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Cortez Claims He Didn’t Kill Stripper

NYC- As slain stripper Catherine Woods was lovingly remembered at a memorial service yesterday in her Ohio hometown, the top suspect in her brutal murder proclaimed his innocence.

The dancer’s estranged former lover, Paul Cortez, was advised by his lawyer not to speak to the media, but asked his close friend Alex Rude to pass on his comments to The Post.

“I never laid a hand on her at all,” Cortez said through Rude.

“He loved Catherine and he is very broken up about her death,” the friend added.

Woods was murdered in the bedroom of her Upper East Side apartment on Sunday night in a frenzied stabbing attack. Her larynx and jugular vein were completely severed and her carotid artery partially severed.

Yesterday, Woods’ family and friends celebrated her memory in an emotion-charged ceremony in Columbus, Ohio.

Mourners packed the Linworth United Methodist Church for the memorial service.

The 21-year-old dancer’s father, John Woods, director of the Ohio State University marching band, broke down as he told of his eldest child’s dream to make it big on Broadway.

“For the last 31/2 years she worked very hard at realizing her dream – working, teaching, dancing, practicing and auditioning. That often did not leave a lot of time for sleep,” he told the gathered crowd.

“She loved many people and many people loved her – in the end, what could be more important?”

The service included more than 200 members of the Ohio State University marching band, playing gospel songs, and two of Woods’ friends performing a ballet routine.

Emily Pettigrew, who had been friends with Woods since first grade, told of their childhood delight in turning the back porch into a stage to put on singing and dancing performances.

It is not known if Woods’ ex-boyfriend and roommate, David Haughn, attended the service.

Haughn, who discovered her nearly decapitated body in their apartment at 355 E. 86th St., was grilled by police for a day after the murder. He was told by police he could leave New York to attend the service.

Woods, who moved to New York to pursue her dream of a career on Broadway, kept her life as a stripper secret from her family and friends back home.

Her family believed she was dancing in a Broadway show and only discovered her true employment after her murder.

Sources say police consider Cortez their top suspect and have video and cellphone evidence that puts him outside Woods’ apartment building just before the murder, despite his claim that he made a series of seven cellphone calls to the victim from his apartment uptown.

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