Hearing Denied for Yoga Teacher Convicted in Dancer’s 2005 Killing

Hearing Denied for Yoga Teacher Convicted in Dancer’s 2005 Killing

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An effort to win a new trial for a yoga teacher convicted of slashing the throat of a young dancer from Ohio in 2005 ran into a wall on Thursday when a State Supreme Court justice in Manhattan denied a request for a hearing.

A jury convicted the yoga teacher, Paul Cortez, of murdering his former girlfriend, Catherine Woods, after she jilted him because he had told her father in Ohio that she was working as a stripper. She was 21.

Mr. Cortez’s lawyer, Toni Marie Angeli, contends that a time stamp on a surveillance video that was never shown to the jury has cast doubt on the outcome of Mr. Cortez’s trial.

The killing and the trial in 2007 garnered considerable attention at the time. Mr. Cortez, who is now 37, is serving a sentence of 25 years to life. So far his motions for a new trial have been denied. Justice Patricia Nuñez first rejected his request in August, saying all the evidence about the chronology of the crime had been presented at trial.

Ms. Angeli asked for a chance to reargue the case, pointing out in papers that the video was indeed time-stamped. But on Thursday, Justice Nuñez turned Mr. Cortez down again, saying, among other things, that the time stamp on the video, “if true,” did not “rise to the level of justifying a change in the decision.”

In court papers, Ms. Angeli argues that the videotape shows another of Ms. Woods’s boyfriends, David Haughn, leaving her apartment building on the Upper East Side several minutes after a neighbor heard her scream during a violent struggle.

Prosecutors, however, say the time stamp on the videotape is inaccurate and argue the other evidence against Mr. Cortez was overwhelming. It included a fingerprint prosecutors said was left when the killer’s bloody hand touched a wall.

In addition, cellphone records placed Mr. Cortez near the apartment building at the time of the killing, and boot prints on Ms. Woods’s bedspread matched the shoes one of Mr. Cortez’s friends remembered he had worn that day. (The boots were never found.) Prosecutors also used telephone records to prove he had called Ms. Woods repeatedly up until the time she was killed, and then suddenly stopped calling.

Still, no one witnessed the murder, and from the start, defense lawyers argued the real culprit might be Mr. Haughn, who had dated Ms. Woods on and off since high school and was Mr. Cortez’s rival for her affection in a stormy love triangle.

Though they had recently broken up, Mr. Haughn was staying with Ms. Woods and working at a nearby building as a doorman. He testified he left the apartment on the evening of Nov. 27, 2005, to get his car to drive her to work. She never came downstairs. He went inside, found her body and called 911.

Though Mr. Haughn was initially a suspect, the police soon decided Mr. Cortez was the killer. His fingerprint was lifted from what appeared to be a bloody handprint on a Sheetrock wall, a police forensic scientist testified.

Mr. Cortez’s lawyers, however, have found four forensic experts who say in sworn affidavits the evidence strongly suggests the fingerprint was on the wall before the blood was splattered over it.

Perhaps the most powerful argument defense lawyers have for setting aside the verdict, however, has to do with the timeline of the crime.

A security camera at a nearby garage showed Mr. Haughn and Ms. Woods returning at 5 p.m. to her apartment building at 86th Street and First Avenue, walking with his dog. She went upstairs and placed a call to Mr. Cortez while Mr. Haughn went with the dog to buy takeout, returning with the food, evidence at trial showed.

About an hour later, at 6:18 p.m., an upstairs neighbor, Aaron Gold, got a call from his fiancée, Diana Propp. About 10 minutes into the call, he heard a woman scream, scuffling, a second scream, then a third, he testified. He looked out in the hallway, saw nothing and ended the call at 6:40 p.m.

At 6:38 p.m., the security camera near the building’s front door recorded Mr. Haughn leaving and walking west, according to the security camera’s time stamp. He returned and called the police at 6:59 p.m., reporting he had discovered Ms. Woods dead.

In court papers, Ms. Angeli, has said the evidence Mr. Haughn was in the building at the time of the murder should warrant a new trial, along with the questions defense experts have raised about the fingerprint.

The prosecutor, Peter Casolaro, has argued that the time on the tape might be inaccurate and that the time of the murder was always an estimate. He wrote, “the videotape might as well have no time stamp since there is no evidence that the tape bears the correct time.”

That position seems to be undercut by testimony given at trial, when Michael Reilly, a custodian, told jurors the time on the security camera was continuously updated through a connection to the internet, Ms. Angeli said in her papers.

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