By Curtis Skinner
(Reuters) - A woman who has spent more than three decades incarcerated for a 1976 Nevada killing she says she did not commit has won her bid for a retrial with new DNA evidence and will be freed from prison in the meantime, her attorney said on Monday.
A Washoe County judge granted the retrial for Cathy Woods, 64, who has recanted her confession and claims she was wrongly convicted in 1985 of slaying 19-year-old University of Nevada student Michelle Mitchell, said public defender Maizie Pusich.
The victim was found with her throat slashed in a garage across from the university parking lot in Reno.
The judge reviewing the case was persuaded in part by DNA evidence recovered from a cigarette butt found lying next to Mitchell's body that tied her slaying to an Oregon prison inmate serving time for attempted murder in an unrelated case, Pusich said.
The DNA also has linked the Oregon inmate to at least two of five unsolved killings in the San Francisco Bay Area known as the Gypsy Hill murders, which are currently being probed by an FBI task force, Pusich said.
The FBI has confirmed that all five Gypsy Hill killings and the slaying of Mitchell are under investigation by a team of federal agents.
"It means a great deal. People are starting to question whether or not (Woods) was ever responsible," Pusich said.
Pusich said Woods falsely admitted to the Mitchell killing while in a Louisiana mental hospital because she wanted a single room to herself.
At Monday's hearing, the judge authorized Woods to be released from prison on her own recognizance to live with family members in California while she awaits the new trial, which was set to begin on July 13, 2015.
Final arrangements for her release have yet to be made, however, Pusich said.
Woods was originally found guilty in 1981, but the conviction was overturned on appeal, Pusich said. She was retried and convicted again in 1985 and lost her subsequent appeal, according to Pusich.
She has remained in custody since 1979, Pusich said.
The local prosecutor's office could not be immediately reached for comment on Monday.
"If we have the wrong person in prison, I want to fix it and I want to fix it quickly, but we have to do it right," Washoe County Deputy District Attorney Terrence McCarthy told the Reno Gazette Journal in May as the case was under review.
(Reporting by Curtis Skinner from San Francisco; Editing by Steve Gorman and Ken Wills)