By ALAN SCHER ZAGIER
(ST. LOUIS, Mo., AP) – A Missouri man whose conviction in the 1990 slaying of a rural neighbor was recently overturned by the state Supreme Court will remain free on bond as the state prepares for a third murder trial in the case.
A county judge on Friday ordered the release of Mark Woodworth, 38, on a $50,000 bond. His lawyer and family were preparing Friday morning to bring Woodworth back to their home outside the northwest Missouri town of Chillicothe, one day before a family fish fry to celebrate the February birthdays of Woodworth’s two younger brothers.
Woodworth also will get to meet seven of his 19 nieces and nephews for the first time, said Jackie Woodworth, his mother.
“I can’t believe it,” she said. “We’ll get him home and take it from there.”
Woodworth has been serving a life sentence in the fatal shooting of Cathy Robertson, the wife of his father’s farming partner. His latest conviction was thrown out in January when the Missouri Supreme Court ruled state prosecutors had failed to share evidence with Woodworth that could have helped his defense. Attorney General Chris Koster quickly announced he would try Woodworth again.
He was 16 when Robertson was killed and her husband shot several times while the couple slept in their house directly across a county highway from the Woodworth home. Lyndel Robertson survived the attack.
Lyndel Robertson initially told friends and police that he suspected his oldest daughter’s abusive ex-boyfriend as the shooter. He later testified that he never actually identified the shooter.
At Robertson’s urging, Livingston County’s presiding judge asked the state to prosecute Woodworth after the county prosecutor declined to pursue the case. The state appointed special prosecutor Kenny Hulshof, an assistant attorney general who would later serve six terms in Congress and win the Republican nomination for governor but whose courtroom conduct has since been questioned in two cases in which murder inmates were freed from prison.
A series of letters outlining Robertson’s concerns were among the potentially exculpatory documents the Supreme Court said were never shared with Woodworth’s defense. Details of the letters were first reported by The Associated Press in 2009.
Woodworth was first convicted in 1995. He was then briefly released on appeal but convicted by a second jury four years later in a case handled by another state prosecutor.
The bond order by Platte County Circuit Judge Owens Lee Hull Jr. came two days after a brief bond hearing in Clinton County Circuit Court. Woodworth was joined there by dozens of friends and family members. Hull was appointed to the case when the presiding judge in neighboring Clinton County recused himself.
Assistant Attorney General Ted Bruce testified that the state did not oppose Woodworth’s release pending trial but suggested a $500,000 bond.
In a letter to the judge opposing Woodworth’s release, Robertson’s relatives expressed fear that they would be harassed by Woodworth and his many supporters, who they said could also try to intimidate witnesses in the next trial.
“We have suffered continuously at the hand of his actions and if he is released into our community, we believe our safety would be compromised,” the family wrote.
Woodworth was in a state prison until recently but transferred to a county jail at the Supreme Court’s order.
The high court’s unanimous ruling followed a similar conclusion by a Boone County judge who was appointed to review the case.