California killer gets life in prison in case with Reno connection

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REDWOOD CITY, Calif. (AP/KOLO) - A career criminal thought to be the "Gypsy Hills Killer" has been sentenced to life in prison for raping and murdering two teenage girls in Northern California more than 40 years ago.

Rodney Halbower mugshot courtesy San Mateo County Sheriff's Office

The San Jose Mercury News says 70-year-old Rodney Halbower demanded a mistrial and was shouted at by the victims' family and friends after he was sentenced Wednesday in Redwood City.

Halbower was convicted last month of the 1976 killings of 17-year-old Paula Baxter and 18-year-old Veronica Cascio.

Authorities believe he raped and killed six women and girls - including a 14-year-old and a nursing student in Nevada - in 1976 but he was only charged with two murders.

The killer's nickname was based on the area of Pacifica, south of San Francisco, where one body was found.

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ORIGINAL STORY: A jury in Redwood City, California has found a man guilty of two killings.

69-year-old Rodney Halbower was charged with the murders of two young women in the South Bay area in 1976, but the trial is also being closely watched in Northern Nevada. Halbower has been identified as the prime suspect in the murder of UNR coed Michelle Mitchell during that same period.

Click for earlier stories about this case.

KOLO 8's Ed Pearce, in California for the verdict, says the decision almost certainly would turn on the DNA evidence. DNA corroborates the circumstantial evidence, but it’s what ties the two cases in the Bay Area to the murder, also in 1976, of UNR coed Michelle Mitchell. It was the examination of DNA left at that crime scene that exonerated Cathy Woods, who served more than 30 years for Mitchell’s murder and eventually pointed to Halbower.

The question is will he ever face that evidence in a Reno courtroom.
Michelle Mitchell’s family is determined to see that happen, and is in court for this case.

Jurors began deliberations early Tuesday afternoon, a week and a half after trial began. The guilty verdict came just hours later. Sentencing is set for October 10 in California.