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A stunned Ruoff denied it. "It was just stupid," Ruoff said in court. "You may think I didn't see anything, but I'd bet a million dollars I did."
Deister locked onto Woodworth as a prime suspect due to his familiarity with, and proximity to, the Robertson home. Deister spun several theories for a motive: Perhaps Woodworth would kill to get his parents' attention or maybe, as the private detective said in a 1995 deposition, Woodworth harbored a "sexual fantasy toward Cathy or maybe even his own mother." Both theories were unsupported by thousands of pages of court documents and various other records filed in the case.
Prosecutors later considered other motives. Maybe Woodworth killed so his father could cash in on a $102,000 life-insurance policy on Robertson. Yet prosecutors presented no proof at either trial that Mark Woodworth knew about the policy.
Robertson and his wife had also reportedly complained that Mark Woodworth kept the profits from about 60 acres of soy that the teenager planted and harvested himself. Prosecutors wondered if Woodworth might have killed to ensure that he could keep the money.
On July 4, 1992, Deister and Calvert showed up at the Woodworths' home while the teenager was home alone, claiming that they were investigating vandalism of nearby farm equipment. Woodworth went with the investigators to the Livingston County Sheriff's Office. They took the teenager to a 10-by-10-foot soundproof interrogation room, and Calvert read Woodworth his Miranda rights.
Shortly into the four-hour questioning, it became clear that Calvert and Deister weren't interested in vandalism. "It was obvious they wanted to talk about the murder," Woodworth says.
Deister and Calvert questioned Woodworth about his father's deteriorating relationship with Lyndel Robertson. Woodworth knew of the lawsuit accusing Robertson of stealing from the family business. He told investigators that his father "kind of made me think that he's [Lyndel's] an asshole." Woodworth allowed the investigators to fingerprint him.
Investigators later ran Woodworth's prints and found a match: a single thumbprint on a .22-caliber box of bullets inside the Robertsons' shed. Investigators suspected that the bullets in the shed were used in the homicide.
At trial, the defense argued that Woodworth target-shot with other farmhands around the property. One witness testified to shooting around the farm with Woodworth in the months before the shooting.
Deister and Calvert obtained a warrant for the Ruger six-shooter that Claude Woodworth kept in a nightstand next to his bed. Although investigators recovered bullets from the crime scene, the rounds were badly mangled.
So, in August 1992, Lyndel Robertson consented to a risky surgery to remove a slug that had been buried in his liver for nearly two years. Investigators said it was their best chance for a gun-bullet match. But results from the Missouri Highway Patrol crime lab and an independent ballistics analyst in Kansas City were inconclusive.
Deister phoned Steve Nicklin, a friend in England who's a forensic analyst, and asked him to compare the newly recovered bullet with the Woodworth gun.
"I really don't think we will ever have a good case if this firearm can't be identified as the shooter's weapon," Deister wrote in a letter stressing the importance of the results.
The U.K. lab's preliminary report repeated the other expert assessments: A gun-bullet match was "inconclusive."
Deister flew to England to visit Nicklin, and the lab there strengthened its findings in its final report. The gun barrel left scratches on the slug that "strongly suggested" the Woodworth gun fired the bullet, Nicklin later testified.
But when pressed, Nicklin admitted that there was still "not enough detail to form a conclusive association."