Charges dismissed against Cathy Woods for 1976 murder

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RENO, Nev. (KOLO) - Justice has been served. After fighting a murder conviction for more than 30 years, Cathy Woods has finally had the charges against her dropped. She has been living with her brother since having her conviction overturned last September, but she still had murder charges against her, and was supposed to have a trial this summer. That changed on Friday, March 6, 2014.

Washoe County District Attorney Chris Hicks announced he is filing a motion to dismiss the case against Woods because DNA evidence has made it clear that Woods didn't kill 19-year-old Michelle Mitchell in 1976. It's a day Cathy Woods has waited 36 years for.

"It is our belief that the newly-discovered DNA evidence and the continued investigation in this case exonerate Cathy Woods in the murder of Michelle Mitchell," said Hicks. "My job as the district attorney is not to get convictions. It is to make sure justice is served and so I feel justice is being served today for Cathy Woods."

"She has been waiting for it since she made her statements in the hospital back in 1979," said Maize Pusich, Woods' attorney.

As a mental patient in 1979, Woods admitted to the1976 murder of Michelle Mitchell. No physical evidence was ever tied to woods, but she was still convicted two separate times.

In 2010, she petitioned the Innocence Project to take up her case and in 2013, DNA evidence tied Michelle Mitchell's murder to a serial killer from California. That man was later identified as Rodney Halbower.

"Without that evidence she would not have this opportunity. She wouldn't be home, she would not have the judge set aside her conviction. She would have not have Mr. Hicks dismissing," said Pusich.

District Attorney Chris Hicks and police said Friday they lay no blame on those who prosecuted and convicted Woods back in the 1980s. They say law enforcement investigations were different back then, they had different interview techniques, there was not DNA testing and, after all, Cathy Woods admitted to the crime.

"I don't know that I would characterize them as mistakes; Ms. Woods was convicted twice by a jury of her peers and so our system, while not perfect, is the best system in the world," said Deputy Chief Mac Venzon with Reno Police.

While there is finally justice for Cathy Woods, there is still no justice for Michelle Mitchell. The DNA found at her murder scene is said to be that of Rodney Halbower, who has still not been charged in her murder. Halbower is facing two murder charges related to the Gypsy Hill killings in the Bay Area. Those killings happened around the same time as Michelle Mitchell's murder.