Victim's family infuriated after 1992 murder case dismissed by Santa Clara County judge

ByLena Howland KGO logo
Friday, August 25, 2023
1992 Mountain View murder case dismissed; victim's family infuriated
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This week, a judge dismissed a 1992 Mountain View murder case over concerns about double jeopardy, leaving family and friends infuriated.

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. (KGO) -- This week, a Santa Clara County judge dismissed a murder case stemming back to 1992, over concerns about double jeopardy, leaving family and friends infuriated.

Nearly 31 years ago, Laurie Houts was found strangled to death in a car off of Crittenden Lane in Mountain View, less than a mile from where she worked.

She was just 25 years old.

"We feel as if she has died all over again," Marilyn Reiss, one of Houts' best friends said.

Last year, the prime suspect in this case, John Kevin Woodward was rearrested.

VIDEO: Family of Laurie Houts speaks out after Bay Area tech CEO charged with 1992 cold case murder

Prosecutors say new DNA technology confirmed his DNA was on the rope used to kill Houts.

But this week, a judge dismissed the case over concerns about double jeopardy.

"Now, new DNA evidence has tied him specifically to the murder weapon so it's logical to go forward with the case and for it to be tried and for one more trial and that's what we're pissed off about," Reiss said.

Woodward was tried twice for this case back in the 90's.

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Houts' sister, Cindy Levers, says the case was eventually dismissed by a judge for what they called at the time "insufficient evidence" when the jury couldn't reach a verdict.

"When the judge in '96 dismissed the case, he looked at us and said, this doesn't mean you can't bring the case again, it means you can't bring the case with the evidence you currently have and I think that part of the reason why he said that was we knew DNA technology was coming along," Levers said.

Legal analyst Steven Clark explains how this dismissal happened.

"What the defense is now saying is that when the judge dismissed this case back in the 90s, that that amounted to an acquittal and therefore, Mr. Woodward could never be tried again," Clark said.

MORE: DNA helps solve 1974 murder of California teen, deputies say

Clark says this could set back cold case prosecutions across the country, based on this ruling.

"Does Mr. Woodward have to face trial again a third time?" he said. "Or will he now be a free man because he has been acquitted and I think that's going to be an important thing for the court to decide. I can see this case going to the California Supreme Court to get clarity on this because of the amount that rides on it."

"We are appealing the judge's decision because we want the defendant held accountable for murder," Jeff Rosen, the Santa Clara County District Attorney said in an emailed statement to ABC7.

"I'm very hopeful that we will go through this process and change the law for the better so that cold cases can be tried successfully," Levers said.

Woodward is expected to be back in court Tuesday at 9 a.m. to decide whether he will remain under house arrest during the appeals process.

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