After decades in prison and then in limbo awaiting a new trial for 2 years, Jane Dorotik finally is free with no pending charges
After six years of continuous work by staff attorneys and students at the Loyola Project for the Innocent (LPI) at LMU Loyola Law School, San Diego County Superior Court Judge Robert Kearney granted the prosecution’s motion to dismiss the murder charge against LPI client Jane Dorotik, who has spent the last 22 years trying to prove her innocence, during a hearing held Monday, May 16, 2022.
On Feb. 13, 2000, Ms. Dorotik’s husband, Robert Dorotik, went jogging in Valley Center and never returned home. Ms. Dorotik reported her husband missing, and after an all-night search and rescue effort, his body was discovered along his jogging route early the next morning. Ms. Dorotik was arrested 72 hours later and charged with his murder based on purported bloodstains observed in the bedroom of their home.
On July 24 2020, LPI secured the release of client Jane Dorotik, whose murder conviction was overturned by San Diego Superior Court Judge Harry M. Elias. The conviction was thrown out after the San Diego District Attorney’s Office conceded that there was new evidence, including forensic evidence, demonstrating that Ms. Dorotik should never have been convicted. The evidence that had been presented at her trial was completely unreliable and did not support the conviction.
The prosecution admitted that the criminalist who prepared the “bloodstain pattern analysis” in 2000 was not a competent expert. The evidence also showed that the sheriff’s crime lab, which was unaccredited in 2000, made numerous errors in the handling of the forensic evidence, including failing to document a chain of custody for critical items of evidence. The exact whereabouts of a purple-topped blood vial collected at Mr. Dorotik’s autopsy was undocumented for weeks at a time during critical points in the investigation. In addition, the prosecution relied on a tire impression analysis by a criminalist who they admitted was not competent to analyze tire evidence.
“After fighting for nearly 20 years to overturn my conviction, I am so grateful to finally see this day,” said Ms. Dorotik. “Frankly, I’m a little overwhelmed at the moment. 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." She added: “I lost literally everything in my life that Bob and I had built together. Thanks to my great legal team at Loyola Law School, I feel like I can finally breathe and I’m able to start thinking about making plans for the future.”
Even though prosecutors admitted Ms. Dorotik was wrongfully convicted and wrongfully incarcerated for almost 20 years, they embarked on a two-year campaign to re-convict her for the murder of her husband. In 2021, the prosecution called 29 witnesses at a preliminary hearing that spanned nearly a year and revealed numerous additional problems with the prosecution’s case against Ms. Dorotik.
“Our experts were prepared to show that the so-called bloodstains presented against Jane at trial were never even tested in a lab and shown to be blood at all,” said Paula Mitchell, the Judy and Steve Page Executive Director of the LPI. “The experts were also going to testify that the jury was misled by the prosecution when it was told that all of the evidence was DNA tested and shown to be Mr. Dorotik’s blood, when in fact that was clearly not the case.”
LPI attorneys and students have been working on the case for the last six years. Jury selection for a second trial was set to begin the May 16. LPI attorneys and co-counsel Mike Cavalluzzi were prepared to lay out the case for Ms. Dorotik’s innocence in what was expected to be a three-month trial. The defense believes the trial would have resulted in an acquittal, based on extensive evidence pointing to Ms. Dorotik’s innocence that LPI uncovered during its six-year investigation into the case—evidence investigators failed to investigate since 2000, even after they conceded Ms. Dorotik’s conviction should be overturned.
“LPI enlisted an army of experts to review the forensic evidence, and their reports show that the criminalists who handled and analyzed the evidence in this case were not competent to do that work. Add to that overzealous prosecutors, intent on getting a conviction, and you end up with a case against Jane Dorotik that was nothing more than smoke and mirrors dressed up for the jury as ‘scientifically reliable’ forensic evidence,” said LPI Legal Director Paula Mitchell '02.
“LPI is thankful to be able to partner with a criminal defense attorney as talented and committed to his clients as Mike Cavalluzzi. His skill and instinct in the courtroom emphasized the false evidence and misconduct that permeated Ms. Dorotik’s first trial, and his tenacity ensured that it would not happen again at the re-trial,” said LPI Legal Director Paula Mitchell.
“Ms. Dorotik has demonstrated remarkable courage and resilience in standing up to the system that has taken so much from her, and in that time, she has committed herself to helping others get justice in the criminal system. We are so grateful that Ms. Dorotik can finally put this behind her so she can now fully devote herself to her work of impacting criminal justice reform,” said Cavalluzzi.
“Ms. Dorotik faced the added hurdle of having to refute the prosecution’s false narrative put forth 22 years ago and which has since aired on nationally syndicated sensationalized ‘true crime’ shows, leaving many people firmly convinced of her guilt,” said LPI Staff Attorney Paige McGrail ’20, who started working on the case as a student at Loyola Law School.
“During the course of LPI’s six-year-long investigation, we uncovered a mountain of exculpatory evidence. Law enforcement had this evidence available to them in 2000, but refused to pursue it. In fact, law enforcement ignored eyewitnesses who came forward with exculpatory information and the jury in 2001 never heard the evidence that pointed to Ms. Dorotik’s innocence,” said Staff Attorney and Investigation Coordinator Megan Baca.
"Investigators admitted at Ms. Dorotik’s preliminary hearing last year that they overlooked numerous leads and eyewitnesses who reported seeing Mr. Dorotik jogging on Sunday, Feb. 13, a day after prosecutors contend he was killed by his wife,” said LPI Staff Attorney Hilary Morman ‘20.
“Law enforcement’s investigation of this case was plagued by tunnel vision from the start, where the lead homicide detective admitted he never considered any suspect other than Ms. Dorotik,” said LPI Staff Attorney Eliza Haney '16. “As a result, investigators ignored compelling leads that pointed to another perpetrator—which DNA evidence has now corroborated—who to this day has not been investigated, identified, or apprehended.”
“Ms. Dorotik’s case demonstrates that prosecutors are still actively relying on faulty forensics shown to be a leading cause of wrongful convictions over decades past, even today, despite advances in the scientific community casting doubt on the reliability of those disciplines. This case is yet another example of the need for greater scrutiny of forensic sciences in the courtroom,” said LPI Program Director Adam Grant '10.
About the Loyola Project for the Innocent
The Project for the Innocent (LPI) pursues claims of actual innocence on behalf of those wrongfully convicted of crimes. Students work under the supervision of founder Laurie Levenson, David W. Burcham Professor of Ethical Advocacy; Legal Director Paula Mitchell; Program Director Adam Grant and other supervising attorneys. Since 2011, the LPI has secured the release of 11 clients seeking justice after wrongful convictions. They include Johnathon Ramos (2020 release after 8 years in prison); Janet Dixon (2020 release after nearly 40 years in prison); Michael Tirpak (2019 release after 25 years in prison); Maria Mendez (2018 release after 11 years in prison); Jaime Ponce (2017 release after 19 years in prison); Marco Contreras (2017 release after 20 years in prison); Andrew Leander Wilson (2017 release after 32 years in prison), Kash Delano Register (2013 release after 34 years in prison), and Obie Anthony (2011 release after 17 years in prison). Learn more at www.lls.edu/ProjectfortheInnocent.