Missouri appeals court hears testimony in shooting case

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Ballistics evidence tying a northwest Missouri man to the 1990 shooting of his two neighbors has been compromised by a private investigator and jurors shouldn’t be allowed to hear it in his third murder trial, a lawyer for the defendant told a state appeals court panel Tuesday.

Attorney Michele Puckett-Burkhead asked the three judges to uphold an April ruling by Platte County Circuit Judge Owens Lee Hull Jr. to bar evidence in Mark Woodworth’s case, including the weapon allegedly used and a bullet taken from Lyndel Robertson’s liver, because of the way investigators handled it.

Ronald Holliger, an assistant attorney general arguing for the state Tuesday, said questions about the ballistics evidence, where it was placed and who handled it should be left up to the trial court — not the appeals panel — to resolve.

Lyndel Robertson was seriously wounded and his wife, Cathy, was killed when someone came into their rural Chillicothe home on Nov. 13, 1990, and repeatedly shot them.

Robertson initially implicated his oldest daughter’s boyfriend, Brandon Thomure, but Livingston County investigators later targeted Woodworth, a 16-year-old neighbor whose father was Robertson’s farming partner.

Not being able to present the weapon and bullet would be a big blow to prosecutors’ case, especially after several witnesses have come forward in recent years and implicated Thomure, also known as Brandon Hagan.

The Robertson family remains convinced that Woodworth was the shooter. Rhonda Oesch, one of Lyndel Robertson’s daughters, said in a statement after the hearing that Woodworth’s attorneys will do anything possible, including lying to the courts, to keep jurors from seeing evidence that was used to convict Woodworth twice before.

“Our goal is to ensure that a jury of our peers can see the ballistics and fingerprint evidence against Mark Woodworth,” Oesch said. “We believe the jury will come to the same conclusion as two other juries, and find Mark Woodworth guilty of murdering our mother and trying to murder our father.”

Defense attorneys have questioned why private investigator Terry Deister, who was hired by Lyndel Robertson months after the shooting, was allowed to lead the probe and have complete access to the investigative file and all evidence.

In March, forensics consultant Daniel Jackson testified that the bullet looked different in a crime scene photo than how it was described by the doctor who removed it from Lyndel Robertson’s liver.

Jackson, a former St. Louis County detective, also described a gap in the placement and handling of the bullet — called the chain of custody by law enforcement officers. He said it raises questions about the integrity of the investigation that led to Woodworth’s conviction.

In his April ruling, Hull concluded that “there has been an egregious, flagrant, cavalier disregard of evidentiary procedures and process.” He singled out what he described as Deister’s “especially odious” role in the case and the investigation’s “laser-like focus on one individual — Mark Woodworth.”

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