All charges against Mark Woodworth, who was convicted in the 1990 shooting death of his neighbor, Cathy Robertson, in rural Chillicothe, have been dismissed.
All charges against Mark Woodworth, who was convicted in the 1990 shooting death of his neighbor, Cathy Robertson, in rural Chillicothe, have been dismissed. The dismissal of all charges were filed at the Platte County Courthouse in Platte City on Tuesday. Woodworth’s attorney, Bob Ramsey, said he learned of this development when Don Norris, the special prosecuting attorney appointed to the case, telephoned him from the courthouse Tuesday afternoon. Ramsey immediately contacted Woodworth to let him know. “It’s like a big weight is lifted off,” Woodworth told the Constitution-Tribune Tuesday afternoon from his parents’ home just off Missouri Route 190 west of Chillicothe. Woodworth was mowing the yard when his attorney called. “He goes, ‘Mark, you’re a free man,’ ” Woodworth recalled. “I started tearing up a little bit. ... 22 years of dealing with it from when they started interrogating me until now.” Woodworth, who was 16 at the time of the shootings, has maintained his innocence in the death of Cathy Robertson and the criminal assault of her husband, Lyndel, since he was indicted by a Livingston County grand jury in 1993. He was convicted in 1995 on the charges and sentenced to 31 years in prison. 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. The second conviction carried a life sentence. Woodworth went through the appeals process again and was released on bond in February 2013 after the Missouri Supreme Court ruled that prosecutors failed to share evidence that could have benefitted Woodworth’s defense against the charges. The state attorney general’s office was removed from the case and a special prosecutor was assigned. Now, at 39 years of age, Woodworth is a grown man. He said he will try to establish some normalcy in his life. Since his release last year, he has been working at the family home place, building trailers and helping farm. He got married in January and now has a house and five acres near his siblings’ residences in north Livingston County. Woodworth said he will “try to move on with my life and, hopefully, have some children sometime. Maybe, now, I can go somewhere,” he said, adding that before now he would have to get permission from the judge prior to traveling. While elation surrounded Woodworth’s family and friends, not all people were satisfied with the prosecutor’s decision; most notably, the family of slain Cathy Robertson. “Today’s decision by the prosecutor Don Norris, to dismiss charges against Mark Woodworth for the murder of Cathy Robertson and assault on our father Lyndel, is a tragedy for all crime victims and their families,” according to a family statement issued Tuesday through their attorney, Susan Ryan. “The criminal justice system has failed all of us who seek justice for our loved ones and who believe in the jury system,” the statement continued. “Mr. Norris didn’t interview any of the state’s witnesses including our father who is a living victim. How a prosecutor can objectively review a case without talking to victims is beyond logic. This callous disregard for justice and victim’s rights is stunning.” The family stated that twice, the evidence and ballistics have put the gun in Mark Woodworth’s hand and the bullets in his pocket. “Twenty four objective jurors saw this evidence first hand and believed Mark Woodworth was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt,” the Robertson family said. “It’s clear that when a jury is allowed to look at this evidence, they see it for what it is. It is unfortunate the jurors will not be given the opportunity again to review the evidence. We have confidence that if they did, they would come to the same conclusion as two previous juries.” “There are only exaggerated conspiracy theories concocted by people with disdain for justice,” the statement read. “This alternative-suspect strategy was used in the second trial, and it failed. There is no new evidence proving Mark’s innocence, and Mark has not been exonerated by anyone.” Norris told the Constitution-Tribune that there was no need to interview the state’s witnesses, noting that he had read the transcripts and statements. “Those statements were recorded under oath,” he said. “Visiting with them afterwards would not be productive.” Norris went on to state that there was no credible evidence that Woodworth committed any of the offenses. “It appeared to me from the beginning that the wrong person was charged,” Norris said. “If I had reviewed the case from the beginning, I would never have charged Mark Woodworth.” The Woodworth and Robertson families, at one time, were close, moving from Illinois to Chillicothe, becoming neighbors and entering into a farming partnership. Their children grew up together. Both families have been actively involved in the Livingston County 4-H and FFA Fair and remain active today. This year’s fair began over the weekend and continues throughout this week. On Friday night, Jackie Woodworth was coordinating the annual truck and tractor pull. On Sunday, a granddaughter of the Robertsons was chosen as fair junior princess. On Tuesday afternoon, Jackie Woodworth and Robertson’s daughter, Rhonda Oesch, were together setting up fair exhibits. “We were talking and working together,” Jackie Woodworth said Tuesday evening, noting that they both got the news about the prosecutor’s decision about the same time. Both women had different reactions. “It’s like you wanted to shout it all over the place, but yet I didn’t want to do it,” Jackie Woodworth said. “You kind of have to take into consideration their feelings, too. We are ecstatic and they’re devastated, I’m sure.” Ramsey became involved in Woodworth’s case shortly after Woodworth lost his appeal from the second conviction. “Dale Whiteside contacted me and prevailed upon me to interview Mark,” Ramsey told the Constitution-Tribune. “When I started reviewing things, I felt compelled to get involved.” “It jumped out at me that something really rotten had taken place,” Ramsey said. “My gut reaction has been confirmed over and over again.” Ramsey said that 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 then circuit court judge Kenneth Lewis, Robertson declared that injustice would not be served until the judge brought the evidence against Woodworth before a grand jury. A breaking point in the case was the discovery of what Ramsey calls the “Lewis Letters.” The court system ran its course, including the going through the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court. “The Supreme Court saw merit in everything,” Ramsey said. “They gave me the go-ahead to dig into what happened.” “Judge Oxenhandler was open minded about allowing me to do depositions and subpoenas. In the process of looking into the Lewis letters, Ramsey said he discovered other unusual things that took place, including how the bullet evidence was handled. “He was offended at the way the system was abused in putting the conviction together,” Ramsey said. “For all these years we’ve struggled with different things to get the truth out and then see that it has actually gotten out.. I am very grateful that the truth has gotten out.” 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; his assistant Kelly Berkel, his family, and the work by Sheriff Steve Cox. “This is a very humbling experience,” Ramsey said. “I just think about all the people who have helped me.” Woodworth, the oldest of seven children in the family, admits that he feels cheated out of 22 years of his life. “I missed my brothers and sisters growing up,” he said. “That’s probably what hurts the most out of all of it.” His youngest sibling was 5 or 6 years old when he was first incarcerated. “When I got out, she was fully grown and married,” he said. Citing advice from his attorney, Woodworth declined to talk about any possible further action. Woodworth said he is choosing not to be bitter about his lost years. “You can be angry about it, but it won’t do any good,” he said. “You got to move on.”