Bombshell: DNA No Match For Woman Convicted of Murder 38 Years Ago


Cathy Woods was convicted of the murder of a 19-year-old UNR coed more than 30 years ago. DNA left at the scene doesn

Michelle Mitchell

RENO, NV - The evening of February 24, 1976, 19-year-old UNR sophomore Michelle Mitchell was leaving the campus.

She had car trouble and called her parents. Her mother came to the scene, but she was nowhere to be found.

Hours later a couple living nearby opened the door to their small garage to a horrifying sight. Michelle Mitchell... her hands bound, her throat cut.

Just four days before, another woman, Peggy Davis, who worked in a local topless bar, had been found stabbed and bludgeoned.

The question on everyone's mind: Was a psychopathic slayer stalking local women?

The topless bar owner and two women who worked for him would eventually be arrested for Davis' murder. Mitchell's case remained unsolved, though the suspicion that the two cases were linked would remain.

Three years passed before a 29-year-old mental health patient in Louisiana told a hospital worker she had killed a girl named Michelle in Reno, and allegedly said she had done it for Satan.

Cathy Woods would be tried and retried, convicted twice for Mitchell's murder.

She's behind bars today at the Women's Correctional Center in Las Vegas. But recently she asked that her DNA be tested with that found at the murder scene.

DNA was apparently found on a cigarette butt and it didn't match hers.

But as revealed Thursday at a press conference in the Bay Area, it did match the DNA in a series of unsolved murders there.

Those cases, called the Gypsy Hill Killings, also involved young women, some of whom had car trouble at the time of their murders..

A task force has been set up to reexamine and investigate those cases along with Michelle Mitchell's death.

Meanwhile, all of this sheds a different light on Cathy Woods' conviction.

It's safe to say she did not present as a sympathetic defendant at the time. She was a self-professed lesbian, manager of a topless bar just down the street from the one connected to the Davis murder.

In addition, she resembled a composite drawing of a person seen in the area of Mitchell's murder and there was that confession, though she recanted it before her first trial.

But the validity of that confession was in question and she was mentally ill, possibly preventing her from fully participating in her defense.

So, was justice done decades ago?

There are two points of view.

The case was first prosecuted by former District Attorney Cal Dunlap, who told us he always believed there were at least two persons involved, and this new news does not mean Cathy Woods had nothing to do with Michelle Mitchell's murder.

"I don't see how someone could tie a person's hands behind her while holding her with a knife."

"With respect to Cal, I disagree," says Woods' attorney at her second trial. "I think the evidence clearly shows one person at the crime scene and clearly that wasn't Cathy Woods."

He says he always believed she was innocent. "This is why," he says, "we have DNA."

A motion has been filed seeking a new trial for Cathy Woods.

She's being held at The Florence McClure Correctional Center in Las Vegas.

Hotchkin says she's schizophrenic and in poor physical health.


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