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"[T]his Court is hard-pressed to come up with a word or phrase in the English language that fairly describes the conflicts that existed with regard to Woodworth's judicial process," Oxenhandler wrote. "It is convincingly clear that our judicial process wronged Woodworth."
The Missouri Supreme Court agreed and overturned Woodworth's conviction in January 2013. Woodworth was released on bond in February 2013.
The state quickly filed to retry the case.
The Woodworth and Robertson children all passed through Laurinda Davison's 4-H ceramics class by the time they reached middle school. Davison watched them grow.
Davison, now a 63-year-old elementary school librarian, still considers Woodworth a "sweet, gentle boy." She served as a character witness in his first trial. She wept when the jury foreman read the guilty verdict.
The tears weren't just for Woodworth. Davison believed that the justice system was built to protect the innocent, but Woodworth's conviction shattered her faith in the law. "Imagine you've attended church your whole life, prayed and sung hymns," she says. "Then imagine someone proves to you there's no God. That's how I feel."
In early 2000, Davison gathered with about a dozen other supporters in the Woodworths' living room. Large bay windows looked out onto the former Robertson home.
Gene Thomeczek attended as a favor. Six months earlier, he had retired after nearly two decades as an FBI special agent in the bureau's Kansas City field office. A former colleague told him about a decade-old slaying in Chillicothe and the nagging questions about the farm kid convicted.
At the Woodworth home, neighbors threw a dizzying hodgepodge of documents and rumors at Thomeczek, who agreed to investigate on one condition: No matter what he found — good or bad for Woodworth — he would report his findings to state prosecutors and local law enforcement.
Thomeczek gathered investigative reports from the Livingston County Sheriff's Office and interviewed witnesses in Chillicothe, following up on leads that authorities had hardly touched. He combed through local gun-registration records and found at least 200 people in Livingston County who owned the same model of pistol that prosecutors tied to the crime.
Thomeczek won't declare Woodworth innocent but says he's stunned that the local justice system thought there was enough to arrest, try and twice convict him.
Livingston County Sheriff Steve Cox agrees.
Cox was a rookie Chillicothe police officer the night of the homicide. In 2000, Cox was elected sheriff. Soon after, he reopened the investigation. "I'm not here trying to walk in the door and immediately piss off judges and prosecutors, but this has weighed on my mind for years," he says.
Cox's subsequent examination has convinced him not only of the shoddiness of the initial homicide investigation but also of Woodworth's innocence.
Cox also says he has enough probable cause to arrest another suspect if the state would drop its case against Woodworth. He won't name the suspect.
In mid-November, Rhonda Robertson Oesch visited her mother's grave at St. Columban Cemetery, not far from the farmhouse where her family lived and her mother died. Oesch's mind wandered to Mark Woodworth.
The latest Missouri Court of Appeals ruling, affirming a trial judge's order to throw out ballistic evidence in the case, was handed down on November 12, 2013, the day before the 23rd anniversary of her mother's death. That weekend, her washing machine had broken, and Oesch went to a Chillicothe laundromat. She washed her family's clothes across from a woman wearing a "Mark Woodworth Innocence Project" T-shirt.