Washoe County commissioners approved yesterday a $3 million payout to a woman who served decades in prison for a crime she didn’t commit. Cathy Woods, also known as Anita Carter, was serving a life sentence for the 1976 death of University of Nevada, Reno student Michelle Mitchell. Woods was charged and convicted in 1979.
She was exonerated in 2014 due to previously unavailable DNA testing of material found at the scene.
DNA evidence on a cigarette butt pointed to Rodney Halbower, who was involved in several homicides in the San Francisco Bay Area and was physically present in the Reno area around the time of Mitchell’s death. Halbower is serving time in California.
Woods, now 68, was then granted a new trial and the Washoe County District Attorney dismissed charges against her. Through her personal representative Linda Wade, Woods filed suit against the county.
Commission Chairman Vaughn Hartung said he wanted to made taxpayers aware how settlement funds would be paid and asked legal staff to clarify.
“There is a fund of money that’s budgeted every year for the county to use in the settlement of litigations,” Assistant District Attorney Paul Lipparelli said.
“I wanted to make sure we got that on the record, that it does come out of the risk management fund,” Hartung said.
According to the National Registry of Exonerations, Woods was at an in-patient mental hospital in Shreveport, La. in 1979 when she told a staff member she killed a woman named Michelle in Reno.
“Although Woods had a lengthy history of mental illness and was diagnosed with schizophrenia, police went to interview her,” Woods’ page on the exonerations registry said. “Detectives said she gave them information — though it was nothing that had been reported by the media.
“She was unable to tell them where any of the missing evidence was and a search of her mother’s home turned up nothing connecting Woods to the crime.
“In August 2016, lawyers for Woods filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city of Reno, two former Reno officers, former Washoe County District Attorney Cal Dunlap, two former Shreveport officers and a doctor who treated Woods at the Louisiana State University Medical Center.”