Nixon testimony unnecessary in Woodworth case

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — Missouri’s attorney general’s office on Monday asked a judge not to compel Gov. Jay Nixon to testify at the second retrial of a Chillicothe man charged with killing a neighbor in 1990.

Mark Woodworth’s attorney, Bob Ramsey, said he wants to ask Nixon directly what he knew about a series of letters between prosecutors, slaying victim Cathy Robertson’s husband and the judge who presided over a grand jury proceeding at which Woodworth was indicted. Nixon was attorney general at the time, but the case was handled by a special prosecutor who was appointed after the Livingston County prosecutor refused to press charges.

Woodworth, a 16-year-old high school dropout when Robertson was fatally shot and her husband was wounded, was first convicted of her murder in 1995, but that conviction was overturned. He was retried and convicted again in 1999, but in January, the state Supreme Court overturned the conviction, citing letters that were never provided to Woodworth’s attorneys.

The attorney general’s office has said the matter of the letters is moot, since the Missouri Supreme Court already ruled on the issue. Court transcripts from Oct. 15, 1993, show Nixon accompanied special prosecutor Kenny Hulshof to the grand jury hearing, but there’s no further indication in public documents that he was otherwise directly involved in Woodworth’s prosecution.

In a motion filed Monday, Assistant Attorney General Ronald Holliger, asked Platte County Circuit Judge Owens Lee Hull Jr. to deny the defense request to compel Nixon to testify. He cited three legal arguments: attorney-client privilege; lack of relevance; and a time-consuming distraction from Nixon’s more pressing obligations.

“Requiring the governor to appear will cause great hardship and unnecessary inconvenience to his duties on behalf of the state and his responsibility to the citizens of Missouri,” Holliger wrote. “Courts have been reluctant, even with private businesses, to require depositions of corporate officials who have little direct and personal knowledge of a matter and would be greatly inconvenienced by attendance at a deposition.”

A hearing on the matter is scheduled for Thursday.

Woodworth helped his father and Lyndel Robertson on their farm, where the men and their families had moved together from western Illinois. The families severed their ties after the shooting.

In other developments in the case, Hull last week rejected defense efforts to remove the Attorney General’s Office from the case in favor of an independent prosecutor as well as a second effort to get the state to pay Woodworth’s legal costs.

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