COLUMBIA — A judge considering whether to recommend a new trial for a Missouri man twice convicted for the 1990 death of his neighbor raised several questions Monday about letters to and from prosecutors that defense attorneys said weren't properly disclosed.
Mark Woodworth was 16 when the wife of his father's farming partner, Cathy Robertson, was shot and killed as she slept at her family's nearby rural home outside Chillicothe. Her husband, Lyndel Robertson, survived the shootings.
Woodworth was indicted by a grand jury in 1993, convicted at trial by a jury in 1995 and again by a second jury in a retrial four years later. But the Missouri Supreme Court ruled last year that Woodworth could present new testimony in his latest appeal. His attorney and a state prosecutor returned to a Boone County courtroom Monday, six months after a four-day hearing in Columbia.
Circuit Judge Gary Oxenhandler raised several questions about correspondence among state and local prosecutors and a grand jury judge. Woodworth's lawyer, Bob Ramsey, said the correspondence wasn't provided to previous defense attorneys.
In one letter, former Livingston County prosecutor Doug Roberts — who was replaced by special state prosecutor Kenny Hulshof after he declined to press charges against Woodworth — told a judge that Lyndel Robertson "was adamant" after the shooting that another suspect be charged. Robertson later testified that he had only named his oldest daughter's ex-boyfriend as a possible shooter.
The state Attorney General's Office argued that even if the three disputed letters weren't initially disclosed to Woodworth's attorneys, the documents contained no evidence that would have changed the outcome of the two earlier trials.
Oxenhandler wasn't so sure.
"There is a substantive issue as to whether Mr. Woodworth got a fair grand jury hearing," said the judge, who was appointed as a special master in the case by the Missouri Supreme Court. "In the best light, these letters suggest something nefarious was going on back there."
Woodworth, who is serving a life sentence without parole at the Crossroads Correctional Center in Cameron, did not attend Monday's hearing. But more than 30 of his supporters from Chillicothe joined Woodworth's parents and siblings for the 90-minute proceeding.
Lyndel Robertson and three of his daughters sat on the opposite side of the courtroom. They declined comment, but family spokeswoman Susan Ryan said the Robertsons remain adamant that the right person is behind bars.
"Two juries with different prosecutors, different defense attorneys, different judges, saw all the evidence and made a decision that he was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt," she said. "We have all the confidence in the world that this special master will look at the evidence and not be distracted."
Oxenhandler won't rule on Woodworth's guilt or innocence, but rather make a recommendation to the state Supreme Court as to whether he deserves a third trial.
After the hearing, both sides commended the judge for his attention to detail. At one point, a court administrator rolled a shopping cart crammed with spiral notebooks into the courtroom so Oxenhandler could consult previously submitted legal exhibits.
"I'm going to be poring over this," the judge said, referring to the case's voluminous files.