PLATTE CITY — A judge refused Thursday to order Gov. Jay Nixon to testify in the third murder trial of a northwest Missouri man.
Platte County Circuit Judge Owens Lee Hull Jr. denied the motion by lawyers for Mark Woodworth following a brief hearing.
Woodworth is facing a retrial for the 1990 killing of Cathy Robertson, a neighbor in Chillicothe. He was convicted in 1995 but later freed on appeal. A second jury convicted him four years later and sentenced Woodworth to life in prison. But the state Supreme Court threw out that conviction in January, and Woodworth is now facing a third trial.
Woodworth sought to depose Nixon about his knowledge of a series of letters between state and local prosecutors, a Livingston County judge and Robertson's husband.
Nixon was the state's attorney general when Woodworth was indicted by a Livingston County grand jury two decades ago. The case was handled by a special state prosecutor, Kenny Hulshof, after the Livingston County prosecutor refused to press charges.
Assistant Attorney General Ronald Holliger, arguing for the state, told the judge Thursday there was "'no legitimate reason shown for the taking of Nixon's deposition and interruption of his official duties."
Woodworth's lawyer, Robert Ramsey, acknowledged afterward that the effort to compel Nixon's testimony was a long shot.
"Let's say it's an unusual set of legal circumstances and there's not a lot of legal precedent one way or another," Ramsey said.
Woodworth was a 16-year-old high school dropout when Robertson was fatally shot and her husband was wounded. In throwing out his 1999 conviction, the Missouri Supreme Court cited letters that were never provided to Woodworth's attorneys.
Attorney General Chris Koster's office has said that the matter of the letters is moot, since the Missouri Supreme Court already ruled on the issue. Court transcripts from Oct. 15, 1993, show that Nixon accompanied Hulshof to the grand jury hearing, but there's no further indication in public documents that he was otherwise directly involved in Woodworth's prosecution.
Woodworth is free on bond and attended Thursday's hearing.
"'I'm waiting for the next step," he said. "I think it's going to end up in my favor, but it's going to be a slow process."