEO has now been charged for her murder.
John Kevin Woodward, 58, the president and CEO of Readytech, was arrested last Saturday at JFK airport in New York after arriving from Amsterdam and charged with the strangulation murder of his roommate's girlfriend in Mountain View in 1992, according to the Santa Clara County District Attorney. Woodward will be arraigned when he gets back to Santa Clara County in the company of Mountain View detectives, and faces life in prison if convicted.
Woodward was tried twice unsuccessfully in the late 1990s for the murder of Laurie Houts, a 25-year-old computer engineer, according to the DA's office.
"The case was dismissed by a judge for insufficient evidence after a jury could not reach a verdict following the second trial," a statement said. "Woodward moved to the Netherlands after the case was dismissed. He is currently being held without bail in New York while he awaits extradition to California."
When Houts' younger sister Cindy heard the news that Woodward had been charged and arrested, she said her first reaction was joy.
"But then you come down and you realize, at the end of this, she's not coming back," Cindy, her eyes filled with tears, told the Voice Monday, July 11, at the Mountain View police station. She asked the Voice not to publish her last name for privacy reasons.
Not only did Houts' family and friends have to endure the grief of losing her, but also the two trials that ended in hung juries.
"We felt in our hearts that it was him," Cindy said. "So when the first trial had a hung jury, I had great faith that the second trial was going to work out. Then the second trial had a hung jury, and it was hard to watch him walk, and Laurie is still gone."
Houts was found dead in her car on Sept. 5, 1992, in the 1300 clock of Crittenden Lane in Mountain View after being strangled with a rope. Woodward quickly became the prime suspect for the murder, as he was "openly jealous of Ms. Houts, having developed an unrequited romantic attachment to his roommate, her boyfriend," and he had no alibi.
"When the boyfriend asked Woodward if he killed her, as police listened, he asked what the investigators knew," the statement said. "Although Woodward's fingerprints were located on the outside of Houts' car, investigators in 1992 were never able to show he was inside the vehicle."
But last year, thanks to new developments in forensic technology, the Santa Clara County Crime Lab and the Mountain View Police Department were able to link Woodward to the rope found around Houts' neck.
According to a statement from the Mountain View Police Department, detectives began to reexamine Houts' case in late 2020. Items from the investigation were resubmitted to the Santa Clara County Crime Lab for analysis and DNA samples collected from evidence at the scene came back matching Woodward's DNA.
"This new information, coupled with evidence that pointed to Woodward as the primary suspect gathered during the original investigation, led the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office to issue a warrant for Woodward's arrest for murder," the statement said.
Marilyn, who was a good friend of Houts, said the experience has been traumatic and "there will never be closure," regardless of whether Woodward is ultimately convicted. Marilyn made herself available for media interviews at the Mountain View police station but declined to provide her last name.
Through the 30 years of grief, Houts' family and friends have come together to celebrate her life each year.
"She was a very outgoing, hilarious and athletic woman. Every year when her birthday comes around, we shoot free throws in honor of her, because she was the best at shooting free throws on our junior high basketball team and through high school," said Marilyn. "We've worked hard to ensure that her spirit and her legacy lives no matter what."
Cindy remembers her sister's hilarious sense of humor.
"She would start out as a wallflower and then she would say something that would have everybody in the room rolling on the floor," Cindy said. "She was so smart, and she was so loving, and she was just an awesome person."
To keep her memory alive, her family created the Laurie Houts Memorial Girls Athletics Scholarship, which supports graduating female seniors who have been involved in sports all four years and plan to get a degree within a STEM discipline.
DA Jeff Rosen thanked the U.S. Department of Justice and the Dutch Ministry of Justice and Security for their swift action: "In less than 24 hours, Dutch authorities in coordination with DOJ obtained a warrant for the search of Woodward's home and business in the Netherlands and seized multiple computers and USB drives," according to the DA's office.
"I want Ms. Houts' family and friends to know that we never gave up on her," Rosen said in the statement. "Neither time nor distance will stop us from finding out the truth and seeking justice."