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Wrongfully-incarcerated Woman Sues Shreveport Officials

Cathy Woods
Photo: innocenceproject.org

 

The longest-ever wrongfully-incarcerated woman in U.S. history is suing those she says framed her, and they include some local officials.

Cathy Woods circa 1980Attorneys for Cathy Woods, also known as Anita Carter, filed suit in federal court in Reno, Nevada, against four former Reno and Shreveport police officers, a district attorney and a physician who they say knowingly caused her wrongful imprisonment.

Woods was incarcerated for 35 years before being exonerated of the fatal stabbing of 19-year-old Michelle Mitchell near the University of Nevada-Reno.

Here’s more about the lawsuit from a news release from civil rights attorneys at Loevy & Loevy:

The former police officers are accused of coercing false statements out of a mentally vulnerable person and falsely attributed statements to her for the 1976 murder of college student Michelle Mitchell. Despite multiple witness reports of a man fleeing the scene of the crime, the officers with no evidence concocted a homophobic theory that Ms. Woods is a lesbian, that her “mannish” appearance explained the witness reports, and that she murdered Ms. Mitchell for rejecting her sexual advances.

 

Ms. Woods, also known as Anita Carter, was exonerated after DNA testing conducted on evidence from the crime scene revealed that the actual killer was a serial rapist and murderer, a man named Rodney Halbower. Halbower is currently serving a prison sentence in Oregon.

 

Ms. Woods is represented by Elizabeth Wang and David B. Owens of Loevy & Loevy Attorneys at Law and Edmund J. Gorman, Jr., Attorney at Law.

According to background from the case, it went unsolved for three years, without any arrests and no fresh leads. In March 1979, after a lifelong history of severe mental illness and with only a sixth-grade education, Woods had been involuntarily committed to receive psychiatric care in Shreveport.

She told a counselor at LSU Medical Center a vague story about having killed a girl named Michelle in Reno several years earlier. The counselor contacted Shreveport police, who called Reno police.

 

For the Reno police, this was their big break, their opportunity to solve the case and rehabilitate the department after their three-year long failure to solve the case.

 

Dr. Douglas Burks of LSU Medical Center violated his professional ethics by participating in the interrogation of Ms. Woods with Shreveport and Reno police when Ms. Woods clearly was not competent to answer questions, let alone truly consent to be interrogated and fully understand her rights.

 

She had been involuntarily detained at the LSU Medical Center, was not free to leave, and was in an inherently coercive environment due to her severe mental illness.

CLICK HERE to see a copy of the lawsuit.

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