Convicted murderer denied bail, awaits Supreme Court ruling

Friday, May 11, 2012 | 5:50 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — A northwest Missouri man whose murder conviction was recently questioned by a Boone County judge will remain in prison while the state Supreme Court considers whether he should be freed or receive a new trial.

The high court on Friday denied without explanation Mark Woodworth's bail request, one day after the state Attorney General's Office filed a legal brief opposing his release.

Woodworth sought a temporary release after Boone County Circuit Judge Gary Oxenhandler ruled on May 1 that state prosecutors failed to turn over key evidence to Woodworth's lawyers and overlooked numerous conflicts of interest among prosecutors, judges and law enforcement members. Woodworth was 16 when his neighbor, Cathy Robertson, was shot to death in 1990 while sleeping in her home near Chillicothe. Her husband Lyndel survived the shooting and later testified against Woodworth, who is serving a life sentence for murder.

Oxenhandler, appointed by the Missouri Supreme Court in November 2010 as a special master to review the case, wrote that "there was nothing fundamentally fair about the investigation of the Robertson crimes, or in turn, Woodworth's prosecutions and convictions for those crimes." He called the conviction a "manifest injustice" that should be set aside.

Woodworth, whose father once farmed with Lyndel Robertson, was charged with the crime nearly three years after the shooting. He was convicted of killing Cathy Roberston in 1995 but won a new trial on appeal. A second jury again found him guilty in 1999.

In its petition to the Supreme Court, the state argued that Missouri laws don't allow for Woodworth's release on bail since he is pursuing a post-conviction appeal rather than awaiting trial or directly appealing a court ruling. Assistant Attorney General Stephen Hawke also said the state plans to file an objection to Oxenhandler's report by the end of the month, cataloging what it believes are errors. The state's response didn't address specific concerns it had with the lower court judge's findings.

That step will likely trigger a Supreme Court hearing on the appeal. The court will ultimately decide whether Woodward should be released on his claim of actual innocence or if the case should be sent back to local prosecutors in Livingston County to consider filing charges again and a possible third trial.

Oxenhandler said state prosecutors, including future Rep. Kenny Hulshof, 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. He determined that a former county sheriff allowed a private investigator hired by Lyndel Robertson to "inexcusably" lead the murder inquiry, and said the judge who oversaw grand jury proceedings acted like a prosecutor rather than an impartial arbiter.

Family spokeswoman Susan Ryan said the Robertsons are "thrilled" the Supreme Court denied Woodworth's request. She reiterated previous criticism of Oxenhandler's ruling as "judicial activism" and has called the appeal "a diversion tactic by the defense" that mischaracterized forensic evidence linking Woodworth to the crime.

On Friday, Jackie Woodworth said the family had hoped to see her son next at his childhood home rather than the Crossroads Correctional Center in Cameron. But after more than two decades in and out of court, she's resigned to waiting for the next step.

"It was disappointing," she said. "We're just kind of waiting again."

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