NEW YORK – A personal trainer was convicted Thursday of murdering a classically schooled dancer who chased her dream of stardom from Ohio to Broadway but wound up performing in a strip club.
Paul Cortez, 26, was found guilty for slashing the throat of his ex-girlfriend, 21-year-old Catherine Woods, on Nov. 27, 2005, in her Manhattan apartment. The jurors deliberated over three days after a two-week trial in state Supreme Court.
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He faces 25 years to life in prison at his March 23 sentencing on the second-degree murder conviction. His mother wept openly in the courtroom as the verdict was read, but Cortez showed no emotion.
During closing arguments, prosecutor Peter Casolaro cited the key piece of evidence against Cortez — the bloody print of a left index finger that was a match with the defendant. Casolaro said the print "actually puts Cortez in the apartment committing the murder." He showed the jury the print on a chunk of plaster that was cut out of the wall.
He also submitted Cortez's phone records as evidence. On the day of the slaying, the aspiring rock star repeatedly called Woods with an interval of only minutes between each phone call.
The calls stopped during the time the aspiring dancer was killed, and Cortez never placed another phone call to the victim, Casolaro said.
"He already knows she's dead and there is nobody to answer the phone," Casolaro told the jury.
Woods, a classically trained dancer, moved to Manhattan from Ohio, hoping to make it as a dancer on Broadway but instead wound up working in topless bars to cover her living expenses. Her father, Jon Woods, is director of the Ohio State University marching band.
Defense lawyer Laura Miranda struggled to overcome the strength of the fingerprint evidence, saying it was possible that Cortez, a former boyfriend of Woods, had touched the wall while the victim's menstrual blood was on his hand.
Miranda also suggested another suspect, David Haughn, Woods' former boyfriend from Columbus, Ohio, who was living with the victim at the time of her death.
The defense lawyer said Haughn, 25, was enraged by jealousy over Woods' seeing Cortez and other men. But during the trial, Miranda never offered proof that Woods was intimate with anyone but Cortez and Haughn.
The prosecutor charged the killer stabbed and slashed Woods furiously, his angry response to failed relationships with several women before he met the Ohio native. Cortez became a "violent, narcissistic misogynist (who) couldn't handle rejection," the prosecutor said.