The wrongful conviction — and 35-year prison sentence — of a schizophrenic woman was allegedly secured in part because prosecutors painted her as a spurned lesbian, the Daily Beast reported.
Attorneys for 66-year-old Cathy Woods accused officials in both Reno, Nevada of pushing the idea that Woods killed Michelle Mitchell there in 1976 because Mitchell rejected her advances.
“I’m not sure the origins of why they said she was a homosexual,” said Woods’ attorney, Elizabeth Wang. “Our belief is that they tried to reconcile the fact that Woods is a woman with the other evidence from witnesses, by saying, ‘Oh, well, she’s a lesbian. She’s butch. She dressed like a man.'”
Woods was not a suspect in Mitchell’s death until 1979, at which time she was living in a mental health facility and being treated for schizophrenia as well as hallucinations. According to the Daily Beast, her counselor contacted police in Reno when she started discussing the incident, despite her condition. The suit lists
“She was an extremely vulnerable person at that time and today,” Wang told the Associated Press. “Anyone who sees her would see what 35 years in prison did to her.”
Because they were in a rush to close a case that had gone cold, Wang argued, officials used a non-written confession on the part of Woods as part of their evidence, ignoring the fact that witnesses said a large man was seen with Mitchell before her death. Woods’ feet also failed to match shoe prints found at the scene of Mitchell’s death.
“They talked a lot at the trial about the way she dressed, the way she acted,” said Wang. “A lot of it was stuff that would not be brought up at a trial today, but even by the standards of that time, it was really quite homophobic.”
Woods was sentenced to life in prison without parole in connection with Mitchell’s death, but was convicted again in 1985 after securing a new trial following a ruling by the Nevada state Supreme Court.
However, Woods was released in 2014 after her DNA did not match that found on a cigarette butt found at the scene. The new evidence linked the killing to Rodney Halbower, the alleged “Gypsy Hill Killer” accused of murdering seven women the same year the same year Mitchell was killed.