COLUMBIA — A Chillicothe man whose murder conviction in the 1990 slaying of a rural neighbor was recently overturned wants the state Supreme Court to remove the attorney general's office from the case.
Mark Woodworth is asking the high court to prevent Attorney General Chris Koster from putting Woodworth on trial for a third time. He is serving a life sentence in the fatal shooting of Cathy Robertson. Woodworth was 16 when the wife of his father's business partner was killed. Lyndel Robertson survived the attack.
In a 6-0 decision, the court ruled in early January that two former state prosecutors, including future Missouri congressman Kenny Hulshof, failed to share evidence that could have benefited Woodworth's defense. The ruling followed a similar conclusion by a Boone County judge who also recommended review by an independent prosecutor.
Woodworth's lawyer filed a motion Tuesday seeking that independent review or allowing the current Livingston County prosecutor to decide whether to file new charges. Hours later, Koster's office filed its own notice of its intent to retry Woodworth, who was first convicted in 1995. He was then briefly released on appeal but convicted by a second jury four years later.
At issue now is whether the state retains the legal authority to decide Woodworth's fate.
Hulshof was assigned to the case more than two decades ago after then-county prosecutor Doug Roberts said he didn't have solid evidence to charge Woodworth and asked to be removed from the case because of pressure from a judge and Lyndel Robertson to file charges. A series of letters outlining his concerns were among the potentially exculpatory documents the Supreme Court said were never shared with Woodworth.
Adam Warren, the current Livingston County prosecutor, did not immediately respond to an interview request Tuesday afternoon. He has previously suggested that the decision on whether to retry Woodworth belongs to the state, not his office.
But in several other recent Missouri court rulings that overturned convictions, local prosecutors — not the state — had the final say on whether to press ahead.
In February 2009, the Scott County prosecutor declined to file new charges after a Cole County judge ruled that Josh Kezer wrongly spent 17 years in prison in the 1992 death of a southeast Missouri nursing student. That decision came just one day after the ruling by Judge Richard Callahan, now a federal prosecutor in St. Louis.
Dale Helmig, a house painter who served 14 years in prison for his mother's slaying, waited nine months after his murder conviction was tossed in November 2010 before the Osage County prosecutor decided to not file new charges. Both he and Kezer were also prosecuted by Hulshof, who handled the cases as a special state prosecutor assigned to help overmatched, small-town colleagues. The attorney general then was Jay Nixon, now Missouri's governor.
Koster's office did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday. After the high court's Jan. 8 ruling, Koster spokeswoman Nanci Gonder said the ruling was based on a procedural error rather than a determination of Woodworth's guilt.
"It is important to note the (Missouri Supreme Court) did not find the defendant innocent," she said. "The judge found that discovery errors occurred that call into question the reliability of the verdict. There is a significant difference between the two."
The ruling ordered Woodworth released within 60 days of when its decision is finalized, barring the decision to seek new charges. Woodworth's attorney is seeking his release on bond pending a decision on the latest legal motions.