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State approves nearly $3 million settlement for Cathy Woods, who was exonerated of 1976 murder

Michelle Rindels
Michelle Rindels
Criminal JusticeState Government
Governor Steve Sisolak during a press conference

A woman who spent 33 years behind bars in Nevada for a murder she did not commit will receive $2.85 million in compensation from the state.

The Nevada Board of Examiners approved the settlement for Cathy Woods on Tuesday. It comes after lawmakers passed a bill in 2019 seeking to make financial amends to people who are wrongly convicted.

“This is yet another example of our state doing justice. It doesn’t always manifest itself in a conviction. Sometimes it manifests itself in an exoneration,” said Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford. “The state was wrong in this instance and I’m glad to see that we are able to offer some level of recompense to Ms. Woods for her wrongful conviction and imprisonment."

Woods was granted a “certificate of innocence” and a court order granting her monetary relief on Oct. 9.

About $2.7 million remains in an account to pay people who have been exonerated. Republican Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske, a member of the board, expressed concerns about the account running out of money, although the governor’s finance office said there should be enough in the account to make it through the end of the upcoming legislative session.

Ford said there were about 10 or so claims from people seeking money after an exoneration. The first person to receive such a payment was DeMarlo Berry, who was awarded more than $2 million in August.

Sisolak added that while the settlement couldn’t get Woods back the time she lost, the payment “can certainly help a little bit starting a new life.”

Woods was convicted of the murder of Michelle Mitchell, a 19-year-old UNR nursing student who was killed in 1976. Woods allegedly confessed to the murder years later while she was in a Louisiana psychiatric hospital, but later sued to say the confession — which came after interrogations from Reno and Washoe County officials — was fabricated.

In 2014, the FBI revealed that DNA evidence on a cigarette butt found at the scene of the crime was connected to another person — Rodney Halbower, who has been convicted of multiple murders

In August, the City of Reno approved a $3 million settlement for Woods.


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