Did Jane Dorotik kill her husband, Robert? Over twenty years ago, a jury said she did. Although she has always maintained her innocence, proclaiming her love for her husband of 27 years, in 2001 Jane Dorotik was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to 25-years-to-life. Prosecutors argued Jane killed her husband in their bedroom at the Valley Center ranch they rented and then dumped his body in a remote wooded area. The purported motive was as old as the hills: money. Jane was the primary breadwinner as a successful health care executive for Telecare Corporation and also raised and trained horses at the family’s ranch with the couple’s daughter. Robert disapproved of the money spent on the horse business, and the family argued over this issue. Prosecutors contended Jane did not want to pay Robert support after a divorce, so instead devised a deadly plan.
On the evening of February 13, 2000, Jane Dorotik reported her husband missing, telling detectives Robert had gone out for a jog, but never returned. His battered body was found at 4:35 the next morning bludgeoned and strangled. The medical examiner determined Robert sustained numerous blows to his head.
The First Trial of Jane Dorotik and Her Overturned Conviction
Evidence presented against Jane at trial was damning. Prosecutors told the jury Robert Dorotik’s blood was found in the master bedroom, on the comforter, mattress, headboard, wall, ceiling, nightstand and more. Then came a key piece of evidence: a syringe found in the couple’s bathroom contained a horse tranquilizer and had Jane’s fingerprint in Robert’s blood. Tire tracks which matched the couple’s truck were also found near Robert’s body. At her sentencing, Judge Joan Weber said, “How could she get her own husband’s blood on her hands if she was not involved in the homicide?” She further agreed Robert was killed in the bedroom, saying, “given the spatter, given everything we know about the crime scene back at the house, this man definitely was killed in that bedroom.” That evidence is now being called into question.
On July 24, 2020, San Diego County Superior Court Judge Harry Elias overturned Jane’s murder conviction after prosecutors conceded new DNA evidence and “problems in the lab” raised doubt over the conviction. It was a day of great rejoicing for the lawyers from the Loyola Law School Project for the Innocent (LPI), who had long labored on Jane’s case. Through their efforts, DNA testing had been ordered on Robert’s clothing, scrapings beneath his fingernails, and on the rope he was strangled with. The scrapings and rope had never been tested before. The DNA testing utilized new techniques not available in 2000, and the results were astonishing. Foreign male DNA was found on the rope and under Robert’s fingernails. Jane’s DNA was absent.
Jane’s lawyers further provided evidence false and inaccurate information was presented by the prosecution’s bloodstain pattern expert, Charles Merritt. He was not competent or qualified, used flawed methodology, and his bloodstain pattern analysis and crime scene reconstruction were based on stains not Robert Dorotik’s blood, or even tested to be blood at all they stated. “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,” said LPI’s attorney Paula Mitchell.
Jane’s attorneys further maintained the forensic evidence was unreliable, providing proof of gaps in the chain of custody for the blood and DNA evidence and worse, raising the possibility of evidence alteration. They also stated there were significant issues with the lab work being conducted by lab analyst Connie Milton, who had been previously cited for failing to follow lab protocols and for other misconduct, including overstating test results, swapping samples, and failing to report negative test results.
Pure and simple, the reliability of any test results conducted on the forensic evidence had “completely and forever” been decimated they firmly concluded.
In response, the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office issued a statement saying, “Ultimately, this office intends to pursue DNA testing and retesting of the available evidence in this case using modern and advance DNA technology available to us. Whatever the outcome of this additional testing may be, this office will commit resources to this matter in an effort to do all we can to seek the truth and pursue justice.” And new DNA testing is exactly what they did. Never conceding Jane Dorotik was innocent, and armed with the new DNA results and a fresh look at the case, the prosecution once again proceeded with murder charges against Jane Dorotik.
Her preliminary hearing began on April 22, 2021, before Judge Robert Kearney, and although a preliminary hearing is not a full trial but merely meant to determine whether probable cause exists to order the accused to stand trial, the hearing took on trial like dimensions. But could anyone have predicted it would stretch to almost a full year, with the proceedings held on and off? Surely, this was a record! The prosecution was headed by Kurt Mechals and Chris Campbell. The defense by Los Angeles criminal defense attorney Michael Cavalluzzi, and attorneys Paula Mitchell, Eliza Haney, and other attorneys from the Loyola Law School Project for the Innocent.
On March 11, 2022, Judge Kearney denied the defense’s motion to dismiss the case and Jane Dorotik was ordered once again to stand trial. Originally understanding the preliminary hearing was set for a mere two weeks, I had intended to write an article about the proceeding. When it stretched on seemingly without end, I realized the story was more suited towards a book. Although I stayed through Judge Kearney’s final order, a complete writing will be forthcoming. Here however is a portion of the case. Of course, for the ultimately conclusion, you will have to stay tuned for the trial, which is slated to commence on April 27, 2022.
Deputy Blackmon Interviews Jane Dorotik, Searches for Robert, and Then Makes A Terrible Discovery
Retired San Diego County Sheriff’s Deputy James Blackmon was the first to take the witness stand. A 31-year veteran of the force, he testified that at 7:45 p.m. on February 13, 2000, he responded to the call of a missing person. He drove to the Dorotik home at 8:20 p.m. and met with Jane Dorotik who told him she last saw Robert that day at 1:15 watching television and getting dressed to go jogging. He was wearing a maroon jogging suit, with an Arizona sweatshirt. Jane left to go check the horses, but when Robert had not returned by 4:00 p.m., she drove around his usual jogging routes. At 7:45 p.m. Jane Dorotik called the sheriff. Robert was very healthy and had run marathons she said. Deputy Blackmon asked Jane if they had any marital problems and she told him not in the past two years.
Deputy Blackmon searched with other deputies and spoke with neighbors. At 9:20 p.m. he returned to the residence when the Dorotik’s daughter, Claire, got home. He interviewed her and she told him she often ran with her father. She detailed the routes her father would take and drew a map for them. At 10:15 p.m. Deputy Blackmon determined they needed to call in search and rescue.
At 10:45 p.m. Deputy Blackmon received a call that a man named Clay Hunter reported he saw a jogger matching Robert’s description behind Lake Wolford Road around 4:00 p.m. when he was out on horseback. Deputy Blackmon went to Clay’s house, and they drove to the area. When Claire heard about Clay’s sighting, she told him it would not be her father as he did not run cross-country. On cross examination, attorney Cavalluzzi showed Jane Dorotik told Deputy Blackmon Robert would sometimes go into the back country.
Scent dogs were brought in to help in the search and at 3:40 a.m. Deputy Blackmon received a call they had found Robert’s sweatshirt. Deputy Blackmon continued searching and drove to Woods Valley Road and went west. He drove up a long driveway and suddenly saw what looked like a body. It was 4:35 a.m. He got out of the car, shined his flashlight, and he saw what looked like tire impressions. He saw a man lying on his back with his left arm folded onto his chest. He approached the body and saw there was trauma to the back of the head and a cord around the neck. “I saw Dorotik with trauma to his head, rope around his neck. He was wearing a maroon jogging suit…his feet were together. It appeared to me he was placed there,” said Blackmon. Attorney Cavalluzzi immediately objected and the words, “It appeared to me he was placed there” were stricken from the record.
Deputy Blackmon also saw injuries to Robert’s face. An emergency medical technician arrived, lifted up the fingers, and said rigor mortis was present. The homicide team was called in and a tent was erected over the body at some point, as it had been raining and a light mist was falling.
On cross-examination, attorney Cavalluzzi emphasized there were witnesses who saw someone jogging matching Robert’s description, and another witness, Lisa Marie Singh, told detectives she saw a man matching Robert’s description inside a truck near the area where Robert’s body was found. Cavalluzzi also questioned about a John Pert who had been engaged in assaults on the reservation in January, February, and March of 2000.The land where Robert was found was part of the San Pasqual Reservation. John Pert engaged in violent assaults along Lake Wolford Road and he assaulted Paul Rivers, who said Pert was out of control on meth.
Where Was Robert Dorotik Killed? A Detective Makes Shocking Findings
Did Someone Redress Robert After Killing Him?
Homicide Detective Richard Empson testified on February 14, 2000, he arrived at 7:02 a.m. at the scene of North Lake Wolford Road and 16555 Woods Valley Road. The area was dense with brush and trees. Detective Empson looked at the body and saw trauma to the head, blood on the face, a rope around the neck, and ligature marks at the base of the neck. Despite the extensive head wound, he noted there was no blood around the body.
Another matter quickly grabbed his attention: Robert’s running shoes. It had been raining, and Jane reported Robert was out jogging, yet his shoes were clean, and no splash marks were present on the socks or pants. He also noted the shoelaces were tied on the outside of the shoe. Soon it was discovered Robert was wearing boxing shorts which seemed “unusual” to be running in. Had someone redressed Robert after killing him?
Detective Empson also saw muddy tire impressions at the scene and the Multidisciplinary Accident Investigation Team (M.A.I.T.) was called in, arriving around 2:00 p.m. The medical examiner, Dr. Christopher Swalwell, arrived later in the afternoon and examined the body. There appeared to be a fracture to the skull. Robert was disrobed except for his boxer shorts, and Detective Empson saw a piece of scalp with hair which matched Robert’s on the upper left chest area. At 7:00 p.m. Empson cleared the scene.
At 9:00 p.m. he drove to the Dorotik home and spoke with the family. Son Alex said his dad always ran in shorts and a t-shirt. Son Nicholas said his dad always wore a watch when running. No watch was found on the body. When Detective Empson walked towards the porch, a detective pointed to rope which looked like the one found around Robert’s neck.
The next morning, February 15, 2000, Detective Empson attended the autopsy where it was determined the cause of death was blunt force trauma to the head with the contributing factor of strangulation. Dr. Swalwell said Robert lost a significant amount of blood. None was found at the scene. The stomach contents revealed undigested food of red meat, potatoes, a green vegetable, and red pepper or tomatoes.
Blood Found in the Master Bedroom of Jane Dorotik: Was Robert Bludgeoned There?
On February 16, 2000, Detective Empson went to the Dorotik residence, and Jane Dorotik gave consent to search the house and property. During the search, Deputy Janet Ryzdymski came up to Detective Empson and whispered, “Follow me.” He followed her into the master bedroom and Ryzdymski pointed out what appeared to be blood on the leg of the potbelly stove, on the stove itself, and on the ground below. The criminalist said the carpet was wet. The Dorotik family was in the living room, and Detective Empson questioned if they knew why blood was present. They said their dog bled, Robert would get nicks and cuts fixing horse jumps, and Jane said Robert got a bloody nose over by the tile and stove. Detective Empson decided to obtain a telephonic search warrant.
After the search warrant was executed, additional lighting was brought into the bedroom and Detective Empson saw blood spatter on the ceiling. Attorney Cavalluzzi objected to the words “blood spatter” and from that point on, Detective Empson could only say he saw “red staining and droplets” on the ceiling. He also saw the same on the comforter. There was a sheet in the hamper which appeared to have blood staining on it. In the living room closet they found carpet cleaner, a bucket of cleaning supplies, and a Scrub Free bottle which appeared to have blood on it.
When questioned again about the findings in the bedroom, Detective Empson said there appeared to be blood spatter on the comforter and pillow sham. Again, Cavalluzzi objected to the words “blood spatter,” but this time the objection was overruled. Cavalluzzi was not about to give up and told Judge Kearney the very person Empson relied on “has been discredited by experts.” There was a long sidebar to discuss this issue.
Finally, questioning resumed, and Detective Empson said red staining droplets which appeared to be blood were found on the wall behind the bed, window above the bed, above the headboard, on the ceiling right above the bed, on the nightstand, lamp, and sliding glass door. There also appeared to be blood on the potbellied stove, brick and grout behind the stove, tile below, and on the abutting carpet. When the mattress was flipped over, there was red staining on top. On cross-examination, Cavalluzzi dropped a bombshell. “Are you aware in 2020, and 2021 many of these items were tested and were negative for blood?” he asked pointedly. Detective Empson was not. Cavalluzzi also brought out Jane Dorotik said Robert suffered a bloody nose after running a marathon one week prior to his disappearance. It was over by the potbellied stove and Robert cleaned it up.
A Fingerprint in Blood, the Storage Area, and Jane Dorotik Arrested
A brown paper bag with multiple hypodermic syringes was found in the master bathroom. There was red staining on the front of the bag, and one syringe inside also had red staining on it and a fingerprint in blood. When asked if the syringe was submitted for fingerprint analysis and if there was a match, Cavalluzzi objected. Again, another sidebar. The answer would have to wait until the fingerprint examiner took the stand.
Next Detective Empson testified to what was found in the storage area beneath the Dorotik bedroom. Blood was found at the bottom of the stairs. Inside the storage room itself, blood was dripping from the ceiling in the area aligned with the sliding glass door of the master bedroom above. Blood was also found dripping down into a Christmas wreath box.
The family was still in the living room and Detective Empson told them it was their opinion Robert was bludgeoned in the master bedroom. Jane was asked to go to the station, at which time she said she wanted an attorney. Cavalluzzi objected and Jane’s request for an attorney was stricken from the record. Jane Dorotik was arrested.
Search of Truck and What Jane Dorotik Told Her Landlord
On February 22, 2000, Detective Empson and a criminalist did an exterior examination of Jane and Robert’s F250 truck, and then on February 25, 2000, they did an interior search. There were three different tires on the truck: the front two tires were from Big O, the left rear was a Firestone, and the right rear was a Copper Discover. Detective Empson requested the truck be fluoresceined to see if any blood was present, and the plastic bedliner behind the driver side tested positive.
Also on February 22, 2000, Suzanne B. was interviewed. Her and her husband owned the ranch the Dorotik’s were renting. On the Sunday Bob was reported missing, she stopped by the property, arriving between 9:15 and 9:30 a.m. and leaving between 12:30 and 1:00 p.m. Jane Dorotik told her Robert was not feeling good, was fighting the flu, and was inside the house. She never saw Robert that day.
Cross-Examination of Detective Empson and a Bombshell Revelation
On cross examination, attorney Cavalluzzi pointed out Detective Empson had only been a homicide detective one to two years when he became the lead investigator for the Dorotik case, and had only investigated three arson homicides before the Dorotik case.
Attorney Cavalluzzi emphasized Robert’s body had been exposed to the elements and rainfall for six hours which could wash away evidence. The rain could also be the reason Robert’s running shoes looked new. Detective Empson responded the body was protected by heavy trees. When asked if it would change his opinion if he knew the shoes were new, Detective Empson responded “no” because there were no splash marks on the shoes. Neither were splash marks on the pants or socks. Cavalluzzi declared the socks were fairly soiled and the soil marks did not show up on all the photographs.
Cavalluzzi asked Detective Empson if he knew that it was common for runners to tie their shoes on the side if they had high arches. Detective Empson responded it was the first time he had heard of this. Regardless, it looked unusual to him. Next up were the boxer shorts. Cavalluzzi showed Empson his prior testimony where Alex told him it was not unusual for his dad to jog in boxers and sweatpants.
When asked why it did not appear Robert died where he was found, Detective Empson replied the trauma to the head would have produced a significant amount of blood, which he did not see. Cavalluzzi questioned how much investigation he actually did to find blood, asking if he looked under the leaves and took soil samples. Detective Empson said soil samples were taken but he did not know from which area. When asked when he developed the theory Robert was dressed elsewhere, he said it was after finding blood in the master bedroom. He said he found significant amounts of blood on the mattress and box spring, in the area by the sliding glass door and tack strip, which drained below to the storage area. Cavalluzzi countered the door track was fluoresceined and came up negative for blood.
Cavalluzzi moved on to the scent dogs. One dog found Robert’s jacket by using a ground scent and traced the route Robert was known to jog. The dog got near the area where Robert was found. The jacket itself was found on North Lake Wolford Road about ¾’s of a mile from the body.
Cavalluzzi asked if Robert suffered defensive wounds, if that information would influence the investigation, and could it mean Robert was involved in a struggle? Detective Empson answered “Yes.” When asked if Robert had defensive wounds on his left forearm and right hand, Detective Empson said he did not recall. He testified at the trial he noticed excessive blood on Robert’s right hand. There was also a strand of hair wrapped around Robert’s finger. Cavalluzzi pointed out Hans Woidtke said he saw a man who looked like Robert inside a truck between two men and he appeared injured.
Next, Cavalluzzi attacked worked done by the prosecution’s blood pattern expert Charles Merritt, stating his qualifications had been challenged by experts. He asked, “Did you trust Merritt to collect?” Detective Empson responded he did not recall him collecting evidence as the evidence technician would do that. When asked if Empson verified the chain of custody, he responded, “Not that I recall.” Cavalluzzi then dropped another bombshell: Robert’s fingernails, socks, and the rope around his neck were tested in 2020 and foreign male DNA was found. Jane Dorotik was excluded.
DNA Analysis Reveals Robert Dorotik’s Blood in the Master Bedroom
Charles Keel, a forensic scientist specializing in DNA was next on the stand. He testified he works for Forensic Analytical Crime Laboratory, and previously worked with Forensic Crime Associates, prior to its merger with Forensic Analytical Crime Laboratory. He testified his work is no different now in 2021 than it was in 2000.
On July 21, 2000, Charles Keel received a FedEx package containing stain swabs from ten items/areas in the Dorotik case. He also received a dried swatch of Robert’s blood which he used to create a DNA profile. The stain swabs from the master bed, brick wall, and ceiling between the bed and sliding glass door matched Robert’s DNA profile. Two swabs from the truck bed also matched Robert’s DNA profile.
Over twenty years later, on November 24, 2020, he received another FedEx package containing stain swabs from the Dorotik case. Stain swabs matched Robert’s DNA profile from: the telephone on the south side of the bed, on the wall behind the bed, bedstand, on the top of the bedstand, potbellied stove, the brick floor, backside of the mattress, carpet edge, brick wall on the exterior stairwell, brick wall on the bottom of the entrance stairs, storage area below the master bedroom, carpet cleaner, and Scrub Free bottle. The mattress pad was saturated with blood and matched Robert’s DNA profile, as did cuttings from the comforter and pillow sham.
On cross-examination attorney Cavalluzzi focused on the fact the 2000 lab was not accredited. Keel explained they never applied for accreditation as it was a difficult process, and testified even though it was not accredited, one could still rely on their work. They eventually merged with an accredited lab in order to receive more governmental cases.
When asked if DNA is only as reliable as the chain of custody, he answered, “No.” But if the integrity of the chain of custody was disturbed, then “Yes.” When asked if DNA is only as reliable as the person who collected it, Keel answered “No,” explaining he could produce a DNA profile from a stain and did not need a person to tell him where it came from.
When asked if the testing in 2000 was confirmatory, he answered, “Yes, I believe it is.” Cavalluzzi then questioned the difference between a presumptive test and a confirmatory test. A presumptive test cannot decipher between human and animal blood. The truck bed was presumptive, as was the pillow sham, which also had six stains testing negative. Keel confirmed the swabs from the truck bed were fully consumed in testing in 2000, so there was nothing left to retest in 2020. Cavalluzzi finished with DNA testing could not determine how long the DNA had been there or when the DNA actually was deposited. Keel agreed.
Jay Fishman Did Not See a Body or Jane Dorotik While Replanting Trees
Jay Fishman owned the property where Robert’s body was discovered. On February 14, 2000, he became aware a body was found as “many, many helicopters were flying overhead’ and he was sure one of the neighbors called to tell him as well. The day before, he and his son had been replanting trees around 2:00 or 3:00 p.m. and would have noticed a body, although they were not working directly in the area.
On cross-examination, he explained people would take his driveway thinking it was a road and later apologize. People would also dump things on the property. He was aware of partying and assaults from the reservation.
William Brumback Saw Jane Dorotik Driving the Truck Behind Vons
William Brumback met the Dorotik family through his daughter, Kaitlyn, who boarded her horses at the Dorotik ranch. Before Kaitlyn got her license, he used to drive her to the ranch and developed a friendship with Jane Dorotik.
On February 13, 2000, he was leaving the Vons shopping center in Escondido around 6:45-7:00 p.m. As he was leaving, he saw Jane Dorotik driving the truck and he waved to her but did not recall if she responded. She was heading towards the back of the center which did not stand out to him until after she was arrested. Normally she would drive the Toyota RAV and it was unusual to go the way she was going as he believed that side was closed. Later, detectives searched the dumpsters behind the store.
On cross examination, Cavalluzzi emphasized when William saw Jane Dorotik driving at the Vons center she was worried, concerned, and looking for Robert. William also confirmed it was common for the Dorotiks to leave their house unlocked and the truck unlocked with the keys in the ignition. He never saw Jane and Robert hostile or angry at each other or complain about the marriage.
Robert Died Within Two to Three Hours of Eating a Red Meat Meal Says Medical Examiner
Dr. Christopher Swalwell worked at the San Diego Medical Examiner’s Office as a pathologist for 23 years from 1989 until he retired in 2012. On February 14, 2000, he arrived at the scene at 4:45 p.m. It was 12 hours after Robert had been discovered and it was cold, had been raining, and was starting to get dark. He described the area as remote, with trees, brush, and leaves on the ground. He saw an adult male lying on the ground with his left arm over his chest and a black rope loosely around his neck. He had a laceration to the back of his head which was “open and gaping.” He had abrasions on his face and ligature marks around his neck. The laceration to the head would have bled significantly, and there was some blood on his upper body and face, but not around the scene. He did not see blood underneath him.
The body and clothes were wet, and the body was very cold. He touched the arms and legs to see how stiff they were and found them to be in rigor mortis. Lividity was also present, meaning red, purplish coloring of the skin. They removed the clothing, and once the shirt was removed, he noticed a small piece of scalp. There was also a hair wrapped around a finger. The body was placed on a sheet and then into a body bag.
The next morning, February 15, 2000, Dr. Swalwell performed the autopsy. He found three lacerations to the scalp, one that was big and gaping towards the back of the head and one on the right and one on the left. The big gaping wound caused fracture of the skull and bleeding around the brain. He could see the exposed scalp and testified there was more than one blow because of the size and gap. There were ligature marks on the front of the neck, which grew faint towards the back.
There were abrasions on the back, chest, left shoulder, near the elbows, on the face, forehead, nose, and hands. Dr. Swalwell said abrasions are scrapes of the skin and considered blunt force injuries. The abrasions and bruise on the right hand could be defensive injuries, sustained while trying to ward off an attack. There were scraps and a bruise on the little finger. Dr. Swalwell found petechiae on the inner lining of the eyelids. Petechiae are pinpoint hemorrhages below the skin which would have occurred while Robert was still alive and being strangled.
Dr. Swalwell determined the cause of death to be blunt force head injury with contributing ligature strangulation. He explained Robert rorodied from direct damage to the head, particularly the brain. The toxicology revealed caffeine, but no alcohol or drugs. Dr. Swalwell examined the stomach contents and identified red meat, a light green leafy vegetable like cabbage or lettuce, potatoes, beans, and red peppers or tomatoes. He said Robert died within two to three hours of eating.
Attorney Mechals questioned about determining the time of death. Robert was in full rigor mortis when he saw him at 4:45 p.m. on February 14, 2000. The rigor was developed as much as could be and the body had not decomposed. On cross-examination, Cavalluzzi raised rigor develops 8-12 hours after death, and at 12 hours the rigor is very strong, and can stay that way for 24-26 hours if at room temperature. After that period, the body will start to break down. Robert’s body had not started to break down.
When asked how much blood Robert lost, Dr. Swalwell responded, “a considerable amount of blood.” He would not describe it as “gushing” though, but as a “significant blood flow.” He said Robert lost half his body of blood. Cavalluzzi questioned whether it was 4-5 liters, but it was finally narrowed down to probably 2-3 liters. Dr. Swalwell did not examine the ground below for blood and did not see anyone else examine it. Cavalluzi pointed out it was raining, and rain could wash away the blood.
The ligature marks were consistent with someone strangling Robert from behind. Dr. Swalwell did not know if Robert was hit first or if it was simultaneously with being strangled. If struck and strangled at the same time, it would be consistent with two people. The bruising on the back of his hand and little finger could be consistent with a fight.
Dr. Swalwell said the way Robert was dressed was not inconsistent with being dressed elsewhere. On recross, when asked how hard it is to dress a dead body, Dr. Swalwell said it would not be too hard as here Robert was dressed in loose clothing. It would be harder if rigor mortis were present.
Latent Print Examiner Finds the Fingerprint of Jane Dorotik on the Syringe
Diane Do, a latent print examiner of 23 years for the San Diego County Sheriff’s Crime Lab testified on March 23, 2020, she examined the photograph of the syringe found in Jane and Robert’s master bathroom and identified the fingerprint of Jane Dorotik on it. The print was a patent print as it had residue and did not need to be enhanced to make it visible. A latent print needs to be enhanced.
Criminalist David Cornacchia
David Cornacchia, a criminalist with the San Diego County Sheriff’s Crime Lab testified he wrote reports on the Dorotik case on May 25, 2000, and July 19, 2000, regarding the stains he tested. He found stains from the comforter, bedsheet, carpet, bottom of the stairs, and storage room below the master bedroom to be a match to Robert’s DNA profile. On cross-examination Cavalluzzi showed the lab was not accredited in 2000 and DNA testing cannot determine when the DNA was deposited.
Deputy Ryzdymski Interviewed Witnesses, Jane Dorotik, and Claire Dorotik
Deputy Janet Ryzdymski worked for the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department from 1978 until her retirement in 2010. In 2000, she was assigned to the homicide unit and on February 14, 2000, she arrived to the scene around 5:30 a.m. During that day, she interviewed Lisa Marie Singh who said she saw a black truck parked in the driveway close to where Robert was found. Inside the truck was a white man sitting between two Hispanic men. She saw this same trio on more than one occasion. On cross-examination, Cavalluzzi sought to discredit Ryzdymski’s testimony saying forcefully, “She told you she only saw the white man that day.” “No” replied Ryzdymski just as forcefully.
At 6:24 p.m. Deputy Ryzdymski interviewed Vicky Sheaty who said she saw two cars, or either a small car and a truck, around 5:00 p.m. The car’s hood was up, and a white male in his 40’s who was balding, in shorts, was pouring something into the engine. A Hispanic woman was standing by, and a stick or bat was placed up against the car. Ryzdymski determined this did not appear to be a sighting of Robert as Jane Dorotik said Robert was wearing a sweatsuit, not shorts. It was learned later there was a runner who ran with a bat.
Later that night, Deputy Ryzdymski went to the Dorotik home and interviewed Jane Dorotik with Deputy Donahue. Deputy Ryzdymski testified Jane told her in 1996 and 1997, she and Robert separated, and Robert filed for divorce. The reason for the separation was Jane’s mom lived with them and she had Alzheimer’s which caused contention in the marriage. Robert was also drinking. However, they reconciled, and upon the reconciliation decided to have a new financial arrangement of keeping their finances separate. They also purchased $250,000 in life insurance.
Deputy Ryzydymski testified Jane Dorotik said she and Robert ate steaks together the night before he disappeared. The next morning, Jane got up around 5:00 a.m. and went to a café to purchase a newspaper. When she returned home, Robert had made coffee and they had breakfast together. The property owners came over as they frequently did. The last time Jane saw Robert was around 1:00 or 1:30 and he was putting on his shoes to go for a run. Jane went out to the stables and returned around 4:00 or 5:00 p.m. When Robert had still not returned home. she went to look for him and also stopped at the store. Jane primarily drove the RAV, but this time she took the truck in case Robert was injured. Jane Dorotik never told Deputy Ryzdymski Robert was fighting the flu.
Deputy Ryzdymski also interviewed Claire who said her father always ran with a watch, but this time her brother found the watch at home. Claire brought it out to show Ryzdymski. Claire said her parents’ marriage was good and described it as being better lately. It had been worse before and she confirmed they had separated at one time. Claire had never witnessed any violence.
Deputy Ryzdymski Believed She Saw Blood Spatter in the Master Bedroom of Jane Dorotik
When Deputy Ryzdymski went into the master bedroom, she saw what appeared to be blood spatter on the potbellied stove, up the wall, ceiling, bedspread, window, and curtains. It was tiny specks but a lot. The carpet was wet and pinkish. Criminalist Carolyn Gannett tested the carpet, and it was positive for blood.
Cavalluzzi Plays Taped Interview of Jane Dorotik
On cross-examination, Cavalluzzi asked, “Didn’t you tell Jane the medical examiner’s findings were consistent with Jane’s timeline?” Deputy Ryzdymski answered, “No.” But the next day on the stand, she was asked again, and this time said she did not recall saying that. Cavalluzzi then decided to play the full interview of Jane Dorotik.
In the taped interview, Jane said she got up around 5:00 a.m. on Sunday, February 13, 2000, and went to buy the newspaper. When she returned, she had breakfast with Robert and then went out to check the horses as two were ready to give birth The last time she saw Robert was around 1:00 p.m. when he was sitting on the couch watching a basketball game and getting ready to go for a jog. She went out to the barn and came back a little after 4:00 p.m. At 5:00 p.m. she went to feed the horses. Robert was still not home so she drove to Lake Wolford Road to look for him. She also picked up something at the store. By 7:30 p.m. she was alarmed and panicky as Robert would have called her. She contacted emergency services.
A sheriff came out and later they brought in search dogs who found Robert’s clothing. They showed it to her, and it was soaking wet. At that point, she knew something was wrong and was really scared. Later, the detectives came back and told her they had found a body. She went into disbelief. She woke up Claire to tell her and she made calls to family. Jane Dorotik grew emotional as she recounted this time and said, “I miss him.”
Jane described Robert as a very meticulous man who made mile markers. He ran about four times per week and had just run a marathon two weeks before, so he was in recoup mode.
Jane went into the history of her life with Robert. They had been married 27 years and had three children. In 1996 and 1997, they had a rough time in their marriage. At the end of 1997, they talked about divorce and Robert initiated one. The problem was Jane’s aged mother who had Alzheimer’s moved in with them, which caused contention between Jane and Robert. Finally, her mother left to live with Jane’s sister. Jane and Robert sold their house in the divorce, and in April of 1998, Jane moved to the ranch. However, they reconciled, and Robert also moved to the ranch. Jane said the last year, things were “pretty good.” When asked why they reconciled, Jane said because of “commitment on each part.” When asked if there was any infidelity or violence in their marriage, she answered, “No.” Robert drank a little more than he should at one time, but now was under control and health conscious.
After the reconciliation, they laid out their finances differently deciding to keep their finances separate. When questioned if they had any financial problems, Jane said “No,” but it was difficult for Robert as she “makes a very good salary.” When asked how much, she said $118,000 per year. Jane and Claire did horse training and sales, but her primary job was with Telecare Corporation as the senior regulation director of operations of Southern California. Telecare provided psychiatric health care to seriously mentally ill people.
Jane said Robert always wanted to be his own boss. In Arizona, he built spec homes and now was designing horse arenas and building horse jumps. His business was only one year old, and she would guess his income was less than $50,000. Previously he had worked as a contracts administrator for a company which built safety devices and airbags for vehicles. He left the job as he had difficulties with his boss but received a severance layoff package.
The year before, they bought life insurance policies of $150,000 for each of them. Robert was concerned if something happened to her, he wanted to make sure he could still pay for everything They knew the homeowners wanted to one day move to the ranch, so Jane wanted to buy the property next door, and Robert wanted to make sure he could still make the payments.
Jane described their last night and day together. That Saturday night, they cooked buffalo steaks, watched The Godfather Part 2 on television, then she took a bath and went to bed. On Sunday, she got up at 5:00 a.m., bought the paper, had breakfast with Robert, and checked the horses. The property owners came down around 9:30. They wanted to retire at the ranch so on the weekends they would come over to do renovations. After Robert went missing, she called them to see if they happened to chat with Robert when they were over. Did he tell them about any different running patterns? They said they had not talked to him.
Jane Dorotik said she would take a polygraph test as she was confident the results would be as she said.
Cavalluzzi Plays Taped Interview of Claire Dorotik
Next Cavaluzzi played the full interview of Claire Dorotik. Claire said she left around 11:00 a.m. on Saturday to go visit her aunt in Long Beach. Her and her father ran a lot together, and her father typically ran with a watch. Her brother found the watch at home, and she showed it to Deputy Ryzdymski.
Claire said her parent’s marriage was going good. They separated for a year, debated divorce, but chose to reconcile. They then decided to have separate finances, and Jane Dorotik bought real estate in her name. Claire said her mom was doing great regarding finances, she did not pay a lot of rent, and did not have big expenses. Her dad’s business was slow but picking up.
There was no physical violence in the marriage. In the past, Robert drank too much and became belligerent, but now just had one to two drinks per week. Claire was aware there was violence on the reservation and mentioned a break-in at their neighbor’s house.
Cavalluzzi Shows Deputy Ryzdymski Was Mistaken
Cavalluzzi closed his cross-examination with a bang. Deputy Ryzdymski agreed she was confident she saw curtains in the master bedroom. Yet photographs showed there were no curtains. Cavalluzzi then asked if she was confident about her interview with Lisa Singh and other things she investigated, raising the inference that although confident, she may have again been mistaken.
The Attorney For Jane Dorotik Accused Claire of Murder
Bonnie Long is the sister of Jane Dorotik. On Saturday, February 12, 2000, Claire drove to visit her at her home in Long Beach. Claire arrived around 2:00 p.m. and left on Sunday between 7:00 and 7:30 p.m. The two went to dinner on the Queen Mary on Saturday night and Bonnie gave the receipts in 2000 to Jane’s attorney, Kerry Steigerwalt. On Sunday afternoon, they went to the movies and then Claire drove home.
On Monday, around 7:30 a.m. Bonnie received a call from Jane who told her about Robert’s death. She drove to Jane’s house and was there when the search warrant was executed. When the detectives asked why there was blood in the master bedroom, Alex and Jane said the dogs bled and Jane said Robert had a nosebleed.
When attorney Mechals asked Bonnie if she suspected Jane of possibly being the killer, she said, “No.” When asked if she suspected Claire of possibly being the killer, she answered definitively, “Absolutely not. She was with me.”
When questioned why she did not testify at Jane Dorotik’s trial, Bonnie said she wanted to testify, was subpoenaed, and came to court. But once she found out Jane’s attorney was accusing Claire of the murder, she said she wanted an attorney. The judge gave her 24 hours. She talked to an attorney who told her she could not testify, telling her “You are an accessory.” At this point, Judge Kearney stopped the testimony and summoned the attorneys to sidebar. Afterwards, he put on the record he believed Bonnie Long had a valid 5th Amendment right and there could be no further inquiry.
Criminalist Connie Milton
Criminalist Connie Milton worked for the San Diego County Sheriff’s Crime Lab for almost 25 years. In the Dorotik case, she was asked to look for the presence of human blood and to send items out for DNA testing. She did presumptive testing using the Kastle-Meyer test in which the chemical phenolphthalein is used to detect the presence of blood.
She was given the syringes found in the Dorotik master bathroom and she tested the red brown stain on the large 20 cc syringe. It was presumptive positive for human blood. The ridge detail on the syringe showed the same.
Also testing presumptive positive for human blood were stains found on the bedsheet, the towel between the mattress and box spring, the mattress in the upper left quadrant, the carpet cleaner, the Scrub Free bottle, the carpet cutting, and brick wall at the bottom of the stairs.
As Connie Milton was going out of town, she was to return to the stand on June 2, 2021.
Charles Merritt Takes the Stand and Sparks Fly
Prior to Charles Merritt being called to the stand, Cavalluzzi objected to Merritt testifying to blood spatter. He further objected to him testifying as an expert, stating he objected to all of his testimony. The defense filed a motion on this issue, and they would argue it after their own experts testified said Cavalluzzi.
Charles Merritt worked as a criminalist for the San Diego County Sheriff’s Crime Lab from 1981 until his retirement in March of 2013, almost 32 years. He worked on the Dorotik case, starting on February 16, 2000, when the search warrant was executed at the Dorotik home. Merritt testified he was called to do one thing: blood pattern analysis. When he arrived at the Dorotik home at 10:40 p.m., he was briefed by criminalist Carolyn Gannett and Detective Empson. He then started to identify the blood patterns in the master bedroom placing red stickers (arrows) on points of observation.
Merritt began with the bed as he believed that is where the incident started. He observed blood spatter stains on the pillow sham, bedspread, nightstand, side of a bookcase, shelf of the bookcase and magazines, potbellied stove, and the wall behind the stove. He found two transfer stains on the leg of the potbellied stove and beneath. There were volume stains on the carpet. Merritt found the mattress had been flipped over. When he lifted up the mattress, he saw a volume stain. He also saw a brown towel between the mattress and box spring.
Merritt observed impact spatter stains on the wall above the bed, and there was a red stain going upwards. On the wall and ceiling about the sliding glass door, there were circular cast-off stains. Merritt explained a circular stain is from an object being swung upwards, and a cast-off stain is directional, usually linear. In the storage room below the bedroom and underneath the sliding glass door, there was a floating blood stain on the drywall and blood running down to a box.
On Merritt’s second day on the witness stand, when he started talking about there being one event because he found convergence at the corner, Cavalluzzi could take it no longer. Objecting fiercely, he stated he had a standing objection to everything Merritt was testifying to. “Everything Merritt did was improperly done according to all the experts,” proclaimed Cavalluzzi. Judge Kearney called a sidebar, followed by a long recess. Finally, the hearing resumed, and Judge Kearney said it was noted for the record the defense was objecting to this witness, he had read the defense’s motion, and the motion would be argued later. But Cavalluzzi had more to say, which he wanted on the record.
Cavalluzzi said he wanted to express his frustration and “the reason for his outburst.” Then he laid it out: Merritt did string testing and it was fundamentally wrong according to the experts. The district attorney was providing “essentially false evidence,” as they knew Merritt’s work was done incorrectly. Eliciting false testimony is a due process violation and that is what the people are doing stated Cavalluzzi.
Deputy District Attorney Mechals disagreed, stating Merritt is an expert, that he worked in the crime lab for a long time. The prosecutors met with experts who provided the opinion Merritt did not follow all protocols, nonetheless, Merritt went to the scene, did many things, and could classify blood. “He is qualified,” insisted Mechals. The third thing Merritt did was provide analysis from string testing. At this point, Judge Kearney interrupted Mechals and ordered all the attorneys into his chambers. The court reporter was summoned also.
Prosecutor Announces Merritt Would Not Testify to String Testing or Convergence
After almost 20 minutes, Judge Kearney was back on the bench and said simply the hearing would continue when all parties were ready. Almost an hour later, Mechals announced Merritt would not testify as to string testing analysis or convergence. Then Merritt was back on the stand. He believed there were several blows as there was cast-off. The cast-off on the ceiling was mostly circular and consistent with a bloody object being swung up said Merritt. Cavalluzzi objected and asked for a sidebar. When Merritt continued, he reiterated there were multiple blows or swings.
Merritt did presumptive testing on two items which were positive for blood, but when Mechals asked, “Did you collect any piece of evidence?” Merritt answered, “Do I remember collecting evidence? No.” Merritt said John Farrell, the evidence technician, was in charge of evidence collection.
A Tough Cross-Examination as Jane Dorotik Silently Watches
On cross-examination Cavalluzzi quickly attacked Merritt’s work, stating, “Your work in this case was rather crude.” He then showed Merritt himself called some of his scientific work “crude” in a prior hearing. Cavalluzzi moved on. “When your work was reviewed, there were complaints.” Criminalist Carolyn Gannett notified supervisors Merritt’s work was substandard and complained about Merritt’s blood stain pattern analysis stated Cavalluzzi. Merritt responded he did not know this until attorney Mechals told him. But then he remembered one case. Cavalluzzi kept on, “Are you aware Mechals retained a new expert to review your work?” Mechals objected and it was sustained.
When asked if he agreed his work was substandard in this case, Merritt replied his photographs and notes could have been better. His notes did not reflect who did the blood collection. Cavalluzzi emphasized it was important to know who collected the blood, and if Merritt did not remember if he collected the blood, Merritt could not say it was not contaminated or talk to the chain of custody. Merritt agreed, but John Farrell was the evidence tech in charge of collection.
Cavalluzzi said Jane Dorotik was the first case in which Merritt testified as a blood stain expert and in crime scene reconstruction. Other cases Merritt had worked, the district attorney called in outside bloodstain pattern experts to testify in Merritt’s place.
Cavalluzzi attacked Merritt’s “insufficient documentation.” Merritt did not document which stains were swabbed except for the two he did. For his testing on the first item, Merritt’s notes did not reflect what he did. Neither did he have an independent recollection. Plain and simple, his documentation did not meet the standard of practice within blood pattern analysis concluded Cavalluzzi.
Next Cavalluzzi addressed the “poor photographs that were taken” and Merritt’s failure to direct the evidence technician to obtain better ones. Without a pause, Merritt said it was his fault.
Cavalluzzi moved onto the blood, asking Merritt if he investigated any other theory for the blood. “No, it was not my role,” replied Merritt. His role was to evaluate the stains and to try to figure out what happened. Cavalluzzi was not going to stop there. “If the Dorotik dogs were bleeding, would that be important information to know for your analysis?” asked Cavalluzzi. “Yes,” answered Merritt. Cavalluzzi went on. The dog Simone who slept in the bed was known to bled, and if a dog was bleeding out of the nose or eye, it would be common to shake it off, causing cast-off blood. One dog was known to sneeze repeatedly said Cavalluzzi. He then dropped a bombshell: staining on the mattress came back negative for human blood.
Rebert’s nosebleed was another reason for the blood in the bedroom continued Cavalluzzi. Robert cleaned it up which could account for the wet carpet. It would also be important to know if he used cleaning products. Robert suffered nicks and cuts to his hands while building horse jumps according to son Alex. At this point, Judge Kearney called a sidebar and then a recess.
The Prosecution Makes a Surprise Announcement
Finally, back on the record, Mechals made the surprise announcement the prosecution was withdrawing Merritt as an expert for blood pattern analysis. Merritt would now be called only as a percipient witness. Cavalluzzi said he also thought he was being removed for crime scene reconstruction. Mechals reiterated Merritt would only be a percipient witness, clarifying he would be testifying only to what he observed at the crime scene. Cavalluzzi, glowing with happiness, said he would narrow the rest of his cross-examination to collection of evidence and contamination of the scene.
Final Examination of Merritt
Moving to contamination of the scene, Cavalluzzi said evidence technician Dennis Williams brought a scale to the crime scene. Was it decontaminated? Merritt did not know. A tripod was set down without booties and paper was stationed unsecured.
Cavalluzzi raised, as he had before, Merritt’s failure to wear gloves. All of the photographs showed Merritt without gloves. Did he wear gloves? Merritt answered he believed he did. When he placed the red stickers on the comforter, was he wearing gloves? “Probably,” answered Merritt, but he did not have a memory of it. But he touched the window seal with his bare hand. Cavalluzzi zeroed in on a red crime sticker on Merritt’s pants. Had he sat or backed into evidence? “No” answered Merritt.
On redirect, Mechals said, “You don’t recall where swabs were taken or who took them, but you could still identify stains at the scene.” Merritt answered, “Yes.” Mechals continued, “Does the photo speak for itself what the stain is?” Merritt replied, “It shows what it is.” Mechals then addressed John Farrells notes, which showed Merritt collected stains 1-20. “Should that have been in your notes?” questioned Mechals. Merritt answered, “Yes, it was an oversight.”
Then it was time for the final cross from Cavalluzzi. He asked if Merritt documented in his notes what stains he wanted John Farrell to collect out of the 20 stains he had observed. Merritt answered, “No.” Cavalluzzi finished with the saying which had become like a mantra, “And if it wasn’t documented, it didn’t happen, correct?” Merritt answered, “Yes,” and with that, his time on the stand was mercifully over.
About Aleida K. Wahn, Esq.
I am an attorney, award-winning true crime writer, and legal analyst of criminal cases. I cover criminal trials and write stories about compelling, gripping, and unforgettable cases that impact our world. I take you into the courtroom in high-profile murder trials, rape cases, crimes of passion, cases involving mental illness, deviant behavior, and more. I have a deep passion for true crime, criminal law, and all aspects of the criminal justice system. I have appeared as an expert on true crime shows and provided legal analysis on high-profile criminal trials on Court TV, the Law & Crime Trial Network, Fox 5 News, ABC 10 News, and KUSI News. I also create and host shows with the Del Mar Television Producers Group, addressing criminal justice and social issues in recent criminal trials.
I provided my insight and legal analysis on Court TV and the Law & Crime Trial Network of the high-profile trial of former NFL star Kellen Winslow Jr. It was a trial that captured the nation as the heralded ex-football star with fame, fortune, and a famous name stood accused of multiple rapes and other sex crimes involving five women. As the trial delved into shocking facts, complicated legal issues, and unexpected twists and turns, I was there for every minute. After the trial, I wrote a book on the case, going behind the headlines to share the extraordinary details of what happened inside the courtroom. Judging Winslow Jr.: From NFL Star to Serial Rapist? Inside the Shocking Rape Trial of Kellen Boswell Winslow II is now available on Amazon. https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07ZLM5HCG
I am passionate about telling true crime stories, as these penetrating stories have the power to move us all, while highlighting societal issues which need to be addressed. I have personally seen the human devastation which is present in each trial and believe there is a lesson to be learned in every single case. It is through awareness and examining critical issues society can effect change and even make new laws. To learn more, please visit: www.aleidalaw.com.