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Bloody Fingerprint Key in Trial of Slain Stripper

NEW YORK — A bloody fingerprint left on a wall emerged as a key piece of evidence as prosecutors opened their case against a yoga instructor charged with the slaying of a classically trained dancer from Ohio who worked as a stripper to pay the bills.

The print left in Catherine Woods’ blood “was matched to the defendant Paul Cortez,” District Attorney Peter Casolaro said Monday in opening remarks. Woods, 21, and Cortez, 25, met at a neighborhood gym and began dating in 2005.

“It is the only fingerprint in blood in the apartment,” Casolaro said. “Not surprisingly, you’ll find that the defendant’s fingerprint was made in Catherine Woods’ blood, made while it was still fresh.”

Woods was found on Nov. 27, 2005, in a pool of blood that had gushed from her throat and torso onto the floor of her Upper East Side apartment. Cortez is charged with second-degree murder.

“The ferocity of the attack on Catherine Woods makes it obvious that it was not done by a burglar,” Casolaro told the jury. “We will show you the extremely personal rage that possessed the killer. This was done by a person who wanted to express that rage on the victim.”

Cortez’s lawyer, Dawn Florio, denied that her client killed Woods and said he will testify in his own defense. Florio referred to the bloody fingerprint as the “alleged fingerprint,” but did not discuss Casolaro’s claim that it matched Cortez’s.

Cortez and Woods loved each other, Florio said, and were so affectionate in public that people would sometimes yell at them to “get a room.”

Florio also suggested that Woods was having affairs with several men, including at least one she had met while dancing in a topless club under the stage name Ava, and that any of them could have killed her.

The lawyer said Cortez’s cell phone records will show that he was making calls, including attempts to reach Woods, when the aspiring dancer was killed.

Wood’s father, John Woods, director of the Ohio State University marching band, was the first witness. He fought back tears and told a courtroom that he had flown from his home in Columbus, Ohio, to identify his daughter’s mutilated body.

The prosecutor said he will present extracts from Cortez’s journals. “They will reveal the defendant’s growing frustration, rage and anger, and eventually his motivation for the murder of Catherine Woods,” the prosecutor told the jury.


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