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Judge orders Koster's office removed from Woodworth prosecution

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© Mark Woodworth in 2013 (Associated Press) © Mark Woodworth in 2013 (Associated Press)
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PLATTE COUNTY, MO (KCTV) -

A special judge has ordered the Missouri Attorney General's Office taken off the prosecution of Mark Woodworth in a 1990 murder.

Platte County Judge Owens Lee Hull Jr. issued the 6-page ruling Wednesday afternoon. He said that botched prosecution by the Missouri Attorney General's Office means the Livingston County Prosecutor's Office should decide whether a third trial should be held.

"Given the history of this case, at this point in time, there is absolutely no reason the office of Attorney General should prosecute this case," Hull wrote. "Therefore, it should be removed from that obligation."

A spokesman for Missouri Attorney General's Office Chris Koster did not say Wednesday afternoon whether or not he would appeal Hull's ruling.

After farmer Lyndel Robertson was shot and his wife Cathy Robertson were killed, a private investigator hired by Robertson and a chief deputy for the Livingston County Sheriff's Office colluded to create a secret investigation that focused exclusively on Woodworth, who was 16 years old when the shootings occurred, the judge found.

"The effects of the 'secret investigation' permeated, tainted and stained the evidence in this case," Hull wrote. "From the inception of the 'secret investigation' in 1991 through two trials, the concept of 'due process of law' for defendant Mark Woodworth took flight and did not reappear until approximately 2009."

Jay Nixon was Missouri's attorney general during the first two trials. He took office as governor in 2009, which is also when Koster became attorney general.

"The court recognized the complicated case history prior to 2009 called for 'a prosecutor unburdened by past participation' in the matter. Judge Hull therefore appointed the current Livingston County prosecuting attorney to proceed with the case," a spokeswoman for Koster's office said in a statement Wednesday afternoon.

The then Livingston County Prosecutor Douglas Roberts in 1993 decided not to charge Woodworth in part due to the investigative concerns. The prosecutor's concerns were not disclosed and at Robertson's urging a grand jury was formed.

The grand jury under the direction of an assistant prosecutor in the AG's office charged Woodworth with first-degree murder, two counts of armed criminal action, first-degree assault and first-degree burglary.

Woodworth was convicted in 1995, but later saw the conviction thrown out because failure to admit inconsistent statements from Robertson.

The second trial occurred in 2000, and that conviction was reversed by the Missouri Supreme Court in 2013. A master's report found the AG's office failed to turn over exculpatory evidence to Woodworth's defense attorneys.

"Justice, fairness and the requirement of due process of law require an independent review of this case by a prosecutor unburdened by past participation in this case," Hull wrote. "Trials may not achieve perfection, but they should be fair."

Hull did not issue rulings on whether to issue sanctions in the case or seek a jury from outside Livingston County.

Attorneys for Woodworth declined to speak publicly about the ruling on Wednesday.

Livingston County Prosecutor Adam Warren told KCTV5 that he was surprised by the ruling, saying it's highly unusual for a case to be taken from an AG's office and return to the prosecutor's office.

He said he will wait to see whether Koster appeals the ruling. If he does not, then Warren said he will review the case to determine whether he has any conflicts of interest before determining whether to seek a third trial against Woodworth.

But a spokeswoman for Cathy and Lyndel Robertson's daughter said she would seek to have Warren removed from the case. Here is the statement from Rhonda Robertson Oesch in its entirety.

"The criminal justice system has failed our family Cathy Robertson once again. We believe every piece of evidence points to Mark Woodworth. So did the Attorney General's Office, so did 24 unbiased jurors and many Appellate Court Judges.

We also believe the timing of this decision is suspect. Judge Hull added no new information to his decision, and he could have made this decision a year ago and given another prosecutor proper time to prepare. Instead, he sets a trial date six months from now and removes the prosecutors who have the most knowledge of this case. We find it hard to believe that any prosecutor in his or her right mind would accept a complicated case like this and believe he/she can properly prepare it for trial by July 21, 2014.

We will ask the Livingston Country Prosecutor to be recuse himself from this case, as he has conducted work on behalf of our family. In addition, Woodworth supporters who claim to know him have said he would not proceed to trial if this case were placed in his lap.

Citizens in the state of Missouri who value fairness and justice should be very worried if they ever become victims of a crime. We believe this case is an example of the courts exerting their political opinions over the good judgment of the jurors. The jurors got it right in this case. We can rest our heads at night knowing that Mark Woodworth was held accountable for killing our mother Cathy Robertson and wounding our father by two separate juries who saw the evidence and believed he was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt."

KCTV5's Dennis Sulsberger contributed to this report.

Copyright 2014 KCTV (Meredith Corp.). All rights reserved.

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