State slams Woodworth claims of tainted evidence

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster and one of his top prosecutors are firing back at defense lawyers for a Chillicothe man facing a third murder trial in his neighbor’s 1990 death.

A March 22 legal brief from Koster and assistant attorney general Ted Bruce heavily criticizes the legal tactics by Mark Woodworth’s defense lawyers, who claimed in a Feb. 18 hearing in Platte City that a private detective tampered with ballistics evidence used to convict Woodworth of shooting farm wife Cathy Robertson to death while she slept.

The state’s brief says attorneys Bob Ramsey and Michelle Puckett-Burkhead relied on “hearsay upon hearsay” and faulty speculation while ignoring previous testimony about the role of private investigator Terry Deister, who was hired by Robertson’s family but wound up leading a Livingston County Sheriff’s Office investigation that had stalled two years after the shooting.

Woodworth, now 38, was 16 when the wife of his father’s farming partner was killed. Husband Lyndel Robertson was shot several times but survived. Doctors later removed a bullet from his liver that, along with fingerprints on an ammunition box from Robertson’s shed, were used to tie Woodworth to the crime. The high school dropout’s presumed motive: anger over the dissolving business partnership.

Woodworth was first convicted in 1995 and briefly released on appeal but then convicted by a second jury in 1999 and sentenced to life in prison. The Missouri Supreme Court overturned his conviction in January over evidence it said his lawyers never received, and Woodworth was released on bail in February pending the new trial.

Ramsey called the state’s response a sign of desperation.

“They’re drawing real semantic differences here that don’t amount to much,” he said Friday, adding that new information about Deister’s role in the case didn’t become known until recently.

Platte County Circuit Judge Owens Lee Hull Jr. didn’t immediately rule on the request to exclude the ballistics evidence or several other defense motions but said he expects to do so as soon as next week. Ramsey said the judge wanted to set a July trial date but hasn’t yet after the state requested more time to prepare.

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