The San Diego District Attorney’s Office on Monday abruptly dropped murder charges on the eve of a second trial of Jane Dorotik, two decades after a Vista jury had convicted her of killing her husband Robert near their Valley Center home.
The stunning announcement came just after a jury had been summoned last week; selection of a final panel was set for Monday.
Dorotik spent 20 years in prison before being released in April 2020, as her lawyers successfully argued the then-73-year-old was at risk of contracting the coronavirus then racing through section of the state prison system. Her bid for a new trial was based on new evidence developed by a team of lawyers at the Loyola Law School Project for the Innocent, which took on her case in 2015.
Dorotik was convicted of murdering her husband Robert in February 2000. His body was found off a roadside near the family’s Valley Center ranch. She had reported him missing on the evening of Feb. 13, 2000, telling authorities that the last time she saw him was earlier that day as he prepared to go running. She was arrested two days later.
At the time, she was a successful high-level executive for a mental-health services company who raised and trained horses at the family’s Valley Center ranch. She has long insisted she is innocent.
At the trial, prosecutors argued that she had bludgeoned and strangled Robert Dorotik in their bedroom, moved his body from the bedroom downstairs and out the door to a pickup truck, then drove some distance away and dumped the body.
The case against her was nearly entirely circumstantial, relying on forensics such as crime-scene and blood analysis. There were no eyewitnesses.
After years of unsuccessful appeals by Dorotik, lawyers with the Loyola Law School Project for the Innocent took on her case, and soon focused on the forensic work. In 2019 a judge ruled that the blood analysis and DNA evidence used at her trial was erroneous and ordered a hearing to determine if her conviction should be thrown out.
Then in July 2020 prosecutors took the unusual step of acknowledging they could no longer defend the original conviction. They cited new DNA findings as well as problems in the crime lab. Months later, however, the office announced it would again seek to put her on trial.
The lawyers from the Project for the Innocent methodically took apart nearly every aspect of the case that convicted Dorotik, from DNA evidence to blood analysis, blood-spatter evidence, and analysis of tire-track impressions at the crime scene by a California Highway patrol expert.
That scrutiny revealed errors in forensic work in the case, troubling work records of some criminalists in the San Diego County Regional Crime Lab that were never previously revealed, and allegations that the San Diego District Attorney’s office had suppressed evidence over the years.