Woodworth seeks venue change for third murder trial

Wednesday, June 5, 2013 | 7:39 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — A Chillicothe man facing a third murder trial in his neighbor's 1990 death is again asking to move the case to a neighboring county.

Mark Woodworth was first convicted of murder in 1995 for killing Cathy Robertson while she was asleep in her Livingston County home. Her husband Lyndel was also shot but survived. The case was moved to Clinton County because of extensive pretrial publicity.

After the first conviction was overturned on appeal, a second jury found Woodworth guilty four years later and sentenced him to life in prison. The Missouri Supreme Court overturned that conviction in January over evidence it said Woodworth and his previous lawyers never received.

Woodworth's defense lawyers filed a formal request Tuesday to move the upcoming trial 90 miles away to Platte County, in part because a Livingston County judge is also a potential witness. A hearing on the venue request change is scheduled for July 1. A Platte County judge is already assigned the case.

The venue change request also notes that Clinton County Circuit Clerk Molly Livingston was an alternate juror in Woodworth's first trial and has reportedly told her co-workers she thinks he's guilty.

While Missouri's court rules generally prohibit more than one venue change per case, defense attorney Bob Ramsey noted that judges have discretion to make such changes in the interest of "fundamental fairness."

Assistant attorney general Ted Bruce, the lead prosecutor, told Ramsey in an early February letter that he is not opposed to a venue change — including one that would be closer to Ramsey's office in the St. Louis area. Bruce mentioned St. Louis, St. Charles and Lincoln counties as possibilities, suggesting that the case has received less media coverage in eastern Missouri compared with the Kansas City and St. Joseph area.

But the state now opposes a venue change, said Nanci Gonder, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Chris Koster.

Woodworth was a 16-year-old high school dropout when the Robertsons were shot on a rural highway just west of Chillicothe.

In throwing out Woodworth's 1999 conviction, the Missouri Supreme Court cited a series of letters shared among Lyndel Robertson, the Livingston County judge who convened the grand jury and state and local prosecutors. Justices said the letters were never provided to Woodworth's attorneys.

In April, Ramsey unsuccessfully sought to compel Gov. Jay Nixon to testify in Woodworth's third murder trial. As attorney general, Nixon appointed special state prosecutor Kenny Hulshof to the Robertson case after the Livingston County prosecutor refused to press charges, citing his doubts about the case.

Hulshof went on to serve six terms in Congress, but his prosecutorial record has since come under scrutiny after a succession of court rulings questioning his courtroom behavior. Also, two men he helped convict for murder have been released after judges cited prosecutorial misconduct by Hulshof.

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