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The Journal Gazette

Tuesday, July 15, 2014 11:59 am

Missouri man won't face 3rd trial in 1990 slaying

ST. LOUIS (AP) A special prosecutor has dismissed a first-degree murder charge against a northwest Missouri man facing a third trial in his neighbor's 1990 death the latest and likely final legal victory in a nearly quarter-century effort to clear his name.

Platte County Circuit Clerk Sandra Dowd confirmed Tuesday the decision by former Clay County prosecutor Don Norris in the case of Mark Woodworth, who was 16 when Cathy Robertson was shot and killed in Chillicothe.

It was not immediately why the murder charge and four other felony charges were dismissed. Both Dowd and defense attorney Bob Ramsey said that Norris' court order did not include an explanation.

Woodworth, 39, was sentenced to life in prison without parole before his first two convictions were overturned on appeal. He has been free on bail since January 2013, when the Missouri Supreme Court said prosecutors failed to share evidence that could have helped his defense.

Cathy Robertson was fatally shot on Nov. 13, 1990, while she slept in a farm home outside Chillicothe, about 90 miles northeast of Kansas City. Her husband, Lyndel Robertson, a business partner of Woodworth's father, initially identified another suspect from his hospital bed but later said he was only speculating.

Norris was appointed to replace Livingston County Prosecutor Adam Warren, who asked to be removed after Robertson family members told him they were concerned about his ability to be impartial in part because the killings happened in that county. Warren said at the time he asked to be removed "out of an abundance of caution" and after consulting with ethics experts at The Missouri Bar, which licenses the state's lawyers.

Platte County Circuit Judge Owens Lee Hull Jr. had barred the Missouri Attorney General's Office from trying the case again due to previous prosecutorial missteps, ruling that the case requires an independent review "by a prosecutor unburdened by past participation."

Hull's call for an independent review followed a similar conclusion in 2012 by Boone County Circuit Judge Gary Oxenhandler, who also recommended a review by an independent prosecutor and called Woodworth's earlier convictions a "manifest injustice." Oxenhandler was appointed to examine the case by the state Supreme Court.

Norris, now a private practice lawyer, was an associate circuit judge for eight years and also spent six years as Clay County's elected prosecutor. He could not be immediately reached for comment Tuesday.


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