Attorney General Ford Announces Certificate of Innocence for Cathy Woods Following Wrongful Incarceration

October 12, 2020

Carson City, NV - Nevada Attorney General Aaron D. Ford is pleased to announce that Cathy Woods, a/k/a Anita Carter, was granted a Certificate of Innocence and awarded $2,850,000.00 from the State of Nevada as compensation for the more than 32 years she spent in prison following her wrongful conviction. Second Judicial District Court Judge Kathleen M. Drakulich entered stipulated orders on October 9, 2020, which AG Ford fully supported. The City of Reno, The City of Shreveport, Louisiana and certain named individual defendants in a separate federal civil rights action also entered into a global settlement with Ms. Woods. 

On February 24, 1976, Michelle Mitchell was murdered near the University of Nevada, Reno campus. In 1981, following statements made while confined in a mental institution in Louisiana, Ms. Woods was charged and twice convicted of Ms. Mitchell’s murder in Washoe County. In 2014, the Washoe County Crime Lab received notification through the National DNA Database of a DNA hit on a cigarette found near the crime scene that matched Rodney Halbower, an Oregon prisoner who was imprisoned for attempted murder and other violent crimes against women. Based upon the new DNA evidence and a stipulation of the parties, the charges against Ms. Woods were dismissed and she was released in 2014.

In 2019, the Nevada Legislature adopted Assembly Bill 267 – codified in NRS 41.900 et seq. – to compensate persons who have been wrongfully incarcerated if they can prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that they did not commit the crime for which they were convicted, were not an accomplice, and did not otherwise cause their own conviction. Additional costs, including reasonable attorney fees, educational expenses, counseling services and certain other reimbursements are also permitted.

“As your attorney general, the pursuit of justice is paramount to the mission of my office, and I’m encouraged that after so many years, Ms. Woods has been declared an innocent woman and will receive compensation for the years of freedom she lost,” said AG Ford. “While no amount of money can ever replace our freedom, I couldn’t be prouder of the attorneys in my office who worked on this case to obtain justice for Ms. Woods. As I told them, ‘Our job is justice, and you have done a great job of delivering it.'"

This case was investigated by the Attorney General’s Post-Conviction Division and litigated by Chief Deputy Attorney General Heather Procter, Deputy Attorney General Sheryl Serreze, and Deputy Attorney General Jaimie Stilz.