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Jane Dorotik

Other San Diego county, California exonerations
On May 16, 2022, the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office dismissed the first-degree murder case against 75-year-old Jane Dorotik, bringing to an end her more than two-decade legal battle to prove she did not murder her husband, Robert, in February 2000.

By the time the charge was dismissed, Dorotik had been free from prison for more than two years after serving nearly 19 years of a sentence of 25 years to life that was imposed after she was convicted on June 12, 2001.

In July 2020, the prosecution had conceded that Dorotik was entitled to a new trial and agreed that her conviction should be vacated because of newly discovered DNA evidence. At that time, an overwhelmed Dorotik declared, "I have maintained from day one that I had nothing to do with my husband's murder. Spending almost two decades in prison falsely convicted of killing the man I loved has been incredibly painful. I lost literally everything in my life that Bob and I had built together."

By the time the prosecution dismissed the case, much of its evidence had been discredited by post-conviction DNA testing, as well as the discovery of exculpatory evidence that had not been disclosed by the prosecution at the time of trial in 2001. Moreover, forensic evidence used to convict her had been exposed as false.

Beginning in 2016, the Project for the Innocent at Loyola Law School (LPI) had represented Dorotik. DNA testing excluded Dorotik from critical evidence and revealed the presence of an unidentified male.

It began on the evening of Sunday, February 13, 2000, when Jane Dorotik, 53, reported to police that her husband, Robert, 55, had gone out for a jog about 1 p.m. and failed to return home. At the time, they were renting an 18-acre horse farm on Bear Valley Heights Road in Valley Center, California, adjacent to Escondido in San Diego County. There Jane and their daughter, Claire, boarded and trained horses. Robert was trying to establish a business constructing horse jumping structures from plastic pipe. Jane was a high-ranking executive in a mental health services company.

The San Diego County Sheriff’s Office dispatched a search and rescue team. A tracking dog followed a scent that led to the discovery of Robert’s jacket on the side of North Wohlford Lake Road, which was one of the usual jogging routes that Robert, an avid distance runner, frequented.

On Monday, February 14, 2000, shortly before 5 a.m., Robert's body was found in a wooded area less than a half mile north of where the jacket had been found. His skull had been fractured in several places and he had been strangled. A rope was still wrapped around his neck, leaving ligature marks.

Numerous investigators, including law enforcement officers and criminalists from the San Diego Sheriff’s crime lab, had been in and out of the house—including going into the couple’s master bedroom to obtain clothing for the scent dog—from February 13 to February 15. They had searched in the barns and through the property looking for possible evidence.

On February 16, as part of the search, Carolyn Gannett, a crime lab criminalist, walked into the master bedroom wearing only socks. She discovered the carpet near a tiled area was wet. She said she spotted red stains and called in a detective. After they looked further and saw what they believed were more blood stains, a search warrant was obtained and the entire house was subjected to intense scrutiny.

Charles Merritt, a criminalist who claimed to be an expert in bloodstain pattern analysis, had identified numerous blood stains on the ceiling, a nightstand, a lampshade on the nightstand, some magazines on the nightstand, a picture frame, a pillow sham, the comforter on the bed, and under the wet area of the carpet. The areas had been sprayed with fluorescein, a chemical that reacts under a blue light to a variety of substances, including blood. Swabs of the areas that fluoresced were taken for later testing. Stains were found on the headboard of the bed and when the mattress was flipped over, Merritt found a bloodstain there as well as a bloody towel.

More than a dozen investigators combed the house and property. Blood stains were said to be found on the ceiling of a storage room located under the master bedroom. A stain was said to be found on the wall at the bottom of the staircase that led up to the main entry of the home. Bloodstains were said to be found in the bedroom of the couple’s 23-year-old daughter, Claire.

By that time, Jane and Robert’s two sons, Alexander, 26, and Nicholas, 22, had arrived and the family was making plans for a funeral service. They told the investigators that the two family dogs had been bleeding—one from a dew claw injury, the other from an abscess on the snout—and that Robert had recently had a bloody nose in the master bedroom.

Gannett examined the Ford F-250 pickup truck that Jane used to pull horse trailers and other horse-related jobs such as hauling hay. Gannett reported to the lead detective, Richard Empson, that she was “confident” that the tires on the truck had made tire tracks found next to Robert’s body.

The following morning, February 17, 2000, Jane was arrested for the murder of her husband. The detectives believed that Jane had bludgeoned Robert to death in the bedroom, dressed him in his jogging clothes, dragged him out to the truck, and dumped his body in the woods.

Following a hearing on March 1, 2000, San Diego County Assistant District Attorney Bonnie Howard-Regan told reporters the prosecution had a “very strong circumstantial evidence case” against Jane.

In May 2001, Jane went to trial in San Diego County Superior Court. On May 17, Howard-Regan, in her opening statement to the jury, said the murder was the final act in a long-brewing dispute between the couple over money. There was no dispute that Robert was unhappy with Jane spending money on the horses. At one point, in 1997, he had filed for divorce and they had lived apart briefly. But they had reconciled in 1998 and agreed to keep their finances separate as Robert tried to start a business building horse jumping structures. The couple had taken out $250,000 life insurance policies on each other.

Howard-Regan recounted for the jury all of the locations where blood had been found in the house, primarily the master bedroom.

She noted that a syringe with traces of acepromazine, an animal tranquilizer, had been found in a bathroom wastebasket. Howard-Regan said Jane’s fingerprint had been found in Robert’s blood on the syringe.

“The evidence will show that all of this blood that has been described to you, the observations made in this room, that it was all sent out for DNA analysis, and it came back to Bob Dorotik’s blood,” Howard-Regan declared. “The evidence will show that the fingerprint on this syringe was Jane Dorotik’s.”

But Howard-Regan had to acknowledge that there was no evidence that any of the animal tranquilizer was found in Robert’s body and no pinprick of a syringe was found on the body during the autopsy.

The type of rope found around Robert’s neck, Howard-Regan said, “was the same” as rope found at the residence.

Kerry Steigerwalt, who defended Dorotik along with Cole Casey, did not contest the prosecution claim that the murder occurred in the master bedroom. Instead, he suggested that the murder was committed by the couple’s daughter, Claire, and that Leonel Morales, who worked as a hired hand, had helped dispose of the body. Steigerwalt said that Robert and Claire had a tempestuous love-hate relationship, that Robert had a low opinion of women in general, and that he resented Claire’s involvement in the training and riding of horses. Steigerwalt pointed to tire impressions where the body was found that were similar to the tires of the black Chevy S-10 that Morales drove.

For the next four weeks, an array of forensic analysts and police officers testified.

Charles Merritt, a bloodstain pattern analyst, testified that all of the swabs of the areas that fluoresced in the master bedroom had been sent for DNA testing and that all of the blood was Robert’s blood. He said some of the blood spatter was created by the wielding of whatever instrument had been used to bludgeon Robert.

“We can tell by looking at the stains from their shape what direction they were traveling in when they struck that surface,” Merritt testified. He said there was impact spatter on the wall near the opposite end of the bed and on the window above the bed. He said he found impact spatter on the nightstand and on the lamp on the nightstand.

He said that when he pulled up the wet carpet next to the tile upon which stood a pot-bellied stove, he saw blood that had soaked through. “My opinion now is it probably was a volume stain that had been cleaned up….somebody had lain there for a period of time and bled out,” Merritt said. He found stains on the ceiling, above the bed. The spots were circles, indicating it came from “straight down below,” Merritt said.

He said some of the bloodstains were created by a weapon being drawn back and then being brought forward—a swinging motion. As for the stain under the mattress, he said it measured nine inches by seven inches, an indication “that somebody had been laying there and bleeding.”

He said that areas of the carpet were lighter in color as if someone had tried to clean them. He said that a storage area under the bedroom had bloodstains on the ceiling from blood dripping through.

Merritt said that he believed Robert was first attacked in the bed and somehow got to the area near the stove “where he was struck again…At some point in time, he either got up and moved himself or somebody moved him to this point.”

Merritt told the jury: “On the bed itself, there has to be a minimum of two blows….maybe a third.”

Merritt said that he had examined Robert’s clothing, which had been removed at the site where the body was found. According to Merritt, there was no blood on the jogging pants or jogging shoes. He said it was possible that someone had put the clothes on Robert after he was killed.

Merritt also said that he found some blood spatter as much as eight feet away from the bed. “To throw blood eight feet is—takes a lot of force,” he said. Asked if that would show that the attacker was “really angry,” he said, “That’s just a speculation, but yes, that’s what it appears to be.”

Detective Empson testified that no DNA testing was done on scrapings of Robert’s fingernails. He said two crime lab analysts said it would not produce valuable evidence because Robert’s fingernails were very short and because Robert’s hands were covered with an excessive amount of blood.

Dr. Christopher Swalwell, deputy medical examiner, testified that Robert died of blunt force injuries and that a secondary factor was ligature strangulation. He said that he examined the black rope around Robert’s neck and that it “matched” the pattern of rope collected at the residence. Dr. Swalwell said he could not fix a time of death and could not rule out that it occurred on Saturday, February 12. Robert’s clothes were removed before his body was removed from where it was found. During the disrobing, a piece of Robert’s scalp with hair attached was found on his chest under his T-shirt, Dr. Swalwell said.

Dr. Swalwell said that Robert had suffered at least three and possibly four blows to the head, inflicting major skull fractures. He said the weapon used had “to be something relatively hard, obviously. It’s not the kind of fracture you’re going to get from a body part or from a fist.”

Dr. Swalwell said Robert had undigested food in his stomach that looked like red meat, potatoes, some green leafy vegetables, some red pepper or tomato and some beans. He said he believed Robert was killed “shortly after he ate. I would say probably within a couple of hours.”

Dr. Norman Sperber, chief forensic dentist for the San Diego County crime lab, testified that he examined the autopsy photos of Robert’s head wounds and concluded that either a mason’s hammer or a drywall hammer/hatchet was the likely murder weapon. He said that a hammer "is a basic part of about every household. A hammer is unique and it is a very high mass object. And that's why you use it for tapping in nails, and there's many types of hammers and hatchets that are used for this purpose."

Sperber brought a mason’s hammer and a drywall hammer to court along with an overlay of the face of each one which he placed over a photograph of the head wounds.

“Matching those up with the photograph [of the wounds]?” Howard-Regan asked.

“Exactly,” Dr. Sperber said. He told the jury that when he placed the drywall hammer “against the injury…there seemed to be a very good correlation.”

“There’s a straight part on the top of the hammer over here, which matches this part over here,” Dr. Sperber testified. “I don’t like to use the term match. It looks close to.”

Although Dr. Sperber said he didn’t like the term “match,” he used it several times. At one point, he pointed to areas on the photograph of the wounds and said that “the top of the hatchet matched.”

Gannett, the crime analyst who discovered the wet carpet in the master bedroom, testified about the two sets of tire tracks found adjacent to where the body was found. She measured the distance between front and rear tires of Jane’s Ford F-250 pickup truck and from the axle to axle. She said she compared those measurements to tracks at the scene. She also measured the black Chevy S-10 truck of Leonel Morales, the hired hand for the Dorotiks.

Gannett said she also compared the treads of the tires on the two vehicles to the tracks. Gannett testified that it was possible that the Chevy S-10 “could have left those impressions, but since I’m not a tire impression expert, it was my untrained eye that led me to believe that this might be a truck that needed to be looked at more.”

She said that she compared the Ford F-250’s left front, left rear and right rear tires to the impressions at the scene. “In my opinion, they appeared that they could be a match,” Gannett testified. She said that Anthony DeMaria, a San Diego County crime lab criminalist specializing in shoe and tire impressions, had ultimately ruled out the Chevy S-10 as having been at the scene.

DeMaria ruled out the S-10 based on his analysis of four tire impressions found at the scene where the body was found. He assumed that the four impressions were made at the same time by the four tires of a single vehicle. Although he found two of the tire impressions consistent with two tires from the S-10, he found one of the two others insufficient for comparison, and he found the fourth was not made by any of the tires on the S-10. Based on the inconsistency of the fourth impression and the assumption that all four impressions were all made by the same vehicle, DeMaria ruled out the S-10 from having been at the scene.

DeMaria also testified about an overlay that he created to compare the tire impressions with the tires from the F-250 and S-10. He testified about the difference between class characteristics and individual characteristics. He explained that for tires or shoes, class characteristics would be the brand of the tire or shoe, the design of the tread/sole.

“Class characteristics are something that could be shared with another tire,” he said. “Individual characteristics are unique [to] that specific tire. So if you run over a nail or a piece of glass and it cuts your tire, that would be something unique.”

DeMaria testified that three of the tire impressions at the scene were “consistent” with the tires on the F-250. He also said that the distance between the tracks was consistent with the F-250.

Howard-Regan asked, “Are you saying the measurements taken at the scene were equal to the measurements—were the same as the measurements taken off the actual vehicle?”

“Yes,” DeMaria said.

He also testified that the impression comparisons were “consistent with a vehicle backing up” to near where the body was found. He said the class characteristics of the tires were consistent, but the individual characteristics were not.

“Of all the impressions at the scene, there are no individual characteristics,” DeMaria testified.

He also said that none of the nine pairs of footwear confiscated from the Dorotik home linked to the shoe impressions at the scene. For the first time, DeMaria said that there appeared to be four different shoes at the scene. Demaria also testified that soil samples were taken from the tires of the Chevy S-10 and the F-250, but no tests were performed to compare the samples to soil at the scene where the body was found.

Howard-Regan read a number of stipulations to the jury—statements of evidence and testing that the defense did not contest.

These included that Robert’s blood was found on a syringe containing traces of animal tranquilizer and that a fingerprint in the blood was Jane’s. It was stipulated that Robert could not be eliminated from blood found in the passenger side of the truck bed, but Jane was excluded. It was stipulated that DNA testing confirmed Robert's DNA was found on the carpet in the bedroom, on the wall at the bottom of the stairs leading to the entrance, in the storage room below the master bedroom, on a bottle of cleanser in a closet.

It was stipulated that black material found on Robert's skull was chemically consistent with black paint. It was stipulated the rope found on Robert's neck "could not be distinguished from the other ropes" found on the patio, closet and living room of the Dorotik home.

According to police, Jane told them that she left the house about 1 p.m. and Robert was getting ready to go for a run. She said she went out to the barn to do some work and came back to the house around 4 p.m., police said. When he had not returned by 5 p.m., she said she went looking for him.

Charles Brumback, a family friend, testified that at about 6:45 p.m., he saw Jane driving the F-250 as he pulled out of a Vons supermarket parking lot several miles west of the horse farm and several miles from Robert’s usual jogging route. Brumback said he waved, but Jane did not acknowledge him. He said she appeared to drive behind the Vons—where, according to police, the store dumpsters were kept. An hour later, at 7:45 p.m., Jane called police to report Robert had not returned home.

Jay Fishman, the owner of the property where Robert’s body was found, testified that between 4 and 5 p.m. on Sunday, February 13, he and his sons had been clearing brush near the location of the body. He said the body was not there at that time.

Although the defense had attempted through cross-examination to suggest that Claire was responsible for the crime, a defense witness called near the end of the trial suggested another possibility.

Lisa Marie Singh, who lived near where Robert’s body was found, testified that on Monday, February 14, 2000, she was driving by the location and stopped when she saw police cars. She said she was approached by a news reporter who told her that a body had been found and showed her a photograph of Robert.

“I said, ‘My gosh, that looks like the guy I saw the day before,’” Singh testified. Later that day, she told a detective that on previous occasions, she had seen a black truck parked on the side of the road near there. And she said that the day before, Sunday, between four and 5 p.m., she saw the truck and three men were in the front seat. She said the man in the middle had a red cap and red sweatshirt, a mustache and his head was drooping forward. The man in the middle, she said, was Robert.

Singh testified the detective told her she was mistaken in her identification. She told the jury, however, “I’m absolutely sure of what I saw.”

During closing arguments, Howard-Regan told the jury that they could infer that Jane killed Robert in the master bedroom, dressed him in his jogging clothes, dragged him out to the back of the F-250 and dumped him in the brush off of North Lake Wohlford Road. “We can infer that the murder weapon was disposed of in the dumpsters behind the Vons,” Howard-Regan said.

She noted that a piece of Robert’s scalp with his hair attached was found “underneath” his T-shirt at the scene. That, she said, proved that he had been dressed after he was killed. Robert’s shoelaces were tied on the outside of his shoes. “That’s inconsistent with somebody tying their own shoes,” Howard-Regan said. “Obviously, someone else dressed him. The only person in that house with Mr. Dorotik that Saturday night was Jane Dorotik.”

Howard-Regan pointed to the testimony about Robert’s stomach contents, which suggested “dinner food” as proof that he was killed Saturday night.

She noted that Robert and Jane’s sons had testified that he always took a watch when he went running to time his run, but that the watch was found in the home.

“We have the rope, the rope that was found around Mr. Dorotik’s neck matches the rope that is found throughout the house—the rope that’s hanging [over] the porch, the rope that’s hanging over the railing, the rope that was found in the living room…in the office. It was all over the place.”

Howard-Regan said that the tire impressions on the scene “all match up to Jane Dorotik’s truck...We have three distinct tire impressions that come back and are an absolute match to Jane Dorotik’s truck.”

As she did in her opening statement to the jury at the beginning of the trial, Howard-Regan said that all of the blood stains in the master bedroom had been submitted for DNA testing and that all of the stains were Robert’s blood.

Holding one of the hammers that was introduced into evidence, Howard-Regan noted, “We know from Dr. Sperber, who’s testified before in hammer homicides, that this fits the indentation on the skull of Robert Dorotik.”

Defense attorney Steigerwalt accused the police and prosecution of putting on blinders to focus solely on Jane. He described Jane, who did not testify at the trial, as a gentle, loving human being. She didn’t do this.”

Steigerwalt said that after hearing from Singh, he could not point the finger at Claire any longer. “Going into the trial, I couldn’t argue some phantom individual with you. But with Lisa Marie Singh, there is no phantom individual…She saw the attackers. It’s true.”

The jury began deliberating after lunch on June 5, 2001. When no verdict was reached, they were sent home and resumed deliberating the following day. While they were in the jury room, the defense and prosecution gathered in the courtroom where Steigerwalt made a startling revelation.

A woman named Sherry Newton had called after hearing a reference to Singh’s testimony about a black truck. According to Steigerwalt, Newton said that on that Sunday when Robert was last seen, she was driving to the store and saw a man—whom she identified as Robert—jogging on the side of the road. When she was returning home, she again saw him jogging.

She said that not long after she passed him, she came around a turn and a black truck with two men inside was heading straight at her on the two-lane highway. At that last second, the truck swerved back into its lane and there was no collision.

Steigerwalt said Newton’s account was corroboration of Singh’s testimony about a black truck. He asked that the jury deliberations be halted and the trial reopened to hear Newton’s testimony. That request was denied.

On June 12, 2001, the jury convicted Dorotik of first-degree murder. Prior to sentencing, Steigerwalt filed a motion for a new trial and presented Newton’s testimony.

Her testimony was imprecise. She said the man she saw jogging was over six feet tall and more than 200 pounds. Robert was 5 feet 8½ inches tall and weighed 147 pounds.

Robert’s jacket, however, had been recovered very near where Newton said she saw him jogging. Superior Court Judge Joan Weber denied the motion for a new trial, noting that it was “not in dispute, given the blood evidence, given the spatter, given everything we know about the crime scene back at the house [that] this man definitively was killed in that bedroom, right?”

Before being sentenced, Dorotik told Weber, “I loved my husband. I still love my husband. This has not been justice that’s served here.”

Judge Weber sentenced Jane to 25 years to life in prison. After the sentencing, Steigerwalt said that he would continue to investigate a report from a witness who had just days earlier called to report a conversation he had with a butcher in a market on the same day. According to the witness, the butcher said he had seen two Latino men with a white man slumped between them in a black truck on the day Robert was reported missing.

In 2003, the Fourth District California Court of Appeals upheld the conviction and sentence, relying heavily on Merritt’s blood stain analysis.

Acting without a lawyer, Dorotik filed a state petition for a writ of habeas corpus which was denied. She filed another habeas writ in the California Court of Appeals which was denied in 2006. A similar petition filed in the California Supreme Court was denied in 2007. She filed a federal habeas petition in 2007. That, too, was denied.

In 2012, Dorotik filed a petition for DNA testing of the rope found around Robert’s neck, scrapings from his fingernails and hair that was visible under his finger at the autopsy. In October 2015, nearly three years later, the prosecution filed a response opposing testing. However, the motion was granted in November 2015. It was during this time that the legal team at the Loyola Project for Innocence began representing Jane. The legal team came to include LPI director Paula Mitchell, Eliza Haney, Hilary Morman, Paige McGrail, and Michael Cavalluzzi.

The San Diego Sheriff’s crime lab reported that DNA testing of the fingernail scrapings revealed foreign DNA present under two clippings from Robert’s right hand. However, lab analyst Mike Palermo said the results were “not suitable for comparison” to Jane’s DNA. LPI showed the test results to Mehul Anjaria, a DNA expert. Anjaria opined that Jane was excluded from the DNA under the fingernails. The lab had reported that Palermo only sought DNA testing of the tips of the rope, which produced no results.

LPI then sought out a battery of experts and, armed with the expert analyses and the DNA fingernail evidence, filed a state petition for a writ of habeas corpus. The petition said that the new evidence undermined the case. More DNA testing was ordered. Testing of other sections of the rope showed a mixture of at least two contributors, one of whom was Robert. Jane was excluded. Testing of Robert’s jacket and his socks also excluded Jane.

Other significant developments included:

--A defense expert said that the black paint found on Robert’s skull likely came from a tire iron or pry bar. Months later, in 2020, the prosecution disclosed for the first time that prior to Jane’s trial, a crime lab analyst had concluded the paint came from a crowbar or similar implement. That report had been concealed from Jane’s defense.

--Although Merritt testified and Howard-Regan told the jury that all of the blood stains were DNA tested and all were shown to be Robert’s blood, in fact, only a small fraction had been tested and many of the stains were not blood at all. That evidence showed that Merritt’s testimony and Howard-Regan’s arguments were false, the defense said.

--Evidence showed that there were serious breaches of the chain of custody of Robert’s blood that was preserved during the autopsy. The vial of his blood, which was not sealed, was unaccounted for during the time the Dorotik home was being searched. In October 2020, a District Attorney investigator said he examined the blood vial and asserted that the vial was “full, from the bottom to the top lid.” In March 2021, a defense expert examined the vial and discovered it was less than half full. A nick in the center of the top of the vial appeared to be the mark left by someone inserting a syringe into the vial.

--The prosecution disclosed that in 2009, a lab analyst questioned Merritt’s ability to conduct blood stain pattern analysis. The analyst said Merritt lacked the technical skills to conduct such analysis. In 2021, the prosecution sought out another expert who reviewed Merritt’s reports and trial testimony and concluded his work was based on improper methods and was unreliable. Dr. Anita Zannin, a bloodstain pattern analysis expert, told the defense: “[I]t is my opinion that the bloodstain pattern analysis prepared by Charles Merritt in this case and the conclusions therein, cannot be relied upon, given the many breaches in protocol, discrepancies and lack of basic bloodstain knowledge that are apparent from his report and testimony.”

--Dr. Frank Sheridan, the chief medical examiner of San Bernardino County, California, provided an affidavit for the defense saying that while he could not rule out February 12, 2000 as the time of death, “the time of death was…probably on Sunday, February 13, 2000.” Dr. Sheridan also said the disrobing of the body at the scene ‘likely—if not almost certainly—caused the portion of his scalp seen on his upper chest area to become dislodged and relocated.” Dr. Sheridan also reviewed the photos of the master bedroom and said the staining was insignificant. The wounds were such that if inflicted in the bedroom the blood loss “would have been all but impossible to clean up,” he said.

--DNA expert Anjaria also said, “It was not established that the apparent bloody fingerprint matching Jane Dorotik on a syringe was necessarily composed of Robert Dorotik’s blood. He noted that the lab report said the syringe was swabbed in the “non-ridge detail areas.” Anjaria said that meant that the area said to have Jane’s fingerprint was not swabbed and that it was wrong to state that her fingerprint was found in Robert’s blood.

--Dr. Alicia Villalobos, a veterinarian, provided an affidavit saying that she examined photographs of the Dorotik dogs. One, a Shih Tzu, had an abscess on its snout. The other, an Irish Wolfhound, had a torn dew claw. Both were bleeding injuries and both could have the source of bloodstains on furniture and bedding.

--Matthew Marvin, a latent print and impression analyst, gave an affidavit saying that DeMaria was wrong to exclude the S-10 because the assumption of simultaneity was not justified. He wrote, "There is no scientific basis to eliminate a vehicle based on the exclusion of one impression when it is reasonable that another vehicle could have left that impression."

Meanwhile, the prosecution reported that its case file had disappeared. As reconstruction efforts began taking place, the defense learned of information that had never been disclosed at the time of trial. This included:

--Crime lab bench notes showing that analyst Connie Milton failed to report numerous test results showing that suspected blood was not blood. In addition, documents were disclosed showing that her competence and performance had been called into question as far back as the late 1990’s.

--A lab report of DNA testing on sample stains from the mattress cover in Claire's bedroom which showed the stains were animal blood, as well as a lab report of DNA tests on a raincoat showing animal, not human, blood. Evidence that after getting that result, the prosecution had told the lab not to test a footstool in the living room.

--A statement from the owners of the horse farm that the carpet in the master bedroom was wet because the bedroom windows leaked when it rained.

--A statement from a family friend to police that she saw one of the family dogs bleeding heavily on the furniture.

--A report of a violent roadside assault on two people that occurred in January 2000, a month before Robert was killed, near the same location where Robert's body was found.

When the defense team investigated that assault, they discovered that the perpetrator, Jon Peart, had been arrested in April—after Robert was killed–and subsequently had been convicted. Interviews revealed that Peart, a user of methamphetamine, was known to suddenly and violently attack people.

On April 22, 2020, Jane was released from prison after the LPI legal team filed a motion arguing she was at risk of contracting Covid-19.

Ultimately, an evidentiary hearing on the claims of new and false evidence was scheduled for Monday, July 27, 2020. On Friday, July 24, the prosecution requested a hearing and announced that it agreed that Jane’s conviction should be set aside, citing the results of the DNA testing. The prosecution also said it would seek to retry Jane.

In December 2020, Superior Court Judge Bradley Weinreb ruled that Jane was entitled to a new preliminary hearing because Merritt testified falsely about the evidence in the master bedroom. Ultimately, a preliminary hearing was held and lasted 29 days—her preliminary hearing in 2000 had lasted just three days.

In January 2022, following the preliminary hearing, the defense filed a motion to dismiss the case.

“The Court has given the prosecution every opportunity to make its case as to why Ms. Dorotik should be bound over for another trial, and they have presented no evidence that overcomes the recent results of DNA testing that exculpate Ms. Dorotik,” the motion declared.

“Ms. Dorotik lost her husband, her children lost their father,” the motion said. “The person who killed Mr. Dorotik, however, has never been held to account because the wrong person was convicted…Ms. Dorotik respectfully requests that the Court dismiss this case, so she can, now at the age of 75, finally start picking up the pieces of her shattered life and move forward in peace.”

In March 2022, Superior Court Judge Robert Kearney denied that motion and ordered Jane to stand trial once more.

On Monday, May 16, 2022, as prospective jurors waited for the retrial to begin, Assistant District Attorney Kurt Mechals, who had tried the case in 2001 with Howard-Regan, dismissed the case because “the evidence is now insufficient to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Afterward, Dorotik told the media, “I always knew, I always believed from the very beginning that at some point the truth would come out, and I would be exonerated. I never for a moment thought it would take 22 years.”

In June 2023, Dorotik filed a federal civil rights suit seeking damages from San Diego County and various law enforcement and crime laboratory officials.

– Maurice Possley

Report an error or add more information about this case.

Posting Date: 7/4/2022
Last Updated: 6/7/2023
County:San Diego
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2000
Sentence:25 to life
Age at the date of reported crime:53
Contributing Factors:False or Misleading Forensic Evidence, Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:Yes*