ST. LOUIS (AP) - A northwest Missouri man who spent more than 17 years in prison after he was twice convicted in his neighbor’s shooting death has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against a former special state prosecutor and others he says conspired to frame him for murder.
Mark Woodworth of Chillicothe filed suit in U.S. District Court in Kansas City on Monday, less than one month after a special prosecutor dismissed a first-degree murder charge against Woodworth, finding insufficient probable cause while opting against a third trial in Cathy Robertson’s 1990 death.
The lawsuit names former state prosecutor Kenny Hulshof, later a six-term U.S. congressman; shooting survivor Lyndel Robertson and his daughter, Rochelle Koehly; the Livingston County Sheriff’s Department; the city of Chillicothe and its police department; and 10 other individuals, including a former shooting suspect, a private investigator hired by the Robertson family and the retired judge who presided over a grand jury proceeding at which Woodworth was indicted. The suit does not specify the amount of damages Woodworth seeks.
“The conspirators accomplished their goals by conducting a sham investigation, fabricating false evidence, suppressing exculpatory evidence and concealing their conspiratorial acts,” the suit alleges.
Woodworth, 39, was sentenced to life in prison before his first two convictions were overturned. Before the July decision by former Clay County prosecutor Don Norris, Woodworth had been free on bail since January 2013, when the Missouri Supreme Court said prosecutors failed to share evidence that could have helped his defense. Woodworth was 16 when Cathy Robertson was shot and killed in her bed in the rural farming community.
Her husband, Lyndel Robertson, was a partner of Woodworth’s father before a business dispute unraveled the relationship. He was wounded in the shooting and initially identified his older daughter’s abusive ex-boyfriend, Brandon Hagan, as a suspect. Hagan insisted he was asleep 90 miles away at the time and was never charged, though forensics tests revealed trace elements of gunpowder on his hands.
Robertson later said he was only speculating, though according to court documents, Hagan once told a California commodities investor during an argument that “he got away with murder and was not scared to do it again.” Hagan has denied any involvement in the crime.
Norris was appointed in February to replace Livingston County Prosecutor Adam Warren, who asked to be removed after Robertson family members told him they were concerned about his ability to be impartial in part because the killings happened in that county.
Platte County Circuit Judge Owens Lee Hull Jr. had barred the Missouri Attorney General’s Office from trying the case again due to previous prosecutorial missteps.
The judge also excluded key ballistics evidence used to convict Woodworth after finding that the suspected murder weapon and a bullet surgically removed from Lyndel Robertson may have been improperly handled by a private investigator, who is also named in Woodworth’s suit.
Hulshof, the prosecutor at Woodworth’s first trial, denied any wrongdoing in a 2009 AP interview but has since refused to discuss the case. He is now in private practice with the Kansas City law firm Polsinelli.
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