A Missouri man who spent more than 17 years in prison filed a federal civil rights lawsuit Monday, alleging a wide-ranging conspiracy to frame him for a murder he did not commit.
Mark Woodworth twice was convicted for the 1990 slaying of his neighbor Cathy Robertson in her home near Chillicothe, Mo. Both convictions later were dismissed, but after the Missouri Supreme Court threw out the second conviction in 2013, Woodworth won his release from prison while awaiting a possible third trial.
Last month, a special prosecutor announced he had dismissed the charges, saying evidence was insufficient to convict Woodworth.
The lawsuit — filed against 18 former prosecutors, lawyers, police officers, investigators, the Chillicothe Police Department and Livingston County and its sheriff’s department — alleged that the group conspired “to cruelly and cold-bloodedly frame Mark Woodworth for crimes he was innocent of.”
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“The conspirators accomplished their goals by conducting a sham investigation, fabricating false evidence, suppressing exculpatory evidence and concealing their conspiratorial acts,” the suit alleged.
St. Louis lawyer Bob Ramsey, who represents Woodworth, said the suit does not include a specific dollar amount that his client is seeking as compensation.
“When an innocent man spends 17 and a half years in prison and he’s innocent, I have a strong feeling that the scales of justice need to be evened up,” Ramsey said. “I can only imagine what it must feel like to be locked up like that and have the best years of your life taken away.”
Woodworth, who was 16 at the time of the killing, maintained his innocence since he first was accused and arrested.
The lawsuit alleges that conspirators failed to adequately investigate Robertson’s murder, suppressed and fabricated evidence, falsely arrested Woodworth, prosecuted him “maliciously” and conspired to deprive him of his constitutional rights.
The suit also alleges that investigators ignored evidence that an Independence man, who was 16 at the time and allegedly dating a Robertson family member, was the top suspect.