RENO, NV - Now that a Washoe County judge has ordered a new trial for a woman in prison three decades for the killing of a UNR coed, that woman has been released from prison custody. She and her brother are headed to Southern California, where her family lives.
District Judge Patrick Flanagan ruled Monday, September 8, 2014, that Cathy Woods will face a new trial in July 2015. She was released from custody three days later.
As expected, Woods' defense argued recent DNA evidence indicated someone else was responsible for the 1976 killing of Michelle Mitchell near the University of Nevada, Reno.
A several-year task force investigation indicates 66-year-old Rodney Halbower is now suspected in the murder of Mitchell and several women in northern California, based on DNA evidence from a cigarette butt. He is in prison in Oregon on attempted murder charges. District attorneys in Washoe County and California will now look at extraditing him to face local murder charges.
Based on the forensic links between a number of the cases, the time frame of the murders, and the methods used by the offender to commit these crimes, investigators are confident all of the crimes were committed by the same offender. Law enforcement is asking the public for any information concerning any of the individual unsolved cases, including any connections between the California and Reno cases. Law enforcement officers will be canvassing a number of areas to determine whether anyone has any information.
The FBI San Francisco Field Office will be coordinating all tips and leads. Anyone with information is urged to contact 415-553-7400 then press 0 and advise it is in regards to the Gypsy Hill cases. All calls are confidential.
In November of 1975, Halbower was arrested for the violent rape of a 33-year-old Reno 21 dealer. He was released on bail and barely a month later, a string of murders of young women in the Bay Area which became known as the Gypsy Hill Murders began. February 24th, Michelle Mitchell's car broke down near the university. Her body was found hours later in a nearby garage. A little over a month later, Halbower was back in custody and the murders stopped.
Reno police now say there is no evidence, other than a recanted confession, that links Woods to the murder of Michelle Mitchell in 1976.
Woods was a psychiatric patient in Louisiana in1979 when she confessed to the murder, but she later took that back, and has claimed innocence ever since.