Yesterday Missouri’s high court in a unanimous decision overturned the murder conviction and life sentence of Mark Woodworth, 37, in connection with the fatally shooting of Catherine Robertson and the wounding of her husband, Lyndel, as they slept in their home near Chillicothe, a town of less than 10,000 in northern Missouri. The court ruled that prosecutors had withheld evidence that would have been beneficial to Woodworth’s defense and ordered his release within 60 days of the finalized ruling, unless prosecutors file documents to retry him.
Attorney General Chris Koster indicated through a spokesperson later in the day that his office would retry Woodworth.
The Supreme Court’s decision followed the recommendation of Boone County Circuit Judge Gary Oxenhandler who had been appointed by the high court as a special master to hear Woodworth’s appeal. Reporting on Oxenhandler’s subsequent opinion, the Kansas City Star article (here) on May 1, 2012, said the judge called Woodworth a victim of “manifest injustice” and that there was “nothing fundamentally fair” in both the investigation and prosecution of the case.
In question was the conduct of public and private investigators, the trial judge, and prosecutors. “This court is skeptical that a jury of reasonable men and women, with a fair look, would find Woodworth guilty beyond a reasonable doubt,” Judge Oxenhandler concluded.
Woodworth was 16 years old at the time of the crime. He lived near the Robertson’s home, and his father farmed with the Roberston’s. Two juries convicted Woodworth of the crimes, but the case has divided the town of Chillicothe. According to the Huffington Post (here) the Robertson family called the high supreme court’s decision a miscarriage of justice.
In a Sept. 05, 2012, guest commentary for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (here) Sean D. O’Brien, associate professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law and board member of the Midwest Innocence Project, recommended that a new trial be granted by the high court. His commentary provides context to Judge Oxenhandler and his recommendation followed by the high court yesterday, “Judge Oxenhandler’s impeccable reputation as an intelligent, fair and thorough judge is probably why the Missouri Supreme Court chose him to hear Woodworth’s evidence. He found that the investigation was biased, important evidence was concealed and two juries were misled in order to convict Woodworth.”