Strong reaction in the Heartland to overturned murder conviction - KFVS12 News & Weather Cape Girardeau, Carbondale, Poplar Bluff

Strong reaction in the Heartland to overturned murder conviction

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Mark Woodworth Mark Woodworth
Joyce Cox, Richard Clay's mother. Joyce Cox, Richard Clay's mother.
Richard Clay Richard Clay
Prosecutor Kenny Hulshof Prosecutor Kenny Hulshof
Josh Kezer Josh Kezer
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BONNE TERRE, MO (KFVS) -

There is strong reaction in the Heartland to the overturned murder conviction of Mark Woodworth.

Tuesday, the Missouri Supreme Court ruled prosecutors failed to share evidence that could have helped Woodworth's case. He was accused of killing his neighbor in Chillicothe in 1990.

This case has an interesting connection to several big Heartland cases.

It is the fourth case since 2009 where a Missouri court found flaws with a murder conviction, all involving a common prosecutor - Kenny Hulshof.

One of those is the New Madrid County case of Richard Clay. Governor Nixon took clay off death row just hours from his execution.

Now Clay's family says Woodworth's case gives them momentum as their case moves closer to a new investigation.

"Every guy that goes to prison they says ‘I'm innocent,' but some of those guys are really innocent. They just don't have the help," said Joyce Cox, Clay's mother. "One day I hope to see my son walk thru that door and no guard say don't touch him."

Cox says she's always believed in her son's innocence. Clay remains in prison for the 1994 murder of Randy Martindale in New Madrid.

Cox and her family say they've never stopped working for a new investigation ever since Clay's sentence was commuted two years ago. Now there is new hope as they hear Mark Woodworth's case could get another look.

"I thought oh praise God, and it gave me more hope thinking maybe next time it will be my son," said Cox. "Every time I hear of another case in question I think our time could be soon."

Woodworth's case is the latest Hulshof case a higher court has challenged. In 2009, a judge declared Joshua Kezer an innocent man. He was once convicted of the Benton murder of Mischelle Lawless.

Kezer emailed Heartland News this reaction: "For every case that's been mishandled, two or more families have been left devastated. The Kezer and Lawless families have suffered immeasurable harm, as has every family that's gone through this process."

"You die a little just every year but you keep your heart towards God," said Tommy Cox, Clay's father. "We just want a chance to let all the real facts come out."

Kenny Hulshof couldn't be reached Wednesday for comment. But back in May, he issued this statement: "Each of these cases has a different set of facts and circumstances.... Two separate juries in two separate trials convicted Woodworth. I was the prosecutor in the first case only. To try and lump all these cases together to appear as some sort of pattern is not telling the full story. I remain confident of our legal system and a jury's ability to make sound decisions based on the evidence presented."

Meanwhile Richard Clay's family says the Woodworth case gives them hope the real facts of their son's case will finally be heard.

"We are just reaching out for help," said Joyce Cox. "There's things that weren't uncovered that should have been uncovered." 

Just two weeks ago the Midwestern Innocence Project decided to consider Clay's case. They will review files. The M.I.P. could also decide against taking the case, and it could end up in the hands of another attorney.

The family tells me Clay has no lawyer right now-- they say his former attorney never followed through with action to move the case forward once the case was commuted by Governor Nixon in early 2011.

As for Woodworth, a spokesperson for the Attorney General's office says they want to retry him. The court ordered Woodworth's release pending the prosecutor's decision to retry. A spokesperson for Chris Koster's office says they plan to reach out to Livingston County authorities for their cooperation this week.

They need to get evidence transferred back to Jefferson City before moving forward.

To stay up to date with Richard Clay's case: www.rickdclay.com/

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