Longest-ever wrongfully imprisoned woman in US history gets $3m in lawsuit settlement

Chris Riotta
AP

A woman who spent 35 years in prison for a murder she didn’t commit has been awarded $3m (£2.5m) as a partial settlement in her civil rights case, according to her lawyers.

Cathy Woods, 68, was released from prison in 2015 after she was exonerated due to new DNA evidence found on a cigarette stub.

She was previously said to have committed the 1976 killing of college student Michelle Mitchell, but the murder was later linked to suspected serial killer Rodney Halbower.

“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,” Elizabeth Wang, an attorney for Ms Woods, said in a statement after the partial settlement was announced this week.

Ms Woods will continue to seek additional damages from the city of Reno and former detectives she accused of coercing a fabricated confession from her while she was a patient at a Louisiana mental hospital in 1979, Ms Wang said.

The attorney said her client was extremely psychotic and never should have been interrogated by detectives investigating the murder.

The Washoe County Commission voted 4-0 on Tuesday to pay the lump sump of money to settle a portion of the federal lawsuit that had named former county District Attorney Cal Dunlap as a defendant.

Ms Wang said she will ask a federal judge to drop him as a defendant after the partial settlement is finalised.

  • Read more

A separate lawsuit filed against the state earlier this month also will continue, Ms Wang said, under a new Nevada law that went into effect this year allowing those wrongfully convicted to seek up to $3.5m (£2.9m) in civil damages. The federal lawsuit seeks unspecified monetary damages.

Ms Woods’ initial conviction in 1980 was overturned by Nevada’s Supreme Court. She was convicted again in 1984, and the high court upheld that conviction in 1988.

A judge vacated it for good in 2014 after DNA technology not previously available linked evidence to Halbower. Detectives in Reno and Northern California subsequently identified him as the “Gypsy Hills Killer,” named for an area in the San Francisco Bay Area city of Pacifica where one body was found.

http://players.brightcove.net/624246174001/default_default/index.html?videoId=5837728067001

Support free-thinking journalism and subscribe to Independent Minds

Authorities believe Halbower raped and killed six women and girls — including Ms Mitchell in Reno in 1976. But he only was charged with two killings and last year was sentenced to life in prison for the killings of 17-year-old Paula Baxter and 18-year-old Veronica Cascio.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

Read more

Read more British man cleared of rape after new DNA evidence comes to light