New DNA evidence clears woman of murder charges 30 years later

CARSON CITY — A woman who spent more than 30 years in prison was cleared of murder charges Friday when prosecutors in Reno announced they will not pursue a retrial, basing their decision on new DNA evidence that shows she did not commit the crime.

Washoe County District Attorney Chris Hicks told a news conference he was dismissing charges against Cathy Woods for the killing of 19-year-old Michelle Mitchell in 1976.

A judge last year tossed out Woods’ conviction after DNA evidence retrieved from a cigarette butt found at the scene near the University of Nevada, Reno suggested the real killer was a former Oregon inmate.

Rodney Halbower, 66, is now being held in California in the deaths of two women who were killed around the same time near San Francisco. Authorities also suspect him of killing three other women during that time in what was called the “Gypsy Hill” murders.

Hicks said Halbower is now a suspect in Mitchell’s death.

Woods was convicted largely on a confession she made while institutionalized at a psychiatric hospital in Louisiana. The Nevada Supreme Court overturned her conviction in 1985, but she was retried, found guilty again, and sentenced to life in prison.

She was released from prison in September after Washoe District Judge Patrick Flanagan ordered a new trial in light of the DNA evidence.

Contact Sandra Chereb at schereb@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3901. Find her on Twitter: @SandraChereb.

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