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Reno District Attorney Dismisses Case Of Wrongfully Convicted Inmate

| by Kendal Mitchell

The district attorney from Reno, Nevada, said in a statement on Friday he has decided not to retry a 64-year-old inmate in prison for murder after new DNA evidence exonerated her for the crime.

Chris Hicks, Washoe County district attorney, said he dismissed Cathy Woods' retrial for the 1976 fatal stabbing of Michelle Mitchell.

Woods, now 64, spent the last 30 years in prison after two judges convicted her of committing Mitchell’s murder while on the University of Nevada, Reno, campus. According to court records, Woods confessed to the crime while in a psychiatric hospital, but later recanted her statement.

Last fall, however, a judge threw out her confession after new DNA evidence showed she was not at the crime scene.

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Prosecutors in earlier trials said Woods provided information to the police only the killer would know. Woods’ attorneys said they tried to show that she could have found the information from newspaper reports, but the judge refused to allow them to present their argument.

Public Defender Maizie Pusich said the original jury should not have taken Woods' confession at face value because of her mental state.

“I’m told it was a product of wanting to get a private room,” Pusich said. “She was being told she wasn’t sufficiently dangerous to qualify, and within a short period she was claiming she had killed a woman in Reno.”

New evidence suggests Mitchell’s killer was a former Oregon prison inmate recently charged with murdering two women near San Francisco. The killings, known as the “Gypsy Hill murders," occurred around the same time as Mitchell’s death.

In January, prosecutors said they extradited Oregon inmate Rodney Halbower, 66, to San Mateo County, California, to charge him for the 1976 murders of Paula Louise Baxter and Veronica “Ronnie” Anne Cascio, then 17 and 18 years old, respectively.

Sources: Reno Gazette-Journal, New York Post / Photo Credit: Reno Gazette-Journal