Help Paul Cortez Fight For Justice

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Dear Governor Andrew Cuomo, Secretary of State Rosanna Rosado, Senator Charles Schumer, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Mayor Bill DeBlasio, District Attorney Cyrus Vance, District Attorney William J. Fitzpatrick & Van Jones,

The undersigned are requesting the immediate release of Paul V. Cortez, an innocent man currently serving a 25 years to life sentence in the State of New York.

The Crime

      On November 27, 2005, Catherine Woods was found murdered in her NYC apartment. Paul Cortez was wrongfully and tragically convicted of this crime and has spent over a decade fighting along-side numerous supporters to prove his innocence.

     At the time of the murder, Catherine was seeing several different men, but the two who received the most focus were her live-in, ex-boyfriend, David Haughn, and Paul Cortez. 

     In 2016, Paul’s appellate attorney uncovered new video surveillance evidence showing the true perpetrator leaving the crime scene after the known time of the murder. This video affirmatively establishes that the David Haughn was inside Catherine’s apartment at the time she was murdered. 

     Tragically, this video was never viewed by ineffective trial counsel, never shown to Paul, never seen by the jury, and knowingly disregarded by the prosecution at trial.

 

Paul Cortez

     From the time Paul Cortez was a child, he worked tirelessly on his academics, athletics and artistic pursuits hoping one day to be able to support his family and move them out of the Bronx. His early life was filled with family, friendships, mentors, academics, music, sports, theatre and art. Paul has always been known as a gentle, nurturing, loving soul who excelled in the many schools he gained academic & artistic scholarships to the Buckley School, Poly Prep Country Day School and Boston University. At the time of Catherine’s murder, Paul was auditioning on Broadway, performing in musical bands, supporting himself as a fitness trainer and enjoying his time with friends and family. 

 

David Haughn

      David Haughn grew up in foster homes, and was a high school dropout and aspiring rapper who moved into Catherine's apartment. Weeks before the murder, Catherine asked David to move out. Knowing of David's financial struggles, erratic behaviors and drug use, Catherine eventually relented and allowed him to stay and sleep on the sofa. 

 

Paul & Catherine’s Relationship

      Soon after meeting in 2004, Paul and Catherine spoke on the phone every day and saw each several times each week. Six weeks into their friendship, Paul and Catherine’s relationship changed and they became romantically involved. 

 

The Media Circus

  In the days immediately following the murder, the police leaked erroneous information to the media relating to this murder investigation. The stories littered the front pages of NY newspapers, as well as television news programs. The stories cited anonymous police sources with reports of Paul’s confession letter and the existence of a surveillance video capturing Paul leaving the scene of the crime  - all of which were lies. The media villainized and convicted Paul Cortez long before he ever set foot in the courtroom.

 

The Police Investigation

      No one witnessed the crime. The murder weapon was never found. No surveillance video footage placed Paul at the scene of the crime - there were more than 13 surveillance cameras covering the area immediately surrounding the crime scene, including one camera focused on the buildings only entrance/exit. 

     No one interviewed by the police saw Paul at the location. A clutch of hair with roots still attached was found entwined in Catherine's bloody fingers - that hair did not match Paul's hair. At least three of the hairs were light in color. Although David had light hair that was similar, no DNA tests were ever conducted to compare them. 

     The police admitted that even though the victim fought for her life, there were no scratches, cuts, bruises or blood on Paul’s body.

     The police initially believed David to be the main suspect. Not surprisingly, David immediately blamed Paul. It was only when a latent print the police matched to Paul was found at the scene that the case focus shifted to him. Paul’s appellate attorney had this print examined and 4 different experts have affirmatively stated that the print was on the wall for some time before any blood may have splattered on it. In other words, if Paul left the print on the wall, it was during one of his many visits to Catherine’s apartment and NOT at the time of the murder.  

     At trial, a T-Mobile agent testified that at 6:33pm a call from Paul to Catherine went through a cell tower on 95th Street - placing Paul 10 blocks away from the scene minutes after the time of the homicide.

 

Paul's Trial Attorneys - Dawn Florio & Laura Miranda

      Following his arrest, Paul was locked in Ryker’s Island prison for 18 months. He was forced to rely on his family to find and retain an attorney with their limited finances. Paul naively assumed that if he told the truth, our legal system would eventually grant him his freedom.

      Paul’s family pooled together all of their life savings and hired Dawn Florio and Laura Miranda to represent him. It was later learned that Florio had an extremely checkered past with multiple arrests. Also, while she was representing Paul, she was under indictment by the same prosecutor’s office for smuggling drugs into a client at Ryker’s Island. 

      Shockingly, neither of Paul's trial attorneys showed up for the first three days of trial. In fact, Miranda was held in contempt of court and fined $1,000 for not showing up. When Florio and Miranda finally did come to court, it was painfully clear they had not properly prepared the case and were not ready for trial. Among the many fatal errors made by Florio and Miranda in representing Paul:

  • They did not hire an investigator - something unheard of in a murder case. The Court even granted Paul funds to pay for investigators and experts that were inexplicably not drawn upon; 
  • They did not have any of the DNA at the scene of the crime tested. Again, government funds were made available for such testing;
  • They failed to follow up on a fingerprint expert's opinion that additional forensic testing was needed to determine the timing of when the "fingerprint" was made. Testing has now been performed and it shows the print was made before the time of the murder - not at the time of the murder. Had the jury heard this evidence, they would have returned a verdict of not guilty!!!
  • Left unopposed by ineffective counsel, the prosecutor was free to disregard the crucial video surveillance evidence and make arguments known to be categorically untrue to the jury, and he did.

 

The Recently Discovered Video Recording (aka the Smoking Gun)

     In 2016, Paul’s appellate attorney uncovered video surveillance evidence showing David Haughn, the true perpetrator, leaving the crime scene after the known time of the murder. This video affirmatively establishes that David Haughn  was inside the victim’s apartment at the time Catherine was murdered.

     Tragically, this video was never viewed by ineffective trial counsel, never shown to Paul, never seen by the jury, and knowingly disregarded by the prosecution at trial.

 

Making a Difference While In Prison

     While continuing to fight for his own freedom, Paul has immersed himself in prison reform activism from the inside. Using his art as his mouthpiece, Paul was heralded by The Guardian as an “agent of change” after winning a gold prize art exhibit sponsored by the Corrections Accountability Project.

     Paul’s spiritual pursuit and dedication to Jesus have led him to become a writing contributor for Dr. Allen Ferry’s book Insights from Inside: Chaplaincy & Corrections.

     Paul has also used his music for his Christian ministry where he has performed for Timothy Cardinal Dolan at St. Paul's Chapel and dedicated himself to his religious studies and personal ministry to the incarcerated.


How You Can Help

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