Convicted Killer Cathy Woods Files Lawsuit in Federal Court - KTVN Channel 2 - Reno Tahoe Sparks News, Weather, Video

Convicted Killer Cathy Woods Files Lawsuit in Federal Court

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A woman who had her conviction overturned in the 1976 killing of a University of Nevada, Reno student has filed a lawsuit in federal court.

Cathy Woods is filing suit against several police officers, a district attorney and a physician.

The lawsuit claims that the former police officers coerced false statements from Woods who was accused of murdering 19-year-old college student Michelle Mitchell. A Marlboro cigarette butt was found near her body along with several burnt paper matches.  

On February 24, 1976, Mitchell disappeared after her VW Bug broke down near the University of Nevada. Her body was found hours later in a nearby residential garage.

Then three years later, Woods, a patient in the psychiatric ward of the LSU Medical Center in Shreveport, Louisiana, told hospital staff she had murdered a 19-year-old girl named Michelle in a garage near the college in Reno. After being contacted by the hospital staff, Reno authorities went to Shreveport and interviewed Woods. She again claimed responsibility for the murder. 

Woods was convicted by jury of the murder in November of 1980. After the conviction was reversed by the Nevada Supreme Court, she was again convicted by jury of the murder in November of 1985. Both times, Woods was sentenced to serve life in prison.  

Woods filed a Post-Conviction Petition in 2010 requesting DNA examination of evidence. The Second Judicial District Court ordered the testing of physical evidence taken from the crime scene. The testing revealed no evidence of Cathy Woods' DNA. However, the cigarette butt from the garage near Mitchell's body contained an unknown male's DNA profile. The unknown male DNA profile matched a DNA profile from two unsolved California murder cases that occurred in January and February of 1976.  

In early July of 2014, there was a CODIS (Combined DNA Index System) match on the DNA profile from the unsolved California murder cases and matched Rodney Halbower's DNA profile. Halbower's DNA had recently been entered into the system when he was transferred from the Nevada Department of Corrections, after serving a sentence for an unrelated crime, to prison in Oregon. Halbower is now charged in the two unsolved murders from California. 

In September of 2014, Woods' conviction was vacated and a new trial was ordered. She was released on bail at that time. 

Woods’ attorney says she is longest-ever wrongfully incarcerated woman in U.S. history. 

(The Washoe County District Attorney's Office contributed to this report.)

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