Imprisoned Woman Sues Nevada for $3.5M After DNA Exonerates Her

RENO, Nev. (CN) — A former Reno woman wrongly imprisoned for more than 35 years for the murder of a university student filed a civil complaint Wednesday seeking $3.5 million from the state of Nevada under a new law passed this year.

Cathy Woods, also known as Anita Carter, was released from prison in 2014 when DNA test results from a cigarette butt found next to the body of the murder victim matched that of an Oregon inmate, Rodney Halbower, who later was convicted of raping and killing two teenagers in the San Francisco Bay area around the same time as the Reno slaying.

Woods, 69, described as one of the longest-ever wrongfully imprisoned persons to be exonerated in U.S. history, is seeking $100,000 for each year of her imprisonment, the maximum allowed under a bill approved by the Nevada Legislature and signed into law by the governor in June.  The law provides for $100,000 per year for an imprisonment of 21 years or more.

Cathy Woods at her 2014 hearing when she was released from prison. (AP)

In her state court complaint, Woods is also seeking other compensation, including the cost of programs for re-entry in the community, payment for counseling services, any medical care paid for her while she was incarcerated, housing assistance and financial literary.

Under the law, the court must enter a “certificate of innocence” finding if it determines that Woods is entitled to damages for her wrongful conviction and must order the sealing of all records of the conviction.

The case dates back to 1976, according to a verified statement of facts accompanying the complaint, when Michelle Mitchell, a 19-year-old University of Nevada, Reno student, was killed and Woods was working as a bartender in Reno.  The victim’s body was found in a detached garage at a house near the university campus. Her hands were tied and her throat had been slashed.

Woods moved to Louisiana about a year after the killing to be near family and was involuntarily committed to a psychiatric hospital and classified as extremely psychotic.  In 1979 she told a counselor at the hospital about a girl named Michelle being murdered in Reno several years earlier.

Woods was extradited to Nevada in 1979 for Mitchell’s murder. The only evidence against her, according to the statement of facts, was a purported ‘false confession’ and police reports purporting to document her interrogation.

She was convicted of first-degree murder in 1980, but the conviction was reversed five years later.  She was convicted again at new trial, but a judge vacated that conviction in 2014.

Reno attorney Edmund Gorman Jr. represents Woods, who now lives in Washington state.

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