Ex-suspect’s alibi questioned in ’90 farm slaying
Tuesday, May 31, 2011
COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — A former suspect in the 1990 shooting death of a Chillicothe farm wife was in town early the next morning, a retired assistant principal testified Tuesday, contradicting the man’s alibi and raising more doubt about the guilt of another man convicted twice in Cathy Robertson’s death.
Brandon Thomure was the prime suspect in Robertson’s death and her husband Lyndel’s shooting before investigators set their sights on Mark Woodworth, a 16-year-old neighbor whose father was Lyndel Robertson’s farming partner.
Woodworth, who is now 36, was convicted by a jury in 1995, briefly released after a successful appeal and convicted again in 1999. He is serving a life sentence for murder. The Missouri Supreme Court ruled in November that Woodworth could present new testimony as part of his latest appeal.
Bob Fairchild, the retired assistant principal and former Chillicothe High football coach, testified that he saw the then 16-year-old Thomure at the school as early as 7:30 a.m., contradicting Thomure’s testimony that he didn’t leave his home 90 miles away in Independence until 6:50 a.m. Fairchild also said investigators never asked him about the encounter with Thomure, a former Chillicothe High wrestler.
Thomure’s violent relationship with Lyndel and Catherine Robertson’s oldest daughter, Rochelle, led Livingston sheriff’s investigators to focus on him immediately after the couple was shot in their sleep the night of Nov. 13, 1990. Thomure, Lyndel Robertson and his oldest daughter are each scheduled to testify in the four-day hearing.
Even though forensic tests revealed trace elements of gunpowder on his hands, Thomure was never charged with the crime. He told police he had pumped gas before the test, which could compromise its accuracy. Prosecutors also said too much time had lapsed between the shooting and the swab of Thomure’s hands for the results to be reliable.
Earlier in the day, Livingston County Sheriff Steve Cox testified that Fairchild’s encounter with Thomure and other evidence has raised questions about Woodworth’s guilt. Cox, who took office a decade after Robertson’s death, pointed to an interview with Roger Wolf, a neighbor who said he heard a car drive quickly away from the Robertson home the night of the shooting.
The Woodworths and Robertsons lived across a rural highway from each other outside Chillicothe, and prosecutors have claimed Mark Woodworth walked across the highway and then returned home after shooting the couple. Wolf later testified that an investigator in the case “wasn’t interested” in his information.
“It’s a red flag for me,” Cox said. “Those tire tracks on the road are unaccounted for.”
Cox criticized the work of former Livingston County chief deputy Gary Calvert and private investigator Terry Deister, who was hired by the Robertson family but worked closely with Calvert.
“They should have been more open-minded about the possibilities in all directions,” he said. “The case files had a lot of leads that weren’t followed up on.”
Thomure didn’t testify at the first trial. At Woodworth’s second trial, his mother, sister and Rochelle Robertson testified that he was home asleep in Independence.
Rochelle Robertson got a restraining order against Thomure after her parents were shot, suggesting that he might have been responsible. Lyndel Robertson raised similar suspicions from his hospital bed, though he later recanted that account.
Thomure, who was 16 at the time, has denied involvement in several previous interviews with The Associated Press.
The first Woodworth trial was handled by special state prosecutor Kenny Hulshof, who later served six terms in Congress.
Hulshof, who is scheduled to testify Friday as a state’s witness, handled high-profile murder cases in small Missouri communities that often lacked experienced local prosecutors. But since February 2009, two murder convictions he handled have been thrown out.
The defense has lined up 30 witnesses, including Doug Roberts, a former Livingston County prosecutor who boycotted the grand jury proceedings that led to Woodworth’s indictment in 1993 because he didn’t think the case was strong enough. The judge eventually asked for a special state prosecutor to be assigned to the case.
At trial, Hulshof cited a business dispute between Woodworth’s father and Lyndel Robertson as his motive. The key evidence was a single thumb print found on an ammunition box inside Robertson’s shed.
Woodworth, a high school dropout who helped his father and Robertson, said the box of bullets had been moved to the shed from Robertson’s pickup truck. A farm employee testified that Robertson regularly moved ammunition boxes his truck and the shed.
None of Mark Woodworth’s fingerprints were found on his father’s revolver, the purported murder weapon. An identical gun owned by Lyndel Robertson wasn’t dusted for prints.
Police and prosecutors have theorized that Woodworth removed a loaded gun from his parents’ bedroom while they slept and walked across the rural highway between the two homes to shoot his neighbors — but not before emptying his father’s weapon and reloading it with bullets from Robertson’s shed. Prosecutors claimed Woodworth replaced his father’s bullets back before returning the weapon.
Boone County Circuit Judge Gary Oxenhandler will recommend to the high court whether Woodworth deserves a retrial. He is not expected to issue a ruling this week.