The Woodworth Trial: Key Players

| May 1, 2012 | 2:57 pm
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A judge ruled Tuesday that a Chillicothe man twice convicted in the 1990 slaying of a Livingston County woman was the victim of an “injustice.” Boone County Circuit Judge Gary Oxenhandler has asked that Mark Woodworth’s conviction be set aside, citing the prosecution’s failure to provide key evidence to Woodworth’s lawyers, according to court records obtained by KMZU News. Woodworth was 16 when his neighbor, Cathy Robertson, 41, was found shot to death in her rural Chillicothe home. Her husband survived the shooting.

Woodworth was first convicted by a jury in 1995, and then a second group of 12 people found the teen guilty four years later.  He is serving a life sentence in the Crossroads Correctional Center in Cameron.

The state Attorney General has 30 days to file objections to Oxenhandler’s report.  After the 30 days have elapsed, Woodworth’s fate will be in the hands of the Missouri State Supreme Court.

Click to hear KMZU’s Chelsea Wade talk with Susan Ryan, a spokesperson for the Robertson family:

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“We are absolutely crushed and sadden that the special master has established this opinion,” Ryan said in an interview Tuesday,  “The Robertsons absolutely believe [Woodworth] committed the murder.”

Key Witnesses in the Master’s Report

Woodworth alleges Judge Kenneth Lewis as one of the “focal points” for the seeking of his habeas corpus relief, the report said. Kenneth Lewis called the grand jury that indicted Woodworth, presided over the juvenile hearing that certified Woodworth as an adult, sought and obtained the appointment of Sepcial Prosecutor Kenny Hulshof to conduct the grand jury and prosecute Woodworth, selected the foreperson of the grand jury, John Cook, and when disqualified from the case, transferred the case to Judge Stephen Griffin. Judge Lewis was a partner in Cleaveland, Macoubrie, Lewis and Cox prior to returning to the bench.

Brent Elliott was a lawyer and an associate in Judge Lewis’ former law firm. The Master’s report said before, at and after the Robertson crimes, Elliott represented Judge Lewis on a personal basis. Elliot assisted Rochelle in her action against Thomure, represented Juvenile Officer Gam in the juvenile proceedings to certify Woodworth as an adult, represented or had a friendship with private investigator, Terry Deister. Judge Oxenhandler said there is no evidence before the Court that Elliott engaged in any improper or unethical conduct – no evidence was adduced.

Douglas Roberts was the duly elected Prosecuting Attorney for Livingston County. He had jurisdiction over the Robertson crimes. He was in a rift with Judge Lewis, the report said. Roberts self-disqualified himself from involvement in the Robertson crimes.

Victims Lyndel and Catherine Robertson were married with children, one of whom was Rochelle Robertson. Leading up to the time of the crimes, Rochelle, was in a “rocky romantic relationship” with Brandon Thomure. Court records indicate Thomure was “named” by Lyndel as the assailant. At the time of the crimes, the report said, Lyndel and Catherine had been in a “deteriorating” business relationship with their neighbors, Claude Woodworth and his wife.

Deputy Gary Calvert was the chief deputy primarily responsible for the “investigation of the crimes.” Calvert, according to records, had a special friendship with a private investigator, Deister. Judge Oxenhandler said Deister played “the” key role in the developing of the case against Woodworth.

Kenny Hulshof acted as prosecutor for the Woodworth grand jury. He reportedly prosecuted the first Woodworth trial. Rachel Smith prosecuted the second trial.

The Lewis Letters

“At the commencement of this habeas corpus action,” Judge Oxenhandler noted. “The primary focus of Woodworth’s claims was that in August 2009, Woodworth first-learned through news reporter Alan Zagier that letters were contained in the State’s files. Letters to Judge Lewis from Lyndel Robertson dated Setp. 24, 1993, a letter to Judge Lewis from Douglas Roberts (the Prosecuting Attorney) dated Oct. 5 1993, and a letter to Assistant Attorney General Kenny Hulshof from Judge Lewis dated Oct. 7, 1993.

Woodworth claimed the State had failed to disclose the “Lewis Letters.” Defense attorneys testified they never saw the letters until they learned of them no earlier than 2009, when they were publicized by Zagier, according to the Master’s report. “The failure to disclose the Lewis Letters and the inability of Woodworth’s defense counsel to use the [letters] and the evidence uncovered via the [letters] was highly prejudicial to Woodworth,” Judge Oxenhandler said in his report.

Conclusion

Judge Oxenhandler submitted the following closing remarks to the Missouri Supreme Court:

“It is this Court’s opinion that there was nothing fundamentally fair about the investigation of the Robertson crimes, or, in turn, Woodworth’s prosecutions and convictions for those crimes.  Woodworth’s verdict is not worthy of confidence… This is not a DNA case; nor is it a case where all of the key witnesses have recanted their stories.  This is a case where the process went bad… It is convincingly clear that our judicial process wronged Woodworth and that he deserves the relief that our judicial process affords: his conviction should be set aside, his case should be reviewed by an independent prosecutor exercising prosecutorial discretion, and, if it is determined that he should be retried, his trial should be presided over by an independent judge.”

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