The Downfall of CBI Analyst Missy Woods and Reactions to Misconduct | Westword

Colorado Legal System Prepares to Untie Knot Created by Disgraced CBI Analyst

"This has become about more than just one longstanding analyst tampering with evidence and deleting data."
Yvonne "Missy" Woods was a forensic scientist for nearly three decades before stepping down lat year.
Yvonne "Missy" Woods was a forensic scientist for nearly three decades before stepping down lat year. 9News/YouTube
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While working for the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, Yvonne "Missy" Woods was considered a "star analyst" and "golden child" in the CBI crime lab, according to her colleagues, amassing accolades and praise for years as one of its busiest forensic scientists — but to a handful of her co-workers, something seemed off.

A CBI Internal Affairs report released last week outlines how some employees noticed concerning things about Woods, a 29-year veteran now accused of tampering with DNA evidence and testing results as far back as 2014. Those employees, however, were too afraid to speak up because of Woods's reputation.

"Woods was highly regarded and respected," a forensics worker told investigators during an IA probe conducted by the CBI with assistance from the Kansas Bureau of Investigation.

But that didn't stop the scrutiny behind closed doors.

At least two employees in forensics services who spoke to investigators said Woods would often work "too fast." Another former colleague claimed the same thing and noted how Woods, who retired last year, would work "lots of overtime" and was often "doing too much," according to the IA report.

What they didn't know was that Woods had been messing things up for years, with over 650 state crime lab cases altered or affected, including 126 cases in which she manually manipulated quant data fields to different values or "undermined" status, and 187 cases in which she straight up deleted data, according to the IA report.

An intern ultimately came forward in 2023 about Woods, blowing the lid off her CBI misconduct.

The intern reported multiple "anomalies" and "trends" in Woods's work, including data deletion and possible reagent blank tampering, data manipulation, an ignored "entire run of data" not listed in the case record, incorrectly reporting no male DNA on several occasions, not giving samples more analysis, and purposely not completing troubleshooting. In one instance, the intern discovered that Woods had deleted technical data in thirty cases that should not have been deleted.
click to enlarge Someone analyzing DNA.
Woods has been accused of manipulating DNA data and evidence in hundreds of criminal cases.
Getty Images

Over the years, Woods made sure to cover her tracks, the report alleges, "deliberately" reducing quant values so troubleshooting would not appear to be necessary by a technical reviewer and using up DNA samples without any permission, to the point where they couldn't be tested again.

"It appears the analyst went back to items of evidence to repeat extractions without any documentation in the worksheet nor reasoning behind this," the IA report says. "In multiple instances, the item was consumed without permission or appeared to have another item extracted in its place. Additional evidence was consumed and is not available for further testing. There is no documentation as to why, and permission to consume was not obtained."

Scientists in the crime lab were apparently split on Woods's behavior, with some viewing her as a "high producer" who was reliable and asked to work on "complex and cold cases," the report states, while others thought she "cut corners in order to be a top producer."

Concerns were raised about Woods and her work several times over the years, with employees allegedly coming forward in 2014 and 2018 to talk to CBI management. Apparently, nothing was done.

"Woods was placed back on casework, and [her misconduct] was chalked up to being isolated and due to stress," the IA report says.

One of the most alarming incidents happened in "2014 or 2015," according to one worker, who spoke to investigators about an incident when Woods allegedly threw away fingernail clippings that were assumed to be evidence.

"Woods came in, brushed the fingernail clippings in her hand, and threw them in the biohazard or garbage bin," the worker said, telling investigators she was "99 percent" sure the clippings were evidence.

"All of us are left grappling with how a part of the system, and, specifically, a person who had been entrusted with great responsibility, could fail, and its impact on the public trust and confidence in the justice system," says 20th Judicial District Attorney Michael Dougherty.

In Boulder County, where Dougherty is DA, a triple murderer skated on a mandatory life sentence last week for first-degree murder, thanks to a plea deal related to Woods's misconduct.

Garrett Coughlin, 31, pleaded guilty on June 6 to second-degree murder for 2017 crimes and was sentenced to 42 years in prison with seven years of pre-sentence credit, according to prosecutors. Dougherty says he's confident that Coughlin would have been convicted had it not been for the legal hurdles his office faced owing to Woods's behavior and other alleged misconduct committed by another CBI expert in the ballistics department.

“In 2019, this case was proven at trial largely through circumstantial evidence, meaning there was no video, no eyewitness and no confession," Dougherty explains. "After the trial, it came to light that two of the trial jurors had been less than truthful during the jury selection process. As a result, the conviction was overturned. In November of 2023, as we prepared for a second trial, the Colorado Bureau of Investigation disclosed that [Woods] had engaged in serious misconduct on this case and hundreds of others. Her conduct, as well as that of the ballistics expert from CBI, significantly impacted the evidence that could be presented at a second trial."
click to enlarge District Attorney Michael Dougherty posing for a photo.
Boulder County District Attorney Michael Dougherty is one of several DAs who worked with Woods on criminal cases for years.

Dougherty says that based on the circumstances, Coughlin's guilty plea and sentence is "appropriate," but it leaves a hole in the hearts of the victims' families.

"When these families needed the justice system the most, parts of that system failed to live up to the responsibility entrusted to them," he tells Westword.

But is Woods the only one to blame? The Colorado Office of the State Public Defender certainly doesn't think so.

"This has become about more than just one longstanding analyst tampering with evidence and deleting data, but it also is about the systemic failures of an accredited state crime lab, the people, and the processes that should have stopped this from happening over and over for years," says James Karbach, director of legislative policy and external communications for OSPD. "CBI’s comprehensive failure to address these issues within its DNA program means there have likely been hundreds of public defender clients who were given intentionally manipulated data and who were prosecuted with unreliable evidence."

Karbach calls Woods's misconduct "outrageous and shocking," but what's even more appalling is how CBI management turned a blind eye to it, he says.

"The report shows that many people at CBI knew about these problems and that some consciously chose to cover it up, which let it continue," Karbach points out. "It could and should have been stopped years ago, but it wasn’t."

Woods's lawyer, Ryan Brackley, tells Westword that while his client is innocent, CBI higher-ups should also be looked at under a microscope.

"This report highlights certain issues and concerns that were brought to the attention of [the CBI] as early as 2018," Brackley notes. "While the allegations resulting from the internal investigation point to Ms. Woods deviating from standard protocols and cutting corners in her work, and lab management’s likely awareness of this, she has long maintained that she’s never created or falsely reported any inculpatory DNA matches, nor has she tampered with physical evidence to create or destroy any inculpatory or exculpatory DNA profiles."

In a statement issued last week, CBI Director Chris Schaefer said the agency was "meticulously reviewing" all of its testing protocols and auditing the results of all current and previous DNA scientists to "ensure the integrity" of the state crime lab.

"While the focus of the IA addressed Woods’s misconduct, we acknowledge that it took too long to detect ongoing intentional manipulation of our lab system,” Schaefer admitted. "We are in the process of identifying an external vendor to conduct an organizational review to ensure that our forensic services procedures and systems adhere to CBI’s high standards."

The South Dakota Division of Criminal Investigation, as a way to avoid a conflict of interest, has been asked by the CBI to launch a probe into Woods and her alleged misconduct. "I look forward to receiving more answers from CBI, as well as the outcome of the criminal investigation and possible criminal charges," Dougherty says.

In the end, it's unclear just how many cases will have to be pleaded out, retried or overturned as a result of the Woods situation. Karbach and Dougherty estimate it could be years before her knot of justice is untangled.

"The post-conviction process that many clients will now urgently need to navigate is complex and requires clients to have experienced counsel with resources," Karbach says. "While the state has provided millions of dollars to prosecutors and CBI, we trust the state will soon provide resources to the defense side to seek justice for our impacted clients."

Dougherty expects that closed cases will soon "require re-examination and be challenged in court," and that the CBI's integrity will also be questioned.

"The significant impact for victims, defendants and prosecutor’s offices is incredibly concerning. I am glad that CBI is auditing the results of all tests to ensure the integrity of the state’s lab. That is critical to restoring public trust in the system. It is going to require time, transparency and accountability," he says.
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