Near Chillicothe, murder of Cathy Robertson still murky decades later

Wednesday, March 21, 2012 | 7:50 p.m. CDT

CHILLICOTHE — Twenty-two years later, a Livingston County woman's murder still lingers in conversations and on the minds of citizens as the case might reach a third trial.

Convicted of murder in 1995, released and found guilty again in 1999, Mark Woodworth has been a name that often gets thrown around in areas such as Chillicothe every time an appeal is filed by his attorney.

The case is one that has haunted the community since the Nov. 13, 1990, shooting, when a person broke into the house of Cathy and Lyndel Robertson, located outside the city limits, about midnight. Entering the couple's bedroom, the suspect shot and killed Cathy Robertson, while Lyndel Robertson survived with bullet wounds through his mouth, cheek, neck and shoulder.

Depending on to whom you talk, several arguments remain, most importantly Woodworth's guilt or innocence, whether testimony concerning hidden evidence brought up in 2011 is relevant, and if this still remains an issue with most people.

In November, a hearing in Boone County with Bob Ramsey, Woodworth's attorney, and a prosecutor showed several pieces of evidence, including letters and correspondence, that the defense alleged wasn't provided to them. In one, Douglas Roberts, prosecutor in the first trial, suggested another suspect be charged in the case.

"There is a substantive issue as to whether Woodworth got a fair grand jury hearing," Circuit Judge Gary Oxenhandler, who was appointed a special master in the case, said in November. "In the best light, these letters suggest something nefarious was going on back there."

Judge Oxenhandler's office said he is still reviewing evidence before making a decision on whether Woodworth receives a retrial.

Woodworth is serving four consecutive life sentences plus 15 years in prison after being found guilty by a jury in 1999.

One of the major contributing pieces of evidence in the case was a fingerprint found in Robertson's shed, matching that of Woodworth.

Several leads were either thrown out or discounted. In a deposition, Terry Deister, a private investigator hired by Robertson, said a person reported seeing a truck outside the house the night of the killing. But Deister said it was too dark for anyone to make out a vehicle.

"We stayed outside. We allowed for our pupils to adjust to the light and everything and just couldn't see it," he said.

It was noted that Woodworth's father and Robertson were in business together at the time of the crime, so the families knew each other.

Another person, Brandon Thomure, now known as Brandon Hagan, was named by Robertson to then-prosecutor Roberts as a suspect in the original trial.

Known to have a violent past before and while dating Rochelle Robertson, Robertson's daughter, Thomure was known to have gotten into squabbles with the family, including punching Rochelle and vandalizing her car. In a deposition, a mother of a friend of his reported hearing him argue with Cathy Robertson on the telephone.

"He got so mad and he says: I ought to come out here and kill you," she said.

After the shooting, Rochelle Robertson was granted a restraining order, stating she was receiving harassing telephone calls from Thomure and that she believed he may have been the person who killed her mother and shot her father.

Never tried as a suspect, Thomure continued to claim his innocence to MSNBC in 2011.

"I never did it. They made a judgment in that courtroom. Not once, but twice. I told them everything I knew," he said.

Although the Robertson family could not be reached for comment, a website, titled Peace for Cathy, was set up to address their thoughts on the case.

Believing justice has been served and Woodworth was the true killer, the family breaks down the case point-by-point, claiming the person many believed to be the quiet, well-behaved 16-year-old with no friends was not as he appeared.

"Mark's hatred for my parents and his statements about the murder, combined with the physical evidence, led prosecutors to charge and two juries to convict him of this violent crime," the site stated.

The family stated that despite the letter the defense said may have been suppressed, there is no new evidence to present. "Despite the allegations of the defense, they cannot prove the letters were not turned over to counsel in previous years. In addition, the defense team agreed with Judge Oxenhandler and the state that the letters would never have been admitted into evidence and they had no bearing on the outcome of the conviction," they state.

The two sides bleed into an argument some say is brushed under the table until the case receives media attention, while others said it's a constant conversation.

"I'm on the street probably as much as anybody. I'm a lifelong resident of this community and I've been mayor for three terms. If anybody's going to hear some discussion, (it's me)," Chillicothe Mayor Chuck Haney said. "It's been quiet since a number of people went to Columbia last fall."

Speaking to the contrary, Eva Danner Horton, presiding commissioner for Livingston County, said it's almost a daily topic.

"I don't know if I feel like it ever really died down. I feel like it's always kind of been there," she said. "That was a huge event that happened in our community. There is still a lot of discussion about it,"

Whether it's caused a schism in the community depends on who is talking.

"It has split the community, and unfortunately so, and people are looking for it to be resolved. Not that it will ever be completely resolved," Todd Rodenberg, western district commissioner for Livingston County, said.

With many new developments in terms of businesses and expansion, Haney doesn't believe that to be the truth.

"As far as affecting the city — no. We've got more positive things going on in this community than any 10,000 population community in the state of Missouri," he said.

Those who have testified and claim innocence for Woodworth, such as Chillicothe residents Bob Fairchild, a person who served as a witness in the recent retrial hearings, and Dale Whiteside, said there's no division. "There's no argument that I can see," Fairchild said.

One thing not being argued is the feelings towards the Robertson family for their tragic loss — trials, hearings and depositions aside.

"I've told Robertson, and I'll say it a hundred times, nobody could ever even imagine how hurtful that experience was in their life," Livingston County Sheriff Steve Cox said.

With a decision still pending, many hope this will be the one to put the debate and lingering hard feelings to rest.

"I think both sides want to really feel like the truth has been reached, that there could be an answer that people believe," Rodenberg said.

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