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Jane Dorotik on being finally free

Undated photo of Jane Dorotik wearing surgical mask. <br/>
Undated photo of Jane Dorotik wearing surgical mask.

In a stunning reversal, the San Diego District Attorney this week dropped charges against Jane Dorotik, who was convicted of murdering her husband in 2000 in their Valley Center home and dumping his body on the road a short distance away.

Now 75 years old, Dorotik is truly free after two decades in prison. She always maintained she was innocent.

Dorotik spoke to KPBS Midday Edition about her case, and its larger implications.

This announcement from prosecutors Monday that there would be no new trial. It was very sudden. There was a jury pool already being assembled. Were you shocked by the news?

Dorotik: Yes and no. My legal team, Paula Mitchell with Loyola Project for the Innocent, and Mike Cavalluzzi, who was also joining in pro bono, had both said they would not be surprised that at the final hour, the DA's office would drop the case. And that's exactly what happened. So, of course, I was not completely surprised, but incredibly relieved that I don't have to face another trial.

Your case was taken up by the Project for the Innocent at Loyola Law School. How pivotal was their involvement in this outcome?

Dorotik: "It was absolutely everything. Absolutely everything. They jumped in on my case in late 2015 after I had won a motion for more DNA testing. Some DNA testing had been done at my original trial and conviction, but not enough DNA testing. For instance, they never tested DNA under my husband's fingernails, and he had clear defensive wounds. They never tested the murder weapon, even though we asked. So I won a motion after a new law came out, I won a motion in 2015 to have those things tested. And both of those pieces of evidence excluded me and showed male foreign DNA present on the murder weapon and under my husband's fingernails. So Loyola helped me. They took an intensive look into all of the forensics originally used to convict me and found just incredible errors, malfeasance, inaccurate representations and on and on. And they were able to take all of that information piece by piece and give it back to the DAs and say, 'look, here's your case.' The DAs back in 2020 overturned my original trial based on false forensics and then 90 days later, elected to retry me again, even though I've already spent 20 years in prison."

We know that an audit found security issues and testing errors at the crime lab earlier this year. Could these problems with the crime lab also put other convictions into question?

Dorotik: I believe so, and I believe the real answer to that is the fact that San Diego County ... the DA's office has had to — thanks to the investigation by Loyola Law School Project for the Innocent — to put out two Brady Letters on two forensics people involved in my case. A Brady Letter basically tells the criminal justice community that this person's reliability of their results, perhaps their integrity and testifying is no longer to be relied upon. And that's looking backward at all of the cases that those two forensics people were involved in and any cases going forward. In each case, those two forensics people are now retired.

We received a statement from the San Diego District Attorney's office about their decision not to retry your case: "The District Attorney's office is ethically bound to only proceed with trial if we believe the admissible evidence is sufficient to convince all twelve jurors that the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. We have concluded we can no longer ethically proceed with the prosecution of this defendant because the evidence is now insufficient to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt." Now one thing that statement does not say is that you are innocent of this murder. What are your feelings about being out of prison but still apparently suspected by prosecutors?

Dorotik: Well, I think it's pretty uncommon when prosecutors or DA systems admit any kind of error or mistake or wrongful conviction. I think generally the statements similar to what was put out in my case are carefully worded, somewhat vague and nonspecific in order to preserve their, I don't know, their perceived integrity.

Are your lawyers going to try to get a finding of factually innocent in your case?

Dorotik: We're going to look at all of our options. Yes. It's very clear that I'm innocent. If you looked at all the forensics evidence, no reasonable person could come to any conclusion except that I'm innocent and that many, many avenues that the DA's office had back in 2000 and have had since 2020 — when my conviction was overturned — there were many other options for them to pursue in terms of investigation, and they have steadfastly chosen not to.

When it comes to the other avenues, do you have any theory about who's responsible for the death of your husband?

Dorotik: As I say, there are some clear people that were not investigated. There were four witnesses that saw my husband out jogging the day after the prosecution said he was murdered in our bedroom. All of those witnesses were discounted, pushed aside, not interviewed initially. And there are other things that have come out in that immediate area with a series of violent attacks on people, one less than a month before my husband was killed and two more right after he was killed, some of them completely unprovoked by one particular person and not investigated in terms of what happened to my husband. My husband went out jogging and never returned, and who actually attacked him? In my mind, it had to be two people anyway because how can you bludgeon someone and strangle them at the same time, which is what their own coroner's report said. These incidents happened simultaneously. So it's physically impossible for one person to do that anyway. It had to be two people.

What are your thoughts about the resolution of this case? Do you finally feel free?

Dorotik: Having spent 20 years in prison, I have learned so much about what's wrong with the criminal justice system, what's wrong with the prison system, what needs to be done so that we have a fair and equitable criminal justice system. I can tell you clearly we don't have that now and I wish everyone, particularly prosecutors, would pursue truth and justice as vehemently and as zealously as they try and uphold the conviction in an effort to be right.

What are your plans now?

Dorotik: Next week I'm going to go to Florida to visit my daughter and her husband and I'm going to continue the work that I do. I've done an awful lot of advocacy work from when I was behind bars and have continued with the California coalition for women prisoners, the DA Accountability Coalition, Cure California and a couple of other things. I'm going to continue that work. It seems more important than ever that society is able to really look at how important it is: who we put in as judges, who we put in as district attorneys — that they are people who are going to pursue truth and justice as opposed to an overly zealous maintenance of a wrongful conviction.