Convicted Of Murder 34 Years Ago, Woman Waits For DNA To Free Her

RENO, NV - DNA evidence may still free a woman convicted of the murder of a Reno coed more than three decades ago, but we'll have to wait a little longer for that answer.

Cathy Woods was back in Washoe District Court Thursday, August 21, 2014, looking drawn and aged by her 36 years in custody, barely recognizable as the woman who was twice convicted of the 1976 murder of Michelle Mitchell.

Until earlier this year that case seemed closed forever. The community had every reason to believe that the person responsible for one of Reno's most frightening murders had been locked away for life.

But a reexamination of the physical evidence in the case cast that conviction in doubt.

DNA found on a cigarette butt found by Michelle Mitchell's foot and under her fingernails didn't match Woods. It did match an unidentified man responsible for a series of murders of young women in the Bay Area at the same time.

A multi-agency task force is now looking for him.

Woods' attorney, Public Defender Maizie Pusich, is pressing for a new trial or her client's release. That didn't happen Thursday.

Pusich asked for two more weeks while tests are completed on a pair of man's shoes taken from a person of interest during the original investigation, the twine with which Mitchell was bound and a cigarette lighter found nearby.

Judge Patrick Flanagan granted the extra time. All parties will meet back in court on Monday September 8th.

The decision disappointed Woods' brother, who had made the long trip to Reno from Los Angeles.

"I was hoping we could reach some kind of resolution. It's been going on for a long time and I know there's frustration on our part. Our sister's been locked for so long and my heart actually goes out to the family too because after so many years they don't know what's happened to their loved one too."

That empathy comes from Carter's own life experience. He says another of Woods' brothers was killed in a carjacking.

He says he will be back in Reno September 8th.

Deputy District Attorney Luke Prengamen indicated depending on the results of the tests he may call additional witnesses at that time.

The DA's office has contended that the lack of any of Woods' DNA at the scene doesn't necessarily clear her of any involvement in the crime.

Cal Dunlap, the prosecutor at Woods' first trial, says he always believed more than one person was involved.

Still, pending some startling results from these latest tests, in a new trial the prosecution would be left with the confession, later recanted, that Woods gave while a patient at a Louisiana mental health institute and a crime scene that seems to include only two sets of footprints and DNA, Michelle Mitchell's and her killer, apparently a man.


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