PLATTE CITY, Missouri — Citing strong ties to a community divided over a decades-old murder case, Livingston County Attorney Adam Warren on Friday asked a northwest Missouri judge to appoint a special prosecutor for the third trial of Chillicothe man twice convicted of killing his neighbor.
Mark Woodworth was 16 when Cathy Robertson was shot and killed Nov. 13, 1990, in a farm home outside Chillicothe, about 90 miles northeast of Kansas City. Her husband, Lyndel Robertson — a business partner of Woodworth's father — also was shot but survived.
Woodworth was first convicted in the death in 1995, but that was overturned on appeal. A second jury found him guilty four years later and sentenced him to life in prison.
Now 39, he was freed on bail a year ago after the Missouri Supreme Court overturned his second conviction, saying prosecutors failed to share evidence that could have helped his defense.
Late last month, Platte County Circuit Judge Owens Lee Hull Jr. barred the Missouri attorney general's office from trying the case for a third time. In his Jan. 29 ruling, Hull said previous prosecutorial missteps that contributed to Woodworth's first two convictions required "an independent review of this case by a prosecutor unburdened by past participation."
Hull handed the case to Livingston County prosecutor Adam Warren, who later asked to be removed from the case after Robertson family members told him they were concerned about his ability to be impartial.
Among their concerns were his alleged involvement in a Facebook page that included comments from members favorable to Woodworth; legal work he has done for people involved in the case, including one of Lyndel Robertson's daughters; and whether his unsuccessful 2012 campaign for attorney general would tempt him to drop the case to embarrass the current officeholder.
Warren told Hull he had researched the Facebook claim and found that he had been invited to join a private group on that site but had neither joined nor participated in any discussions there.
A lifelong Livingston County resident, Warren said he was more concerned about his connections with people on both sides of the case and whether those ties could create the appearance of impropriety.
"This case happened when I was in sixth grade," he said.
Woodworth's attorneys opposed Warren's request, while an attorney for the victims' family members said they support bringing in a special prosecutor to give the case a fresh look.
Hull said he expected to render a decision sometime next week. Woodworth is scheduled to go to trial in July.