Family members, friends, and supporters of Mark Woodworth, who has been behind bars for most of the last 20 years, gathered at the Livingston County Sheriff's office Friday afternoon to welcome home someone whom they say was wrongfully convicted and never should have gone to prison in the first place.
Woodworth, 38, was released on a $50,000 bond as the state plans to retry him for the 1990 shooting death of Catherine Robertson and the criminal assault on her husband, Lyndel. This would be Woodworth's third trial.
Woodworth arrived at the sheriff's office around noon on Friday, being transported from the Daviess DeKalb County Regional Jail. After meeting privately with a few friends and family members, he exited the sheriff's office around 1 p.m., walking into a crowd of media members, relatives and supporters.
"I am overwhelmed," Woodworth said, noting that there were a lot of things to do and see now that he had been released. He hugged many people in the group.
"I am thankful for all the support," he said. "They are the ones that kept me going. I am speechless."
Woodworth went to his family's rural Chillicothe home on Friday, the first time since November 1999. He spent the weekend visiting with friends and relatives, shopping, going out to eat and spending time with family members he never before had met.
"It feels great," he said Sunday evening, after activity at the Woodworth home had slowed. "It finally happened."
Many of those who visited were family members from Illinois. The Robertsons and Woodworths' parents, Claude and Jackie, moved together from Illinois and began a farming partnership in Chillicothe in the mid-1970s. They lived near each other off of Missouri Route 190, west of town.
Woodworth spent some of the weekend also playing fetch with three of the dogs he trained while incarcerated at Crossroads Correctional Center. His parents adopted two of the dogs and a sister adopted the third.
Woodworth, the oldest of seven children in his family, had been behind bars since his grand jury indictment in 1993. He was released on a $500,000 bond in 1997 and returned to the family farm, staying until 1999, when he was convicted a second time.
Woodworth said that he has no big plans while he is out on bond.
"I will take it day by day," he said.
He said that he intends to start working at the family's welding shop, working on trailers. For 12 years, he worked in the prison's welding shop.
Woodworth's attorney, Bob Ramsey, said Woodworth did not get a fair trial either time, largely because the prosecution suppressed information that would have supported his defense. Part of that information included letters among the county prosecutor, the circuit judge and Lyndel Robertson. In one letter, the county prosecutor indicated that Robertson, at one point, had been adamant that an ex-boyfriend of one of the Robertson daughters be charged for the shooting crimes. Yet, in a following letter to Lewis, Robertson declared that injustice would not be served until the judge brought the evidence against Woodworth before a grand jury.
Page 2 of 3 - "When a victim identifies somebody else... and goes over and demands that this person be prosecuted and then changes his mind, it raises a huge cloud of doubt as to anybody else who would ultimately be charged," Ramsey said.
Ramsey thanked several people who helped make Woodworth's release occur, including Associated Press reporter Alan Scher Zagier, who first reported details of the suppressed correspondence.
Ramsey, from the St. Louis area, has been Woodworth's attorney for 11 years, and said that he had never handled a case such as this.
"It feels like a big weight has been lifted off my shoulders," Ramsey said. "It is a very moving experience to me."
The Missouri Attorney General's office has indicated that it plans to retry Woodworth.
In a statement issued Friday, Missouri Attorney General Press Secretary Nanci Gonder stated that the office will follow a standard protocol, filing the necessary paperwork to "preserve the rights of the county that initially requested prosecution.
"Second," she said, "there is a thorough review of the evidence to ensure the evidence has been preserved by the local jurisdiction and that retrial remains a legally responsible decision.
"Lastly, this office makes a final decision regarding the appropriateness of continued prosecution," she stated.
Gonder also stated that it was important to note that the Supreme Court did not find the Woodworth innocent.
"The judge found that discovery errors occurred that call into question the reliability of the verdict," she said. "There is a significant difference between the two."
Woodworth's next court appearance is April 18, in Platte County.
Ramsey said that he plans to file several pretrial motions questioning the integrity of several pieces of evidence, including the bullet, the gun, and the fingerprint found on a box of bullets.
"As far as I am concerned, the Supreme Court and the Special Master invited me to challenge the integrity of the evidence that was presented by the state," Ramsey said.
He said there is a chance that Woodworth could be exonerated.
"I go back to what the master said in his report: If there had been a balanced investigation, if there had been a fair judge from the outset, if there hadn't been all of these Brady violations, no jury would have convicted Mark Woodworth," Ramsey said.
Robertson family members are confident that a third trial will have the same outcome as the first two for Woodworth.
"Our family stands united in our pursuit of justice for the murder of our beloved Cathy Robertson," the family said. "While we believe Mark Woodworth should spend his life behind bars for brutally murdering our mother, Cathy Robertson, and critically assaulting our father, Lyndel Robertson, in 1990 while they were sleeping in their bed, we are prepared to see a third trial through to conclusion.
Page 3 of 3 - "Since 1990, our family has lived through a nightmare caused by Mark Woodworth," the family continued. "If seeking justice for the murder of Cathy Robertson takes a third trial and 100 years, we will do what it takes to hold Mark Woodworth accountable for his actions."
Ramsey also brought up concerns regarding Assistant Attorney General Kenny Hulshof, who served as special prosecutor on Woodworth's case. His courtroom conduct has since been questioned in other cases, including the case involving Dale Helmig, who was convicted of murder and later freed.
Woodworth's first conviction brought a 31-year prison sentence. After his second trial, he was given four life sentences. Woodworth has maintained his innocence since his indictment.