RENO, Nevada — Defense lawyers were granted a delay Thursday after telling a judge that a new round of DNA tests would prove the innocence of a Nevada woman who has spent decades in prison after being convicted of a murder in the 1976 slaying of a nursing student.
Cathy Woods initially confessed but has long maintained that she didn't kill Michelle Mitchell, who was found tied up with her throat slashed in the garage of a home near the University of Nevada, Reno.
New evidence emerged months ago that FBI officials say connects Mitchell's death to unsolved 1970s-era killings of five young women in California known as the "Gypsy Hill murders."
Washoe District Judge Patrick Flanagan was expected to consider the evidence Thursday as part of a defense request for a new trial, but Woods' lawyers said that they had uncovered additional details that would bolster their case if they were allowed time to finish DNA testing. Prosecutors didn't object, and Flanagan continued the matter to Sept. 8.
Authorities recently confirmed a cigarette butt links someone other than Woods to the crime scene.
A cigarette lighter, a pair of shoes and a piece of twine also may match DNA on the cigarette, public defender Maizie Pusich said Thursday.
At previous trials, prosecutors have argued that the cigarette lighter discovered the night of the crime had belonged to Woods, Pusich said, adding that they think the new evidence "will establish it, in fact, was not Ms. Woods'."
"We certainly want to know if it is tied to the other DNA," Pusich said.
Deputy Reno Police Chief Mac Venzon has said the genetic material on the cigarette doesn't connect Woods to the killing. However, he said it doesn't exclude her either, because authorities think she may have had an accomplice.
Pusich said earlier that investigators had tied the cigarette butt to two other murder cases, and the FBI announced in March that the DNA matches that of semen gathered in a new review of the San Francisco Bay Area's Gypsy Hill slayings.
This is the second delay on whether Woods deserves a new trial. Prosecutors were granted a continuance in May to have more time to review evidence.
"If we have the wrong person in prison, I want to fix it," assistant district attorney Terry McCarthy had said at the time. "And I want to fix it quickly, but we also have to do it right."
Woods was convicted in 1980 and again five years later. The convictions were based largely on a confession she made in 1979 at a Louisiana psychiatric hospital where she had been committed months earlier. She was at the hospital for psychiatric care that was not related to any crime.
Court transcripts from previous trials show there was heated debate about whether her confession should have been allowed as evidence since she was being treated for an unspecified psychiatric condition, Pusich said at a May hearing.
Woods later recanted the confession, but Pusich has said that defense attorneys couldn't convince the jury to disregard her earlier comments.
"Now there is scientific evidence that shows that the jury should not have accepted everything that Cathy Woods said from the hospital in Shreveport at face value," she said in a court filing Thursday.