RENO — The Washoe County Commission on Tuesday approved $3 million as part of a partial settlement in a civil rights lawsuit brought by a woman who spent 35 years behind bars for a Reno murder she did not commit.
Commissioners voted 4-0 to award the $3 million to Cathy Woods, 68.
In a statement posted to its website, Washoe County called Woods’ ordeal “a tragic situation that Washoe County hopes is never repeated.”
“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 statement said.
Woods’ federal lawsuit names the city of Reno as well as former police officers from Reno and Shreveport, Louisiana.
Woods was arrested in Shreveport in 1979 in connection with the murder of 19-year-old Michelle Mitchell in Reno in 1976.
In 2014, a judge threw out Woods’ conviction after DNA evidence retrieved from a cigarette butt found at the scene of the killing near the University of Nevada, Reno, pointed authorities to former Oregon inmate Rodney Halbower.
Woods was released from prison later that year, and her 35-plus years behind bars made Woods the longest-serving wrongfully convicted woman in U.S. history, according to the National Registry of Exonerations. The registry lists Woods as one of 13 people in Nevada who have been exonerated.
Halbower was the suspect in several slayings in Northern California that were dubbed the Gypsy Hill Killings and occurred the same year Mitchell was killed. He was sentenced to life in prison last fall for the 1976 rape and murder of two teenage girls in San Mateo County, California.
Woods was convicted based largely on a confession she made while institutionalized at a psychiatric facility in Louisiana. The Nevada Supreme Court overturned her conviction in 1985, but Woods was retried, found guilty again and sentenced to life in prison.
This month, Woods filed a separate lawsuit in state district court under Nevada’s new wrongful conviction compensation law and could receive up to $3.5 million in damages from that action.