Investigation accelerated

Attorneys for Cathy Woods—freed from prison by DNA testing after being twice convicted of murdering a University of Nevada, Reno student—will be moving ahead with deposing witnesses and evidence gathering after U.S. Magistrate Valerie Cooke gave her permission.

The magistrate halted that kind of work while other questions were settled, but revised her order when attorneys argued that various players in the case are dying off.

Woods is suing for compensation after spending more than a quarter century in prison for a 1976 crime that prosecutors in 2015 conceded she did not commit, the murder of Michelle Mitchell of Reno. The lawsuit was filed against the city, the county and various officials, including police officers, and makes accusations that she was coerced into confessing.

However, Woods made her first confession to a Louisiana mental hospital employee before Nevada officials ever knew she existed. During a therapy session while a patient at a Shreveport facility, Woods described committing a murder in Reno—an event she presumably learned of from news coverage while living in the Truckee Meadows. The hospital notified officials in Nevada.

Subsequently, Woods was questioned by investigators from Nevada. Last year, her lawsuit was filed and argued she was in no condition to consent to being questioned by police. The suit also contends that her confession and interrogations—which led to her conviction—were “not memorialized or written down in any way” and were not recorded.

In 2015, Washoe County District Attorney Chris Hicks said her confession diverted investigators’ efforts from other productive lines.

“Cathy Woods was not on anybody’s radar until she brought it on herself. … Investigations stopped into other people and began into Cathy Woods,” he said.