COLUMBIA — A northwest Missouri man whose murder conviction was recently deemed "a manifest injustice" by a judge asked to be released from prison Wednesday while the state Supreme Court considers his case.
Mark Woodworth was twice convicted and sentenced to life in prison for the 1990 death of his neighbor, Cathy Robertson, who was fatally shot in her farm house in Chillicothe. A county judge who was asked by the high court to review the case determined that prosecutors withheld key evidence and recommended that Woodworth, who was 16 at the time of the murder, be given a new trial or set free.
Woodworth's lawyer asked the Supreme Court to release him on bail while justices decide how to proceed. The petition notes that Woodworth has a clean conduct record at Crossroads Correctional Center in Cameron, save for one minor infraction.
Quoting Tuesday's ruling by Boone County Circuit Judge Gary Oxenhandler, attorney Bob Ramsey noted that the judge had "found clear and convincing evidence that a 'manifest injustice' occurred and that 'Woodworth's constitutionally guaranteed judicial process was ignored.'"
Oxenhandler's ruling chastised investigators, prosecutors and a judge for their initial handling of the case. He recommended that Woodworth's convictions be tossed out and that he be given a new trial or released from prison.
Oxenhandler determined that a former county sheriff allowed a private investigator hired by the victim's husband, Lyndel Robertson, to "inexcusably" lead the murder inquiry and said the judge who oversaw grand jury proceedings acted like a prosecutor.
Oxenhandler also said state prosecutors failed to provide Woodworth's previous attorneys with copies of letters between a Livingston County judge, state and local prosecutors and Lyndel Robertson that cast doubt on Woodworth's guilt. Lyndel Robertson also was shot but survived the attack in his home.
Woodworth was charged nearly three years after the shootings, with prosecutors basing their case on a fingerprint found on an ammunition box inside Robertson's shed and a common manufacturing defect in his father's handgun.
Woodworth's father farmed with Lyndel Robertson.