Washoe County Commissioners vote to approve Cathy Woods settlement

Cathy Woods
Cathy Woods(KOLO)
Published: Aug. 27, 2019 at 1:23 PM PDT
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Washoe County Commissioners voted Tuesday to approve a settlement in the amount of $3 Million dollars in a case of a former Nevada woman who spent more than three decades in prison for a 1976 murder she didn't commit.

Back in 1979, Cathy Woods was criminally charged and ultimately convicted in the murder of Michelle Mitchell in Reno.

Woods was released from prison four years ago when new DNA evidence from a cigarette butt found at the crime scene was linked to an Oregon inmate recently convicted of two California killings.

The board of commissioners approved the settlement for all claims by Woods against all Washoe County defendants.

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Statement from Washoe County regarding lawsuit settlement for Ms. Cathy Woods:                         

Washoe County officials endeavor to act in the best interests of our community, including through the administration of justice.  Washoe County and Ms. Cathy Woods have reached a settlement of Woods’s lawsuit, which was brought in 2016 in the United States District Court for the District of Nevada.  Washoe County will compensate Woods in the amount of $3 million for her conviction and subsequent incarceration for 35 years for the 1976 murder of Ms. Michelle Mitchell.

While money can rarely compensate an individual for loss of freedom, Washoe County sincerely hopes that this monetary settlement will be utilized for the best possible care of Woods.

The conviction and subsequent incarceration of Woods for murder is a tragic situation that Washoe County hopes is never repeated. Woods was convicted for the 1976 murder of Mitchell by two juries, in 1980 and again in 1985, based on the best evidence available at the time, including Woods’s own confessions.  In 2014, DNA testing, which was unavailable at the time of Woods’s trials, implicated an individual who it was later discovered to have been in Reno at the time of the murder and is now known to be a serial killer.  Based on this newly-discovered evidence, Woods’s conviction was vacated and the charges against her were dismissed by the Washoe County District Attorney’s Office. 

In 2016, Woods brought suit in the United States District Court for the District of Nevada seeking compensation for alleged wrongdoing that led to her conviction.  After a thorough review of the evidence in this case, Washoe County is confident that there was no wrongdoing by any of its employees during the investigation or prosecution of Woods. Nevertheless, this settlement allows fiscal certainty and resolution to this costly litigation and provides compensation for Woods for the over three decades of incarceration that she served. 

Through increased awareness and understanding of mental health issues, greater public resources, and the advent of DNA technology in law enforcement, we believe a situation like this is unlikely to be repeated.

Commissioners unanimously approved the settlement agreement. 

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