COLUMBIA — A local prosecutor's doubts about evidence and a shooting victim's demands that another suspect be charged with the crime justify a new hearing for convicted murderer Mark Woodworth, his attorney argues in a new motion.
Attorney Bob Ramsey filed a request Wednesday with the Missouri Court of Appeals in Kansas City asking for a new circuit court hearing in northwest Missouri. Woodworth is appealing a life sentence he received a decade ago for the 1990 murder of his neighbor, Chillicothe farm wife Cathy Robertson, and the shooting of her husband, Lyndel Robertson. Woodworth was 16 at the time.
The motion suggests Woodworth's defense attorneys didn't know that Robertson wrote a letter asking a circuit judge to remove former Livingston County prosecutor Doug Roberts from the case because he showed "a lack of enthusiasm" in prosecuting Woodworth.
"It goes without saying that this letter should have been provided in discovery to the defense as exculpatory evidence," Ramsey wrote in an accompanying letter to Attorney General Chris Koster. He asked Koster, who took office this year, to investigate the matter.
When Roberts declined to charge Woodworth, a Livingston County presiding judge instead summoned special state prosecutor Kenny Hulshof from the Attorney General's Office.
A Koster spokeswoman declined comment since the office had not received the request as of Thursday afternoon. Roberts, who is now in private practice, did not return a telephone call seeking comment. Hulshof, who after leaving the Attorney General's Office spent six terms in Congress and was the 2008 Republican nominee for governor, declined to comment. He is also in private practice now.
A five-month Associated Press investigation of the case published earlier this month found investigators discounted or did not fully explore some evidence pointing to other suspects. Woodworth was charged nearly three years after the shootings based on the discovery of a single fingerprint found on an ammunition box inside Robertson's shed and a common manufacturing defect in his father's handgun.
Livingston County Sheriff Steve Cox — who played a limited role in the original investigation nearly two decades ago — has said he plans to take a new look at the case in response to the AP's findings. Cox said Thursday that he wants to consult with Mike Koenig, Roberts' successor as county prosecutor, before formally reopening the case.
Woodworth's father Claude was Lyndel Robertson's longtime farming partner before the shooting. The partners split after Robertson accused Claude Woodworth of involvement in his wife's death.
After Hulshof's appointment, Woodworth was indicted by a grand jury and convicted by a Clinton County jury in 1995. He won a new trial after an appeals court ruled that jurors were entitled to hear evidence that Robertson initially identified his oldest daughter's abusive ex-boyfriend as the likely shooter.
A second jury found Woodworth guilty in 1999 and sentenced him to four consecutive life terms plus 15 years. Two of those jurors told the AP they still have doubts about Woodworth's guilt and were pressured into their decision by other jurors.
In his letter to Cox, Ramsey notes that Roberts "would have been a key defense witness" had his reticence about Woodworth's guilt been previously known. The request for a new trial also includes a 2006 deposition transcript in which Lyndel Robertson denies knowledge of Roberts' decision not to prosecute.