MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. (KGO) -- A Bay Area CEO has been charged with murder in a cold case from 30 years ago, the Santa Clara County district attorney's office announced on Monday.
Officials say John Kevin Woodward, 58, is charged with the strangulation murder of his roommate's girlfriend, Laurie Houts, in Mountain View in 1992.
He was arrested at JFK airport in New York on Saturday after arriving from Amsterdam.
"My first reaction was like, 'Yes! Yay,'" Houts' sister, who asked to be identified only as Cindy, told ABC7 News. "And then you come down from that and you go, 'She's not coming home.'"
Cindy and Houts' good friend Marilyn described having to relive 30 years of trauma in a matter of days, since the development.
On September 5, 1992, Houts, 25, a computer engineer, was found murdered in her vehicle near a garbage dump about a mile from her work, according to Rob Baker, deputy district attorney in Santa Clara County.
The incident occurred in the 1300 block of Crittendane Lane in Mountain View.
Woodward's fingerprints were found outside of Houts' car, but investigators at the time were unable to show he was inside the vehicle. Beyond obvious signs of struggle, officials say the rope used to kill her was still around her neck.
Shortly after, Woodward was arrested and was tried twice for Houts' murder in the early 90s.
However, the case was dismissed by a judge for insufficient evidence when the jury couldn't reach a verdict, the district attorney's office said.
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On Monday, with improvements to DNA technology, additional evidence and fingerprints collected at the 1992 crime scene were matched to Woodward.
"The biggest hurdle from those cases was being able to find new evidence," Sgt. David Fisher with MVPD's Crimes Against Persons Unit said. "Since then, these advancements have really given the district attorney the ability to file charges here."
Sgt. Fisher explained his unit is responsible for reviewing cold cases at MVPD, and started looking into Houts' murder in late 2020.
"For this case specifically, they were able to go back to a much earlier sample that was taken in 2005 from the murder weapon - which in this case was a rope - and they were able to use new technology to locate new DNA evidence on that rope, from that sample," Sgt. Fisher said.
"The DNA technology is a big game changer," Houts' friend Marilyn told ABC7 News. "And that's what we hope will propel the case forward and bring justice for Laurie."
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Investigators believe Woodward was jealous of Houts because of her relationship with his roommate at the time.
Sgt. Fisher said Woodward has been living in the Netherlands.
Authorities explained the man was working as the CEO of Readytech, an online training company. With the help of foreign authorities, Woodward was arrested after landing at JFK International Airport Saturday.
He is believed to have traveled back to the U.S. on vacation and other personal reasons, according to Sgt. Fisher.
"We were given information that the suspect would be flying back to the United States," he said. "We learned that several days prior to his flight. So, we made arrangements for all the authorities in New York to assist us with arresting him."
He will be arraigned once he returns to Santa Clara County, the DA's office says.
"I want Ms. Houts family and friends to know that we never gave up on her. Neither time nor distance will stop us from finding out the truth and seeking justice," said Santa Clara District Attorney Jeff Rosen.
If convicted, Woodward faces life in prison. He is currently being held without bail in New York as he awaits extradition to California.
D.A. Rosen also praised the cooperation and assistance from the U.S. Department of Justice and the Dutch Ministry of Justice and Security.
According to Rosen's office, 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.
"She's not coming back," Houts' friend Marilyn told ABC7 News. "That makes us angry, that makes us sad, and we hope that justice will come."
She continued, "But the hole in our hearts will not heal."
Houts' family has launched the Laurie Houts Memorial Girls Athletics Scholarship, reflecting her love for sports and STEM.
Donations go to graduating female seniors at Gunderson High School, who have been involved in sports all four years and plan to get a degree within a STEM discipline.
Both Cindy and Marilyn spoke with ABC7 News about the 30 years of missed moments without Laurie, both professionally and personally.
Marilyn shared, "She missed the whole Silicon Valley boom. She would've been right up there with a lot of senior coding and computer engineers."
"I feel bad for my kids who will never know their aunt," Cindy said. "So many people don't know her- that I know now. That were all just too young."
For now, friends and family are focused on seeking justice and finding closure.
"It's not like, if we win we get her back," Cindy described about a bittersweet feeling. "She's not coming back."
For more information on the Laurie Houts Memorial Girls Athletics Scholarship, visit here.
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