Cathy Woods, 64, who has been in prison for the last 30 years has received a new trial for a murder she was convicted of in 1976.  New DNA evidence of a cigarette butt found at the scene matches that of an unknown serial killer.  The new trial is set to begin in July of next year.  Woods was convicted of slashing the throat of Michelle Mitchell, 19 in a residential garage near the University of Nevada where Mitchell was a student.  Woods was convicted in 1980, but received a new trial.  At her second trial in 1985, she was convicted again.

A few years after the murder, Woods was under psychiatric care in Louisiana when she claimed to have killed a woman in Reno.  A nurse reported the story to authorities, who interviewed Woods.  She confessed to the crime.  Interestingly, police had not been able to solve Mitchell’s murder, which quickly went cold, and the community had been by all reports disturbed by the lack of arrest.  Woods later recanted her confession.  Woods has a history of mental illness being hospitalized at least 3 times in a matter of six months in 1976.  She was diagnosed with schizophrenia at the age of 13.

Her defense attorneys say that the details she supplied to police in her confession were all gleaned from news reports and that everything else was the ramblings of an ill woman.  Nonetheless, two juries believed her confession.  Now, DNA evidence indicates that an unknown serial killer was at the scene of Mitchell’s murder.

DNA analysis of a cigarette butt revealed the DNA of an unknown man who has been linked to numerous murders in the San Francisco Bay known as the Gypsy Hill Murders.  These crimes involved sexual assault and DNA obtained from semen matches the DNA obtained from the cigarette butt at Mitchell’s murder scene.  All of the Gypsy Hill murder victims resembled one another and Mitchell fits that profile.  An arrest has never been made in the serial killings.

In addition, there were only two sets of footprints found where Mitchell was killed.  One belonged to Mitchell and the other to a foot much larger than Woods.  Despite the lack of any evidence linking Woods to the crime, police and prosecutors have now stated that more than one person was involved.

Some experts speculate that had Woods’ trial been held today, a confession from a psychiatric patient combined with the DNA of an unknown male serial killer would have resulted in a dismissal.

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