It’s the kind of story Hollywood producers dreams of: a woman is set to receive a $3 million settlement after spending 35 years in prison for a murder she didn’t commit.
Cathy Woods’ partial settlement came about three years after she filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against Washoe County, Nevada, a former county prosecutor and detectives for her wrongful conviction in the 1976 slaying of 19-year-old Reno nursing student Michelle Mitchell, who was found with her hands bound behind her back and her throat slashed.
Woods is the longest-ever wrongfully incarcerated woman in US history, after being sent to prison for two 1976 murders in the San Francisco Bay Area. She alleges her conviction was based on a confession that was fabricated by detectives.
Woods’ lawyer, Elizabeth Wang says she will continue to seek extra damages from the city of Reno and former detectives after they allegedly coerced a confession out of her while she was an inpatient at Louisiana mental hospital in 1979.
According the MailOnline, Wang said:
Although no amount of money will compensate Ms. Woods for what she endured, this will go at least some way toward providing care for her.
Wang says that Woods was in no mental state to be interrogated by detectives hunting the culprit of the 1976 killings.
While Woods’ conviction was overturned in 1980 by Nevada’s Supreme Court, she was convicted again in 1984 – which was upheld by the high court in 1988.
She was mercifully released from prison in 2015, after DNA technology not available at the time linked a cigarette butt at the scene to Oregon inmate, Rodney Halbower.
Authorities in Reno and California named Halbower the ‘Gypsy Hills Killer’ and believe he raped and killed six women – however he only was charged with two killings and last year was sentenced to life in prison for the killings of Baxter and 18-year-old Veronica Cascio.
Believing there was no wrongdoing in their handling of the case, the county conceded:
The conviction and subsequent incarceration of Woods for murder is a tragic situation that Washoe County hopes is never repeated.
While money can rarely compensate an individual for loss of freedom, Washoe County sincerely hopes that this monetary settlement will be utilised for the best possible care of Woods.
Woods, who now lives with relatives near the city of Anacortes, Washington, was a poorly educated woman with a severe mental illness who was ‘intentionally framed’, according to her federal lawsuit filed in 2016.
When Mitchell was killed, Woods was bartending in Reno. She later moved to Louisiana, where her mother admitted her to a psychiatric hospital.
Washoe County public defender Maizie Pusich told Associated Press in 2014 Woods didn’t remember confessing while at the hospital.
I’m told it was a product of wanting to get a private room. She was being told she wasn’t sufficiently dangerous to qualify, and within a short period she was claiming she had killed a woman in Reno.
The Washoe County Commission voted to pay $3 million to Woods settle a portion of the federal lawsuit that had named former county District Attorney Cal Dunlap as a defendant.
Wang said she will be requesting that Dunlap is dropped as a defendant after the partial settlement is finalised.