March 1, 2013

Attorneys seek to block key evidence in Missouri man’s third murder trial

Two convictions of Mark Woodworth on charges of killing a neighbor in 1990 have been thrown out.

Attorneys for recently released Missouri inmate Mark Woodworth are challenging key bullet and fingerprint evidence that prosecutors intend to use at his retrial for murder.

Woodworth’s conviction in the 1990 killing of Cathy Robertson near Chillicothe was thrown out by the Missouri Supreme Court in January. The Missouri attorney general’s office had said it intends to retry Woodworth for the crime.

His lawyers are seeking to have the attorney general’s office removed as special prosecutor. They are asking the Platte County judge assigned to oversee the case to either appoint the Livingston County prosecutor or an independent prosecutor.

Woodworth was 16 when someone shot his neighbor to death and critically wounded her husband in their bedroom.

Two juries have convicted Woodworth. Both times, appeals courts have thrown out the convictions.

At both trials, the state linked Woodworth to the crime through ballistics testing of a bullet from the crime scene and a handgun owned by Woodworth’s father. They also introduced evidence about Woodworth’s thumbprint being found on a box of bullets in a shed on the victim’s property.

Woodworth’s attorneys now are asking the judge to exclude the bullet and thumbprint evidence by challenging the veracity of the investigators originally involved in the case.

In particular, they are questioning the motives and methods of a private investigator who worked with law enforcement in the prosecution of Woodworth.

That investigator was “found to have no credibility” and had “multiple unethical and undisclosed conflicts of interest” in the case, Woodworth’s attorneys allege in their motion.

“The likelihood of altering, substituting and/or tampering with this evidence is great,” the defense attorneys stated in the motion.

That investigator solicited a crime laboratory in England to test the gun and bullet after ballistics experts in Missouri could not make a conclusive match.

“Our case against this boy is very weak without the ballistic evidence,” the investigator wrote to the English laboratory director. “I really don’t think we will ever have a good case if this firearm can’t be identified as the shooter’s weapon.”

The crime scene bullet was handled by the investigator and not a deputy sheriff as initially thought, according to the defense.

“The fact that there are two contradictory versions of who received and handled the bullet factually diminishes any assurance or allegation that this bullet was not a substitution or had been altered,” according to the motion.

A spokeswoman for the attorney general said Friday that the office had not seen the motions and could not comment.

The motions could be taken up in a hearing scheduled for April 18 in Platte County.

Woodworth is free on bond while the case is pending.

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