Colorado DAs Frustrated by CBI Lack of Transparency About DNA Analyst | Westword

DAs Frustrated With CBI Over Lack of Transparency Surrounding Disgraced DNA Analyst Missy Woods

"Prosecutors around the state have waited anxiously for information because of the impact on victims, the accused, and our ability to do justice."
Former CBI analyst Yvonne "Missy" Woods has been accused of manipulating DNA data and evidence in hundreds of criminal cases.
Former CBI analyst Yvonne "Missy" Woods has been accused of manipulating DNA data and evidence in hundreds of criminal cases. Getty Images
Share this:
For district attorneys across the state — both past and present — Yvonne "Missy" Woods is a name that keeps many of them up at night.

"The impact of her misconduct cannot be overstated," says 17th Judicial District Attorney Brian Mason of Woods, a disgraced DNA expert who used to work for the Colorado Bureau of Investigation and was outed last year for manipulating data.

"I have had former employees of the DA's office, former prosecutors, reach out saying, 'Was that terrible murder case I was on impacted by this?'" Mason tells Westword. "They built relationships with families and victims' families and thought that they had secured justice in these cases and that these cases were done, and that the victims and their families could have peace. And that is thrown into question now by these revelations from CBI."

The CBI investigation released last month said that Woods — who retired in November 2023, a month after the agency began its investigation and the day it was announced — was found to have "deviated from standard testing protocols and cut corners, calling into question the reliability of the testing she conducted" throughout her decades-long career. She deleted and altered data that "concealed her tampering with controls," deleted data that "concealed her failure to troubleshoot issues within the testing process" and failed to provide "thorough documentation in the case record" related to tests she performed, the agency says.

Left in Woods's wake are hundreds of cases with "anomalies" and evidence of data manipulation — 652, to be exact — and countless more where she was endorsed as an expert or witness. CBI is currently conducting a review of Woods’s work from 1994 to 2008 after identifying anomalies between 2008 and 2023.

DAs Concerned Over Lack of Information

CBI says it has "regularly engaged the district attorneys from around the state and provided them with critical information about the investigation and its impact on cases in their jurisdictions." But Mason and other DAs tell Westword that CBI officials haven't been as forthright with information as they claim.

"It's been some five months since this first came out, and we're still getting information in dribs and drabs," says 18th Judicial District Attorney John Kellner.
click to enlarge District Attorney Michael Dougherty posing for a photo.
Boulder County District Attorney Michael Dougherty.
"Prosecutors around the state have waited anxiously for information because of the impact on victims, the accused, and our ability to do justice," adds Boulder County District Attorney Michael Dougherty. "There are a lot of questions that remain to be answered."

"I think we are all frustrated by the scandal itself and the attacks on our cases, but also on what we perceive to be a lack of transparency from CBI on exactly what the conduct was and exactly what the impact on our cases will be," Mason explains. "And that's deeply discouraging for me, personally, and also for my office as we communicate with victims and with people in the community who are impacted by this."

Dougherty's office currently has fifteen open cases and 55 closed cases with Woods as an endorsed witness. "We have one filed petition for post-conviction relief based on this issue that is pending, and another one that was previously pending and is now on hold," he says.

One case that has grabbed headlines is the 2019 conviction of Garrett Coughlin, who allegedly murdered three people in Coal Creek Canyon back in 2017. Woods had performed forensic analysis on evidence samples.

In 2020, Coughlin successfully filed an appeal for a new trial and got his conviction tossed out after jurors were accused of lying on their questionnaires. Last month, he was granted a continuance after the CBI investigation of Woods's misconduct was brought up by his defense lawyers.

"Coughlin, who is completely in the dark about what actually happened and what CBI is doing about it, asks the Court to order the prosecution to immediately provide the following information to the defense," his lawyers said in a February 5 motion for discovery. "In what manner Ms. Woods: Altered data for evidence items, Altered data and/or extract of Quality Control samples, Analyzed data multiple times without retaining all data sets."

Coughlin's attorneys are seeking fifteen specific discovery items. "The People contacted CBI and sent them a copy of the defense motion to get discovery," Dougherty wrote in a February 29 filing. "At CBI’s request, a formal discovery request was submitted to that agency on February 12, 2024. The language used in that discovery request was language suggested by CBI as a way of obtaining the materials at issue."

However, when it came time to actually discuss the "anomalies" in question, CBI chose to stay relatively mum.

"On February 21, 2024, the People received materials from CBI," Dougherty said in the February 29 filing. "The materials included the entire litigation packet from the original rounds of testing. However, on this issue of the anomalies, it included very limited information."

On February 28, the Colorado Attorney General's Office provided additional materials in response to two of Coughlin's requests. But the court issued a protective order limiting their dissemination.

In filings, Dougherty's office has said it agrees that Coughlin is entitled to the information that his defense attorneys are requesting. Both parties claim that CBI has been dragging its feet, but the bureau insists it's being as forthcoming as possible.

"CBI exchanged information regarding impacted cases with all 22 district attorneys as those impacts were discovered, through regular updates," says strategic communications director Rob Low. "CBI also issued credibility disclosures regarding its findings about Ms. Woods’s conduct as required by law. CBI has provided the findings of the internal affairs investigation in response to multiple subpoenas issued by district attorneys’ offices around the state. CBI continues to provide information about all of its cases to its law enforcement partners through the discovery process."

Some DAs Have Filed Subpoenas

According to Low, CBI has provided "the findings" of its 94-page internal affairs report on Woods in response to multiple subpoenas issued by DA's offices around the state. But beyond that, exactly what type of information the agency is providing is unclear.

"They've talked about releasing investigations in response to subpoenas. That right there tells you that many DA's offices have had to subpoena this information because we weren't getting it otherwise," Mason says.
click to enlarge District Attorney Brian Mason standing and smiling.
District Attorney Brian Mason is one of several DAs who is frustrated with CBI over its transparency.
Evan Semón
Dougherty's office had to fight for the 94-page report. "The prosecutor’s mission is to do justice," he says. "So anytime an issue arises involving the integrity of the evidence or the credibility of a witness, we take it very seriously."

Kellner's office — which oversees Arapahoe, Douglas, Elbert and Lincoln counties — is currently looking at over 400 cases in which Woods was endorsed as an expert or witness.

"We have over sixty cases that CBI has identified that there may be issues with her work," he tells Westword. "[CBI] said it themselves: It calls into question the accuracy not just of her work, but frankly, the lab's work. And so we're going to be dealing with that, I think, for years to come. There's going to be a lot of litigation. And obviously, we want to defend the righteous convictions. We want to make sure, though, also, that people were convicted fairly and with competent evidence."

Kellner and other DAs note that Woods was involved in some of the state's most important cases over the years. "I did a very big case with her several years ago, and certainly that case comes to mind for me," Mason says. "I don't know yet if that case is going to be impacted or not. But I have worked with Ms. Woods personally. And that's why I was so deeply surprised by this revelation."

Mason estimates that the 17th Judicial District has over 200 cases in which Woods was somehow involved. "Now, whether or not the allegations in what she has or hasn't done impact all of those cases in our jurisdiction, we just don't know yet," he says. "I'm just really worried about what kind of impact this is going to have on closed cases. Cases that had been tried ten, twenty years ago. Missy Woods was one of their analysts for several decades, and she worked on a lot of cases. And I'm very concerned about what sort of impact this will have on some of our very old, closed cases. You know, these are cases where witnesses haven't been spoken to in years — sometimes decades — and may not be reachable, may not be alive. To get in touch with people and bring back police officers or detectives who would have worked on those cases, who would have conducted initial interviews — all of that is a Herculean effort that may or may not even be possible or feasible in some of these old cases. We just don't know."

According to Low, CBI "understands the frustration" coming from Colorado DAs and says the agency "shares in that frustration" as it conducts a comprehensive investigation and review of Woods’s work.

CBI Director Chris Schaefer tells Westword that staffers remain committed to maintaining high-quality laboratory work and accurate results.

"No stone will remain unturned as we address Woods’s misconduct," he says. "Additionally, I have complete confidence in the integrity of our Forensic Services employees and the accuracy of the reports they issue."

This story has been updated to correct the timeline for the resignation of Missy Woods.
Can you help us continue to share our stories? Since the beginning, Westword has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver — and we'd like to keep it that way. Our members allow us to continue offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food, and culture with no paywalls.