Cathy woods 1976 murder convict
Wrongful Convictions

1976 Reno Murder: Woman Wrongfully Jailed 35 Years Seeking Damages

Cathy Woods was wrongfully jailed for 35 years for the 1976 Reno murder of Michelle Mitchell, a nursing student. Now she is seeking for several millions of dollars as damages. But attorneys said during a federal court hearing on Thursday that Woods may not have the legal competence to seek compensation. They also raised concerns over the complexity of the case considering that it occurred over 40 years ago, Reno Gazette Journal reports.

Cathy woods 1976 murder convict
Cathy woods was convicted for killing a University of Nevada, Reno student in 1976. Image source: Reno Gazette Journal

Woods brought her case against several classes of defendants for causing her to be wrongfully incarcerated for 35 years for a crime she did not commit. These are –

  • The city of Reno, where she lived at the time
  • Calvin Dunlap, a former Washoe County district attorney
  • Douglas Mathew Burks, of the Louisiana State University Medical Center
  • Several law enforcement officers from Reno Police Department

Attorneys and Magistrate Judge Lament the Coldness of the 41-Year-Old Case

Woods is basing her lawsuit on the fact that prosecutors and law enforcement compelled her to make self-incriminating confessions during her hospitalization at a mental facility in Louisiana. During the Thursday hearing, attorneys still insist they are not certain Woods is mentally capable of making depositions in any form.

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They also examined the near impossibility of obtaining credible witnesses since the matter is a cold case. Many of the people who knew of the case 41 years ago are either dead, no longer working at the police department, or relocated elsewhere to other places within the country.

“None of the persons who were involved work with the city any longer,” said Reno Deputy City Attorney Mark Hughs. “It’s sort of an archeological dig. This is a very unique case. The case is premised on finding DNA and then saying DNA affects prior court rulings on Ms. Woods’ confession.”

Even Magistrate Judge Valerie Cooke expressed dismay at the decades-long case during the Thursday hearing. According to the judge, “not everyone is going to remember everything,” since the events occurred almost 41 years ago.

“His job was to prosecute the case…and we believe he’s entitled to absolute prosecutorial immunity,” attorney says

However, former Washoe County District Attorney Calvin Dunlap who was mentioned in Woods’ lawsuit claims he is innocent of any charges. Representated by current Washoe County Deputy District Attorney Micheal Large, the accused argued he was only doing his job by prosecuting Woods in 1972.

“We believe Mr. Dunlap acted appropriate as his role as the Washoe County district attorney and as the prosecutor in this matter,” Large said. “We are confident that after the court evaluates the evidence in this case, they will come to the conclusion that the claims should be dismissed against Mr. Dunlap.”

Rodney Halbower 1976 reno murderer serial killer
Rodney Halbower, suspected to be the original perpetrator of the 1976 Reno murder and several others. Image Source: KoloTV

Woods was released from prison in September 2014. This was after DNA evidence linked the murder with another perpetrator. The DNA was found on a cigarette but discovered at the scene of the murder. The DNA was that of a man known as Rodney L. Halbower. The real killer was nabbed after the authorities chanced to take his DNA again in 2014 while being moved from Nevada to Oregon to face criminal charges.

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Charles Omedo
Charles Omedo has a degree in Mass Communication and a PGD in Digital Communication. He worked as a newspaper/magazine reporter and editor for many years. Now, he writes daily news articles for private clients. Charles has written for US/UK/Canadian/Indian clients on various niches. He currently writes prison news for loved ones of inmates on the Prison Rideshare Network.