JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. - A man accused of killing one neighbor and seriously injuring another when he was 16 years old may soon go free. However, the victims' family hopes to see him retried.
The Missouri Supreme Court unanimously overturned Mark Woodworth's murder conviction on Tuesday, saying that prosecutors withheld evidence in the case. Woodworth had been sentenced to life in prison for the 1990 murder of a woman on a neighboring farm.
He was first convicted of fatally shooting Catherine Robertson in 1995, was briefly released after a successful appeal, and was convicted again in 1999.
Prosecutors alleged Woodworth killed Robertson and seriously wounded her husband, Lyndel Robertson, as they slept in their home near Chillicothe, about 90 miles north of Kansas City. Woodworth's father farmed with Lyndel Robertson at the time.
His attorneys said his conviction was tainted by prosecutors' failure to turn over copies of letters that cast doubt on his guilt, as well as other evidence that would have helped the defense.
On Tuesday, the court ordered Woodworth be released within 60 days of when its ruling is finalized, unless prosecutors decide to retry him.
A spokesperson for the attorney general's office said they plan on doing just that.
"Our intent is to retry this defendant. This will require cooperation with the Livingston County prosecutor and the Livingston County sheriff in order to achieve this end," press secretary Nanci Gonder said in a statement. "We will be reaching out to them this week and asking them to transfer all evidence in this case back to Jefferson City immediately."
The Robertson family criticized the court's decision, but hopes Woodworth will be retried.
On the "Peace & Justice for Cathy Robertson" Facebook page, Rhonda Robertson Oesch, the murder victim's daughter, posted a statement on behalf of her family.
"While the criminal justice system has failed Cathy Robertson, and we are not surprised at the outcome of the Supreme Court's decision, we as a family will continue to pursue justice on her behalf. (Twenty-four) jurors and more than a dozen Missouri Appellate Court judges believed Mark Woodworth was properly convicted of murder, and so do we," it read in part.
You can read the full statement on the Facebook page here: http://on.fb.me/10dbVgO
But the decision is one Woodworth's family has been hoping for. His father, Claude Woodworth, told 41 Action News he hopes his son is released in two or three days.
"I'm relieved there are honest judges in the system," he said.
Mark Woodworth's sister, Mindy Stedem, said she was overjoyed by the court's decision. She described her brother as a kind and patient man who stayed positive throughout his legal battles.
"I am trying to enjoy this victory ... and pray to God that we won't have to go through (another trial) again," she said.
"The manipulating of evidence definitely a surprise," she said of Woodworth's two trials. "You really start to question every decision that's made by an authority."
But Stedem said she has sympathy for the Robertson family.
"It is a horrible situation for us, but I understand somewhat where they come from, just in the fact that they want justice," she said. "Truth be told, both families want the same thing, it's just that we're not going about it the same way."
"We also continue to pray for them because we hope that they get the justice that they're looking for, and can ease their pain that they've felt for the last 22 years," Stedem added.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.