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'Missing' grand jury records turn up in Missouri murder

Wednesday, August 5, 2009 | 6:57 p.m. CDT; updated 9:18 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, May 31, 2011

CHILLICOTHE — Copies of 16-year-old grand jury court transcripts that a judge ruled did not exist have been located by The Associated Press in the case of a man convicted of the 1990 murder of a neighbor.

A defense attorney for Mark Woodworth wants the transcripts in order to scrutinize the courtroom conduct of the prosecutor who presented evidence to the grand jury. He also alleges that the judge who convened the grand jury had a conflict of interest.

Woodworth was indicted by the grand jury in 1993 for the murder of farm wife Cathy Robertson. Investigators said Woodworth, 16 at the time of the slaying, used his father's gun to shoot his neighbor while she slept. He was convicted two years later and released after a successful appeal, but is serving a life sentence after a second jury found him guilty in 1999.

His lawyers were told in 1994 that they could review the grand jury transcripts, which by law are sealed. But after a decade of trying, they were rebuffed by Livingston County Circuit Judge Stephen Griffin. He ruled in January 2004 that the court reporter "did not transcribe the evidence as it was given, and therefore, no transcriptions of same were completed."

However, a review by The Associated Press of trial records kept in the state Attorney General's Office found copies of at least a portion of the testimony. Woodworth's father also says he was provided with a copy of his grand jury testimony soon afterward. And a November 1993 letter to Woodworth's original attorney from the state notes that testimony from Claude Woodworth and his wife Jackie was recorded.

An AP investigation of the Woodworth case showed that investigators discounted or didn't fully explore evidence pointing to other possible suspects. Defense attorney Bob Ramsey said he plans to file new motions based on The AP's findings, including the discovery of the transcripts.

He called the disclosure "another example of the system having a difficult time admitting that they made any mistakes."

Ramsey said the transcripts could reveal details about how former special state prosecutor Kenny Hulshof characterized ballistics evidence linking Woodworth to his father's gun. Lyndel Robertson, the victim's husband and Claude Woodworth's farming partner, survived the shooting. A bullet removed from his liver led authorities to focus on the Woodworth gun.

According to the state's forensic experts, microscopic markings on Claude Woodworth's gun matched that bullet. But the experts acknowledged that the link was probable, not conclusive.

During opening arguments in Woodworth's second trial, state prosecutor Rachel Smith called the ballistics evidence "conclusive."

Ramsey is further challenging the legality of the grand jury based on the role of now-retired Circuit Judge Kenneth Lewis, whom he said had a conflict of interest involving a property dispute with county leaders.

Several Livingston County commissioners were facing grand jury indictments for alleged misconduct while in office. At the same time, Lewis was involved in a civil lawsuit against the commissioners over a zoning action against a road that bordered some rural property he owned.

Lewis did not preside over either of Woodworth's trials. But when local prosecutor Doug Roberts refused to bring the case to the grand jury over concerns that the evidence was weak, Lewis removed him and appointed Hulshof from the Missouri Attorney General's Office.

As a special state prosecutor, Hulshof handled high-profile murder cases in small Missouri communities that often lacked experienced local prosecutors. He went on to serve six terms in the U.S. House and lost the 2008 gubernatorial election to Democrat Jay Nixon — his one-time boss in the state Attorney General's Office. He now works for a Kansas City-based law firm.

Griffin, who is now in private practice, declined to discuss his 2004 denial of the request for grand jury record since Woodworth's conviction remains under appeal. Hulshof did not respond to a request for comment, and Lewis could not be immediately reached Wednesday.

 


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