COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — State prosecutors seeking a Chillicothe man's third murder conviction in his neighbor's 1990 death will have to pursue the case without vital ballistics evidence.
Platte County Circuit Judge Owens Lee Hull Jr. ruled Monday that a bullet recovered from shooting victim Lyndel Robertson was improperly handled by Robertson's private investigator. That investigator wound up secretly leading the Livingston County Sheriff's Office inquiry that led to Mark Woodworth's conviction. The Missouri Attorney General's Office also can't discuss the gun allegedly used by Woodworth to shoot and kill a sleeping Cathy Robertson, Hull ruled.
"The court finds that there has been an egregious, flagrant, cavalier disregard of evidentiary procedures and process," he wrote, singling out private investigator Terry Deister's "especially odious" role in the case and the investigation's "laser-like focus on one individual — Mark Woodworth."
Woodworth was first convicted in 1995 and then briefly released on appeal before a second jury again found him guilty four years later and sentenced Woodworth to life in prison. The Missouri Supreme Court overturned his conviction in January over potentially helpful evidence it said Woodworth and his previous attorneys never received. Hull released Woodworth on bail one month later, with his defense attorneys filing the motion to disallow the physical evidence in a case with no eyewitnesses and little else tying the suspect to the crime.
Lyndel Robertson initially said he thought his oldest daughter's abusive ex-boyfriend played a role in the shooting, but later said he was only offering a suggestion, not an identification. As the unsolved case dragged on, Robertson complained about a county prosecutor's reluctance to file charges to a Livingston County judge. Deister also helped his client write that letter.