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Woman cleared in Reno murder case gets $2.85M from Nevada

Updated November 10, 2020 - 2:13 pm

CARSON CITY — A state spending panel Tuesday approved a $2.85 million settlement with a woman who spent more than three decades in jail before DNA evidence cleared her of a 1976 Reno murder.

The three-member state Board of Examiners, consisting of the governor, attorney general and secretary of state, approved the payment to Cathy Woods unanimously. The amount was determined in state court last month with the full endorsement of the attorney general’s office.

Justice “doesn’t always manifest itself in the conviction, sometimes it manifests itself in an exoneration,” said Attorney General Aaron Ford, who serves on the board with Gov. Steve Sisolak and Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske. “The state was wrong in this instance and I’m glad to see that we’re able to offer some level of recompense to Ms. Woods for a wrongful conviction and imprisonment.”

Woods was twice convicted — in 1980, and again in 1985 after the first conviction was overturned — on the basis of statements she made while in a Louisiana mental institution. In 2014, the National DNA Database notified Washoe County of a DNA hit on a cigarette found near the 1976 crime scene that matched someone else serving time for violent crimes in Oregon. The charges against Woods were dismissed and she was released.

Woods, 70, who now lives in Washington state, received the state settlement from a district court judge in October under a new law enacted in 2019 to compensate people wrongfully convicted and exonerated. She was also awarded a Certificate of Innocence.

She earlier received separate settlements from Washoe County and the cities of Reno and Shreveport, Louisiana, totalling $6 million. Woods had sued on grounds that she was coerced to make a fabricated confession while under psychiatric care in Louisiana.

She is the second wrongfully convicted person to be compensated under the 2019 state law. In August, DeMarlo Berry received $2.25 million after serving more than two decades in prison for a 1994 Las Vegas slaying. Another inmate confessed to the crime and a former jailhouse informant recanted testimony that Berry admitted his guilt.

The Woods payment roughly halves the amount of state funds set aside for such settlements. Cegavske said she said was concerned about future payments given that “we’re in a real pickle with our budget” but was told sufficient funds were available through the current fiscal year.

Contact Capital Bureau reporter Bill Dentzer at bdentzer@reviewjournal.com. Follow @DentzerNews on Twitter.

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