When he arrived in court for sentencing, Alex Woods Jr. had a firm grip on his public image--innocent, though proven guilty. Dressed in a well-cut black suit, blond, handsome and only 24 years old, he stood calmly as Denver District Judge Doris Burd gave him "generally the sentence that is given to first-time offenders." To wit: one year's probation, 36 weeks of domestic-violence counseling, around $200 in court costs and an admonition to obey the law in all respects.

Woods told the judge he would accept the sentence with good will, although--and he touched on this in an understated way--he still considered himself not guilty. But perhaps, his lawyer Louis Bruno suggested, the court-ordered counseling would prove helpful in some career-related way.

Then Woods said he was sincerely ready to put this unpleasant time behind him, after one last apology for "any injury that may have occurred to her, or to her family, or to my family."

As for the "her," Mary Taylor, the 27-year-old woman Woods was convicted of beating, "I'm very happy I'm no longer associated with that person," he said. "At all."

That person was not present to accept Woods's apology, having decided the June 29, 1995, sentencing would be too traumatic. Certainly, it would have been uncomfortable--a handful of Woods's friends, family members and co-workers showed up to watch, but with the exception of attorney James Moss, Taylor's friend, family and co-workers stayed away. For the past six months Taylor had been the case's official victim--and yet, at times, she came off as far less sympathetic than the wholesome-looking, well-spoken perpetrator.

In early January, before coming clean to a Denver Police Department detective, Taylor had lied about her treatment from Woods, attributing her numerous bruises and cuts to falls from her horse and/or car accidents. During the May trial, attorney Bruno emphasized those lies, as well as the fact that Taylor has worked much of her adult life as a bartender in such "gentlemen's clubs" as the Diamond Cabaret and Shotgun Willie's.

"Mary had not told the truth," recalls Denver deputy district attorney Sheila Rappaport, who successfully prosecuted the case. "Mary lied and covered for Alex, and Alex is very personable, nice-looking. It was a hard case to win."

What made it even harder was the fact that Woods is a Denver police officer.

By all accounts, Alex Woods Jr. had always wanted to be a Denver cop. (Neither Woods nor his attorney returned repeated calls from Westword.) His father is a longtime Denver police officer; Alex Woods Sr. is currently a detective in the DPD's sex-crimes unit, as well as vice president of the Police Protective Association. Alex Jr.'s stepmother, Ann Montoya Woods, is a detective in the DPD's polygraph department. Law enforcement is a Woods family tradition.

"He was always gung ho. He thought he was bulletproof," Mary Taylor says of her former lover's early days on the job.

Although some fellow officers remember Woods creating an infectious atmosphere of macho swagger and teamwork, others had reservations. Beth McCann, Denver's Manager of Safety at the time, initially denied Woods's application to the police academy. "It was a maturity thing, not a violence thing," she says, explaining that as a cadet, Woods was accused of impersonating an officer during a brawl at Mile High Stadium. (The charges were never proved.) "And there was rudeness," McCann recalls. "A few instances of that."

Following department protocol, McCann allowed Woods into the academy with the understanding that his rudeness and his short temper needed to be controlled--"which is not unusual," she says.

Alex Woods Jr. was still in the academy on the night of February 5, 1992, when he celebrated his birthday at the Diamond Cabaret. Mary Taylor was tending bar. It was love at first sight, says Michelle Newman, another Diamond Cabaret bartender on duty that night.

"He seemed genuinely enthralled with Mary, didn't leave her side," Newman says. "I went away for a week after that, and when I got back they were inseparable."

Taylor was three years older than Woods, though she often struck her friends and family as young for her age. A Colorado native, she had grown up with five brothers and one sister, riding horses and loving the outdoors. At five feet and one hundred pounds, with long blond hair and a bubbly personality, she was popular with men--although things hadn't always worked out well.

"Anyone I'd known her to date, they made one wrong move and they were history," Newman says. An early marriage to Cory Smith of Aurora ended after nine months, when Taylor accused Smith of kicking her in the crotch during a bar fight.

"Cory was not the world's calmest person," recalls Laura Lanphier, part of the group of friends that included Taylor and Newman. "But Alex was nice and polite and interacted with our little circle very well. He could be very charming at first."