Woman freed in 1976 Reno murder

September 12, 2014
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A 64-year-old woman who spent more than 30 years in prison for a Nevada killing she says she didn’t commit was released on Thursday, three days after a judge granted her another trial in light of new DNA evidence.

Cathy Woods downed a cheeseburger at Archie’s, a 24-hour diner near the University of Nevada, Reno, in her first meal since she was freed.

“She was astounded,” defense attorney Maizie Pusich told the Reno Gazette-Journal (http://on.rgj.com/1qI38Pg). “She’s not used to food that big. She had onion rings, too, which she said were delicious.”

Woods, her brother and her sister-in-law then headed to Southern California, where Woods plans to live with family.

“It was wonderful today because she is going home,” Pusich told the newspaper. “It would be more wonderful if the case was dismissed and she got to stay home forever.”

Woods was convicted of killing 19-year-old Michelle Mitchell, who was found dead in a garage on the campus of the University of Nevada, Reno, in 1976.

While under psychiatric care at Louisiana State University Medical Center, Woods acknowledged killing Mitchell but later recanted. She was convicted of the murder in 1980, later won an appeal before the Nevada Supreme Court, and was convicted again in 1985.

Court documents filed Monday revealed DNA on a cigarette butt found at the crime scene matches that of Rodney L. Halbower, 66, an inmate currently serving time in Oregon for attempted murder.

The FBI said in a statement Monday that Halbower had been named as a person of interest in the killings of five young women in the San Francisco Bay Area in 1976 known as the “Gypsy Hill Murders.”

The agency said the DNA link to those cases had been established by crime labs in San Mateo County, California, and Washoe County, Nevada.

Halbower was first sentenced to prison in Nevada for sexually assaulting a female blackjack dealer in downtown Reno in November 1975, an attack that occurred roughly two months before Mitchell was killed a few blocks away.

It wasn’t immediately known if Halbower has an attorney. Oregon corrections officials couldn’t find one listed in any of his prison documents.

Pusich said Woods may have confessed to the killing because she wanted to be placed in a solitary room at the psychiatric hospital.

Woods’ brother, Al Carter, said Monday that his sister’s mental state appears to have improved.

“She’s looking better,” Carter said. “She’s more sound.”

A new trial is set for July 13, 2015.

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Information from: Reno Gazette-Journal, http://www.rgj.com

  • Crime & Justice
  • Society & Culture
  • University of Nevada, Reno
  • Reno Gazette-Journal
  • Michelle Mitchell

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