Exonerated after 36 years, former murder suspect seeks compensation

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RENO, NV (KOLO) She was convicted of one of Reno's most notorious murders and served more than 30 years behind bars. Cleared by DNA, she's now seeking compensation.

Cathy Woods

UNR coed Michelle Mitchell's body was found in a garage near the university February 24th, 1976. Her hands tied, her throat slit.

The investigation went nowhere until--three years later when word came that a patient in a Louisiana mental health institute had told a nurse about a murder in Reno.

That patient was Cathy Woods, who had been managing a bar in Reno at the time of the murder.

A Reno Police detective went to Louisiana and interviewed Woods and, though that interview was not recorded, it was considered a confession.

Returned to Reno, she was convicted. That result was thrown out on appeal. She was tried a second time and convicted again.

Actually beyond the eventually disputed confession, the evidence against her was always slim. Footprints at the scene didn't match her shoe size. Descriptions of someone seen in the area described a man taller than Woods. .

But the prosecution had am apparent confession and Woods was mentally unable to assist in her defense and an avowed lesbian at a time when that alone was still a felony in Nevada.

The years passed with Woods serving time at the women's prison in southern Nevada, but the evidence in the case remained secure in a special room underneath the courthouse and--when it was reexamined DNA was found on a cigarette butt left at the scene.

It wasn't hers, in fact, it wasn't a woman's. It was a man's linked to a string of murders of young women in the Bay Area in 1976. He was eventually identified as Rodney Halbower who happened to be in Reno for a hearing on the attempted murder of another woman in February of 1976.

September 2014, Cathy Woods, now aged and gaunt, still feeling threatened, was released.

And now five years after her release, she's filed suit seeking compensation for all those years.

It's an early test of a law passed by the legislature earlier this year, setting compensation for wrongful conviction at $100,000 per year for lengthy sentences. And that, along with a certificate of innocence is what she and her lawsuit is seeking.

The lawsuit was filed by Reno attorney Joe Gorman, but he tells us other out-of-state attorneys will be joining the case.

Halbower, was convicted last year of two of the Bay Area murders.

He has not been tried in Nevada court for Michelle Mitchell's murder.